Coming soon: A second location for Warthog Barbeque Pit
By Sue Kid, TNT Diner
The longtime Fife barbecue restaurant Warthog Barbeque Pit is about to sprout a sibling restaurant. Expect to find the restaurant’s signature brisket, ribs, chicken and chili this summer in a larger location that will be a second outpost for Warthog.
Work is underway now at the Warthog building in Parkland, on Pacific Avenue near Pacific Lutheran University. Owner Gary Kurashima, a Tacoma native, said the building that formerly housed the Wagon Wheel was stripped to the studs and is in the process of being rebuilt.
Parkland’s Warthog location will double as a catering outfit.
The Parkland restaurant building is larger than the original Fife location, which is in the middle of an industrial neighborhood just off I-5. The Fife location started small, but has been built into something of a small campus over the years. The property includes a small restaurant modeled to look like a cabin, an alfresco deck area with a number of picnic tables for warm-weather dining and an adjacent two-story dining building.
The original Warthog location in Fife stays put, said Kurashima. That restaurant opened in 1999 and became a regional staple for its slow-and-low barbecued meats. In Warthog’s early years, Kurashima hyper focused on a dozen menu items, but over the years has expanded the menu to include prime rib, burgers, chili, gumbo and housemade pie. Last May, I gave Warthog’s ribs a nod for the permeating smoke flavor.
Going Hog Wild in Fife
This little log cabin may seem simple and unsuspecting, but do not be fooled. Owner Gary Kurashima, also known as “Mr. Warthog,” said on average the barbeque pit grills up to 300 pounds of meat in a single day.
Becoming a grill master is not easy. Kurashima’s culinary journey began in the Pacific Northwest more than 25 years ago. From the Alaska Salmon Bake in Fairbanks to a stint as a cook at H.D. Hotspurs BBQ restaurant in Kent and the smoke pits at the Puyallup Fair, this Tacoma native has spent years learning the nuances of what makes great barbeque.
Cooking in a cabin
The log cabin site for his restaurant is hard to miss, situated just off exit 137 on Interstate 5. On any particular day, crowds of people – from bikers to babies, can be found lined up to get a taste of whatever’s cooking.
Inside the cabin, customers feel at home in the close, family-style dinning room. Taxidermy animals hang from the walls and help set the tone for the restaurant’s Wild West theme.
The cabin was a natural fit for Kurashima, who explained he was looking for an interesting and autonomous site to start his business. It initially took about six weeks to find a building that fit Kurashima criteria: one made of log or brick or one that looked rustic. He found just what he was looking for in Fife, when he discovered the log cabin’s owner was retiring and needed to sell. Now, more than 11 years later, Kurashima’s business has continued to boom.
The Warthog BBQ Pit is considered a continual work in progress and almost every year Kurashima tries to add something new. This year he will be adding the “jail house,” an add-on space to the restaurant’s barn-shaped banquet room. The goal is to equip the room with a big screen television and dining space to accommodate at least 60 people. Right now the space has room for about 35 people.
“This is something we’ve wanted to do for years, but there’s always something like economy or not enough money,” Kurashima said.
With the new space, the Warthog BBQ Pit will also offer a new menu item – pizza. The restaurant will be starting with two or three new varieties, sticking with the ingredients they know best, such as barbeque chicken.
The art of barbeque
Making perfect barbeque is an all-day process. Kurashima usually arrives at the restaurant around 6:30 a.m. to begin heating the stoves and grill and by 7 a.m., the smokers are turned on. To make his signature smoked prime rib, Kurashima smokes the meat for about four hours. He said this process of smoking the prime rib is unique to the Warthog because most local places cook their version in an oven with salts and spices.
Each piece of barbeque at the Warthog has a special sauce created to complement the specific variety of meat. There restaurant has a traditional “warthog sauce” and several varieties of homemade sauce. But, do not expect Kurashima to divulge his secret recipes.
After years of cooking for others, Kurashima said he has tried to glean secrets and cooking techniques from every restaurant experience he has had. Although he tends to cook the same recipes most of the time, he keeps his mind and palate fresh by experimenting with new flavors and foods.
“A good chef is always creating and trying new processes and techniques,” Kurashima said.
His favorite meat to grill is brisket or prime rib because of the way it “melts in your mouth.” And patrons will find plenty of both on the restaurant’s menu.
Entrees range from basic BBQ pork, chicken, beef and turkey plates to slow-cooked BBQ sandwich combos. Entrees are served with beans, cornbread with honey butter, and choice of potato salad or coleslaw.
