Just a few blocks north of Champaign-Urbana’s hippest barbecue joint, Black Dog, stands an unassuming alternative for the meat consumer. Founded in 1979, Li’l Porgy’s claims that their barbecue is “Incredibly Good ‘Cause We Cook on Wood.” Basically, they’re right, but I stopped by last Saturday to find out if they were still living up to their slogan. Now you might be asking the logical question: Jonah, you can’t eat pork on account of your Judaism, so how do you expect to review a restaurant whose ribs are its’ claim to fame?” Well dear reader, do not worry, because on this outing I brought with me my friend and trusty pork consultant. He is a regular barbecue diner who claims to have eaten ribs at every C-U restaurant that serves them, making him the expert I needed.
We rolled up to the Urbana location slightly after the lunch rush and only had to wait about five minutes for our food. It was incredibly affordable, with our two meals together coming in at just under twenty dollars. My friend went with the half slab of ribs with mixed sauce, while I ordered the half chicken. Once the food came we encountered our first problem: the bread. Two slices of old wonder bread were sitting on top of our surprisingly tasty steak fries. I know its a tradition to serve white bread with barbecue, but this was pretty bad. Anyway, the drumstick and thigh of my bird were actually smoked damn near perfectly, flavorful and moist but not soggy. My mild sauce was sweet but not overpowering, and I was happy until I hit the breast. And honestly that was one of the driest chicken breasts I’ve ever eaten, which was clearly cooked on wood just slightly too long. I also ordered a medium coke, which was gigantic and gave me a bit of a Parks and Rec flashback.
The ribs were a whole other story. My friend placed their quality right between Hickory River and Black Dog, which isn’t entirely unexpected. I’m told that they there wasn’t a ton of meat on each individual rib, but the number of ribs in the half slab made up for it. “The ribs were sweeter than Black Dog, without a doubt. It seemed like they were cooked hot and fast instead of low and slow.” However, we both agreed that the steak fries were actually the best part of our meal, and we even went back for a second side order. Unlike the fries at, say, Meatheads, these fries were clearly engineered to be eaten with barbecue: sturdy enough to soak up the tangy sauce.
Meanwhile, we noted that the decor was sparse, with most customers opting for either take-out or a quick dine-in. We were there for about 45 minutes, and in that time I would say fifteen people ate and left. It’s pretty clear that Li’l Porgy’s isn’t Black Dog, but also clear that it’s not trying to be. I can say its an eatery I would recommend: fast, inexpensive and tasty.
Li’l Porgy’s is located at 101 West University Ave., Urbana and 1917 West Springfield Ave., Champaign.