The Portly Pig Gastropub is an unassuming watering hole in an easy-to-overlook shopping center in Dania Beach. It is so unassuming and so easy to overlook that I have driven past it hundreds of times since it opened in 2016, but not until this past week did I enter. Maybe there is a place such as this near your home. If there is, I hope it provides the same unexpected and satisfying results as the Portly Pig. If there isn’t, you can make your way to the strip mall with the shuttered Winn-Dixie across from Dania Jai Alai — which is what we locals still call the Casino at Dania Beach — and check it out.
The Portly Pig is clean, friendly and small, with 40 seats (including a dozen at the bar). It features a 24-item menu of American bar food done right and on the lighter side. Nothing is fried, and the flavors are good. It has seafood dishes such as mussels and escargot. There are numerous options for vegetarians and vegans, including a portobello burger, avocado sliders and Mediterranean olive platter. The selection of eight craft beers on tap rotates every few weeks and offers many local brewers, including award-winning LauderAle (its Black IPA was flowing when I visited) and Devour Brewing Co. of Boynton Beach (Fruity Loops Blond Ale). Pints cost $8. Food is priced between $5 and $15.
Many sauces and items are housemade, including a 1-pound meatball with San Marzano sauce and shaved Parmesan dubbed “the Clydesdale.” It costs $15 but is offered for $11 on Tuesdays, among the rotating nightly specials. What I liked about this meatball, besides the taste and texture that seemed all meat and little filler, was that it was accompanied by a pile of mostly crisp, oven-roasted and herbed potatoes.
“People are always asking, ‘How come you don’t serve it with spaghetti?’ ” co-owner Stephanie Yap says in a follow-up interview. “I like to change things up.”
The plaza already has a fine neighborhood Italian restaurant in Mundi’s (it was Joyce Mundi who told me to check out the Portly Pig, proclaiming its rival meatball very good), so Yap is leaving the pasta to others. Yap would not tell me her meatball recipe, other than to say it is a two-meat blend and that she bakes them before simmering. She is averse to frying and sauteeing. Yap and business partner Alex Duarte send food out from a humble, closet-size kitchen that doesn’t have a fryer or much equipment. The Portly Pig shows that an eatery does not have to make everything from scratch or use expensively sourced items to put together tasty dishes. Simple, fresh and reasonable can do just fine.
A stuffed poblano special ($14 with shrimp) was excellent, featuring a roasted poblano pepper filled with a blend of melted Monterrey Jack, cheddar and Parmesan cheese and topped with housemade salsa, four large shrimp and a grilled, sliced jalapeno.
A small Gorgonzola salad ($6) was vibrant and pretty, with spirals of cucumber accompanying a vinaigrette-bathed mound of spinach, baby kale, arugula, olives, crumbled Gorgonzola and shaved Parmesan. Pork sliders, ($8) served on a pair of potato rolls, were packed with moist, slow-cooked meat, splashed with commercial barbecue sauce that was not too sweet and topped with melted American cheese.
The Portly Pig started as Bike Run & Brews Cafe in March 2016, a side venture for Yap, a co-owner and longtime instructor at the Aikido of South Florida martial-arts dojo in Hollywood. Yap is a seventh-degree black belt in karate (I’d recommend not starting fights at the Portly Pig) and has an interesting background. She was born in the West Indies, raised in Toronto and went to architecture school in Miami, and she has lived in Japan and Scandinavia. She and Duarte (who also teaches at Aikido) crafted the restaurant’s bar and wooden tables, and also raised the ceiling by five feet, giving it a more spacious feel.
She envisioned Bike Run & Brews as a place for runners and bicycle enthusiasts to gather and drink beer after workouts and races. But the name created confusion — bearded and tattooed motorcyclists showed up — so she changed the name and focus last year. “We shifted more to food about a year ago,” she says. “We’ve gotten this super influx of locals, people who stopped in after seeing the name or hearing about it from neighbors.”
Yap has had difficulty with kitchen staffing, so she and Duarte run between the dojo and restaurant, which has limited hours. It is closed Sundays and Mondays, and closes from 2 to 4 p.m. the other weekdays. The restaurant has karaoke on Wednesday nights and bands on Fridays and Saturdays. The vibe and surroundings are comfortable, although it can get loud when there is live music.
My only other complaint was with the texture (but not the flavor) of the chicken wings ($10) and pork ribs ($12). Both are soggy because of the cooking technique, oven baking for wings and braising and baking for the tender ribs. The jerk sauce on the wings had a proper scotch-bonnet scorch (my tablemate said it cured a lingering cough and cold), but the wings would benefit from exterior crunch. Perhaps an air fryer/convection oven that does not require oil could do the trick.
Otherwise, the Portly Pig was a pleasant surprise, one that I’m happy to have as a new local pit stop.
The Portly Pig Gastropub
320 E. Dania Beach Blvd., Dania Beach
754-465-5998 or ThePortlyPig.com
Cost: Inexpensive. Salads, sandwiches, bar bites and entrees cost $5 to $15. Craft beer pints $8.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.- 2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Dinner 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4 p.m.- midnight Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Rotating selection of craft beers on tap, bottled beer, sake and wine
Noise level: Conversational. Loud during karaoke night (Wednesdays) and live band performances (Fridays and Saturdays)
Wheelchair access: Ground level
Parking: Free lot