Everything is an open kitchen at the Honey Pig in Ellicott City, which has added a casual, boisterous barbecue to Howard County's deepest ethnic cuisine.
Everything is an open kitchen because everyone at Honey Pig grills their own meat. This is a place to go for fun and meat. It's a limited menu. It's a modern, almost-industrial feel. Tables fill with young people, and servers work the floor offering more meat, more kimchi, more soju.
Honey Pig is a great option for casual food. It's a lower price point and a smaller menu than standards like Shin Chon Garden. No bi bim bop, which is one of the dishes that I recommend for a Korean feast. But that's the point. Consider Honey Pig like a pizza joint or a burger spot. You go for the house specialties and the casual vibe -- either an easy meal for the aficionado or a low-key introduction for people new to Korean barbecue.
I'm no expert, so I invited advice in a prior post asking "What Do You Order At Honey Pig?" The consensus is that you need to start with the pork belly (samgyupsal) and either the brisket or kalbi. Unfortunately, Honey Pig's service was so fast that I didn't have time to download my own blog page, so we ordered the thin-sliced pork belly and the bulgogi. Say "yes" to the kimchi that they'll add to your grill. You'll get a small plate of panchan, the kimchi and small dishes. You'll get a spicy red sauce for bulgogi and a two-sided dish with clear sauces to dip your pork belly.
You can't really go wrong with Korean barbecue. It's thin-sliced meat. You can tell raw from cooked. Let them char, plus the Honey Pig servers will barbecue the meat for you. They aren't all fluent in English, but they're happy to answer questions. You can eat the meat straight with just dipping sauce. You can get a rice bowl, then add little pieces of meat and kimchi to eat from the rice. Mrs. HowChow and I like the plates of lettuce, and we make little rolls with lettuce, a piece of meat, some rice, some sauces.
Honey Pig offers that all, and next time, I'm trying the spicy pork and seafood recommended by Matthew. Generally, I agreed with the comments that Honey Pig was less spicy than other Korean places. The side dishes are smaller and less varied than full-menu restaurants. But the meat was delicious, and Honey Pig is exciting because it's different. Korean restaurants run on Rte 40 from Bethany Street to Catonsville, and they truly differ -- even to my uneducated eyes -- in ways that make Korean a broader range than any local ethnic food except for maybe Italian. Shin Chon or Mirocjo for the barbecue feast. Rainpia for fried chicken and a beer. There are Chinese-Korean and cafeterias.
Honey Pig fills the spot for the casual joint. A small menu done well, done affordable for the young and the curious. More Looney's or Eggspectations than Bistro Blanc or Aida Bistro. Go get some pork belly and make yourself part of the fun.
(Update: I hear on Chowhound that Honey Pig now offers bi bim bap as well as the barbecued meat.)
I'd love someone to guest post about the special reasons to visit other Korean places. We fall into the Shin Chon pattern. What dishes or experiences should draw me away to Chum Churum, Yet Nal House, or some other place?
Check out Kevin's great comment about service at Korean restaurants -- pushing the point that you need to ask for items and not expect pre-emptive questions like you get from American waitresses. Suddenly, it makes sense. If you're looking for more about Korean food, check some of my prior posts about Shin Chon Garden, the fried chicken at Rainpia, or Bethany Seafood Restaurant. Or check out all the posts about Korean food.
Honey Pig Korean BBQ
10045 Baltimore Pike (Rte 40)
Ellicott City, MD 21042
NEAR: Honey Pig is in the shopping center behind the Double T diner. From east-bound Rte 40, you turn right at the red sign for Quest Fitness and drive up hill. This is west of Rte 29 near the Soft Stuff ice cream stand and the Enchanted Forest shopping center.