Piggy's was founded in the early 1980's, primarily as a barbecue joint in an old warehouse overlooking the harbor on the Mississippi River in downtown La Crosse, WI. Cindy and I first visited the place in the late 90's when it was far from a barbecue place.
Gary Roberts and a partner started Piggy's in 1981. Roberts bought out his partner in the late 1990's - not long before we first went there. He "gussied" the place up, upscaled the menu, and created a wine list that would rival some larger city restaurants. In 2001, Chef Chris Rodriguez, who was the chef at the Radisson in downtown La Crosse, bought Piggy's from Roberts. He made some changes, but kept a lot of the same featured dishes, including their wood smoked prime rib.
Actually, the first time Cindy and I went there, she got the prime rib - which was hickory smoked. I think I got the pork chops. As it always seems to happen with us when we try a new restaurant, my pork chops were good, but Cindy's prime rib was outstanding. Absolutely outstanding. I had never tasted prime rib so good.
We'd gone there a couple three times after that and we were sort of disappointed. It wasn't that it was bad, it just wasn't the same taste sensation we had the first time we visited.
I was in La Crosse recently calling on a potential new account. I ended up inviting him out for dinner and I suggested Piggy's. He jumped at that as he had to go downtown to the La Crosse Civic Center to drop some stuff off for the local home show where his staff was setting up a booth.
I drove downtown and I turned onto 2nd St. to go to Piggy's. No Piggy's. There was a new building in its place. I drove up the street to the north and I'm talking to myself - "I KNOW Piggy's is down here. I've eaten here enough to know it should have been back there."
I turned around and went back down the street. I got in front of the Courtyard Marriott (by the way, Cindy and I stayed there about 4 years ago and I have to say it was the WORST Courtyard I've ever stayed at) and I just happened to look over to my left. There was Piggy's. Huh! Well, I'll be damned! Piggy's had moved (see map).
I parked the car and went in. I got to talking to the downstairs hostess waiting for my dealer to show up and she told me that they moved in to this location almost a year ago. The city of La Crosse owned the parking lot that Piggy's used at the old location and they didn't want to renew the lease because they wanted Piggy's to move out of there so they could put up the office building.
The building Piggy's is in now is an old foundry and warehouse that is unique in its architecture. The second floor is built on steel rods, similar to a suspension bridge. The restaurant is on the second floor, while a large ballroom/reception room on the first floor has no support beams getting in the way.
I went into the Smokin' Blues Lounge on the first floor to have a beer while I was waiting for my dinner guest. The lounge was comfortable and cozy. The lounge serves food, but it's more of a casual atmosphere with ribs and sandwiches. They feature live jazz or blues some nights, primarily on the weekends.
My guest showed up and I said, "I almost couldn't find this place. It moved!" He told me that he got to thinking as he was driving down if I knew that Piggy's had moved. We had a beer in the lounge and took a look at the menu for the lounge and the one for the main dining room upstairs. It was a no-brainer - we went upstairs.
The dining room is large and room, darkly lit and elegant. The biggest thing that is missing is the view of the Mississippi. The old Piggy's had a great view of the river and the window tables were always the first to be requested.
Piggy's wine list was very good, I thought. I know that Wine Spectator has given their annual "Award of Excellence" since 1999, so they're doing something right with their wine. They had a little bit of everything including a pretty good reserve list. In fact, they had bottles of 1997 Jordan Cabernet that was more than reasonably priced at about $95 dollars a bottle.
Since I didn't think I needed to impress this guy that much, we went with a 2000 Hess Select Cabernet that was also reasonably priced at $27 a bottle. It was very good. It's been awhile since I've had a Hess Select wine.
My dinner guest suggested an appetizer that was shaved smoked medium rare beef tenderloin on smoked crostini bread over boursin cheese topped with chopped tomatoes, basil and garlic. It was fantastic!
I ordered the prime rib - they changed it since they moved in. They no longer smoke their prime rib with hickory wood. In an homage to the area's apple trees - especially across the river over in Minnesota - they smoke a lot of their foods now in apple wood. And apple wood is one of my more favorite types of wood to use for smoking meats on the grill.
Before the main entree, we were served a Piggy's dinner salad made with their homemade dressing. I had their blue cheese dressing - which was surprisingly good. It came out as a creamy blue cheese (after I asked our waitress if they had crumbly blue cheese and she said, yes, they did). Well, the dressing cream was light and didn't detract from the taste of the blue cheese they used in the dressing.
My prime rib was very good. It was served with whipped potatoes and a vegetable medley. I could hardly eat the potatoes and the veggies, however.
My guest got the pork tenderloin center cuts and they looked good (as I said, I had them before and they were good, but not as good as Cindy's prime rib that night).
Before we left, my guest said, "You've got to try the creme brulee cheesecake." I said that I was nowhere close to being able to have dessert - I was stuffed! He went ahead and ordered a piece and told our waitress to bring two forks. I'm glad he did. I think I had a couple three bites, but basically it's cheesecake with a custard topping and then carmelized like one would with a creme brulee. It was very good.
Our bill at Piggy's - with tip - was just under $100 bucks. I thought for as good as the food was, the ambience of the place and the service we received it was a good deal.
Piggy's also has an extensive menu of fresh fish entrees. The special the evening I was there was a chargrilled wahoo with a spicy pepper sauce drizzled on top. I was tempted, but I couldn't pull the trigger over the prime rib.
I don't know if this dealer is going to buy anything from me, but he did agree to bring in some samples. And with the products I sell, I've found that once the samples make it in the door, they usually stay on the floor. Of course, a nice dinner at Piggy's certainly helped grease things.