The restaurant also specializes in signature burgers. Each burger comes complete with a name straight out of the ol’ west. “Billy the Kid” ($9.99) uses a three-cheese blend of cheddar, Swiss and pepper jack topped with smoked bacon. “Calamity Jane” ($9.99) is a burger with broiled chicken breast topped with teriyaki sauce, pineapple, Swiss cheese and torn lettuce. “General Custer” ($10.95) uses a grilled, half-pound slow smoked Kobe beef patty and is topped with home-style coleslaw and chipotle sauce. Each burger is served with Warthog fries on the side.
Steaks are also a popular option, with 22 oz. Texas porterhouse ($26.95), 12 oz. angus New York ($17.95) or 12 oz. Warthog top sirloin ($16.95) served Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. until closing. There are also a variety of salad and soup options throughout the week and a children’s menu ranging from grilled cheese sandwiches to chicken nuggets.
Home on the ‘range’
For some, cooking barbeque can be daunting. But Kurashima feels quite at home with his range. He said the Warthog gets the occasional Southerner visitor, who is looking for a taste from home.
“I don’t get nervous at all, when people who have grown up on barbeque come eat here. I commend it,” Kurashima said. “When they tell us it’s the best barbeque they’ve had since being home, it just reinforces that we’re doing it right.”
For a lot of people, barbeque will always bring back memories of family, friends and fun, Kurashima explained. As long as people enjoy the sweet, spicy, smoky tastes of grilled meats, the Warthog BBQ Pit will continue to deliver.
“Part of my success, is that I eat out a lot and I’m a chameleon,” Kurashima said. “I’m always looking and tasting.”
Warthog BBQ Pit is located at 4921 20th St. E. in Fife. Hours of operation are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The Warthog BBQ Pit also offers on-site banquet facilities and full catering services. For more information, call (253) 896-5091. ( Read original story here.)
Wild about barbecue? Warthog’s for you
By Jon Hahn, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
FIFE — If you’re thinking of making a pit stop midway between Seattle and Olympia, best place to pull out of the I-5 madness is the Warthog Barbecue Pit here. It’s a full-bore, down-home barbecue joint that will make barbecue lovers oink for more.
Gary Kurashima, with 25 years of Pacific Northwest restaurant experience under his belt, has come up with an eatery and fare that is well worth squeezing behind your own belt. But you’ll have to let it out a few notches after waddling out of this log cabin eatery in the middle of the 20th Street East industrial area.
With a menu ranging from barbecued chopped pork sandwich ($4.95) to the farmyard sampler called “Moo & Cluck & Oink” ($9.95) and a widening (that’s the right word) range of homemade pies and cobbler, this niche restaurant (and catering service) has pretty well established its reputation in the just over two years it’s been open.
“My husband frequents the largest national chain of barbecued rib restaurants, and they can’t touch the Warthog’s barbecued pork ribs!” said Federal Way food consultant Amy Muzyka-McGuire.
“My daughter is nuts about the ribs!” she added. “They’re meaty and smoked a long time and when you get them, the meat just falls off the bone. They’re cut from the ends of the rib, so you get more meat and less bone. Whenever my husband, daughter and son go there, we usually have one meal and three sandwiches and we all walk away feeling stuffed!”
This kind of enthusiasm for barbecued ribs from a Chicago transplant who grew up on the famous Russell’s barbecued ribs back home was worth checking out. We in journalism try to live by the maxim coined by my mentor, the late Ed Eulenberg, who said: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out!”
So I drove down I-5 one early afternoon last week and turned left once I’d gotten off the freeway at Exit 137 — you know, the one that takes you to that other Fife restaurant. Only, to find Warthog, you turn left at the top of the exit ramp and go back over the freeway and then turn right at the 20th Street traffic light and go about a half-mile or so till you see the log cabin structure just past the United Parcel Service and Volvo dealership on your right.
If there are sunbreaks, you can eat outside or in the Little Red Barn adjacent to the main log cabin restaurant building. If you’re just making a pit stop, you can place your order and dash back onto the freeway.
“I usually have eaten my sandwich within 2 miles of I-5, so get an extra if you plan to drive any distance,” Amy advised. She noted that “truckers and suits alike frequent the place,” which is in keeping with the atmosphere that Gary wanted to create.
I must needs qualify this sauce-stained endorsement by conceding that my Regular Dining Companion, who is not fond of food with a spicy edge, picked her way around the carryout meal that followed my drive-by luncheon stop here and judged the grits a tad too heavy on BTUs.
But she admittedly didn’t have the opportunity then to get outside the delicious brisket sandwich I polished off for lunch. And I would’ve done better bringing home the pork sandwich for her and kept the souped-up baked beans and coleslaw (methinks there was a touch of horseradish therein) to myself.
Gary was an armed services brat whose family managed to settle down in Tacoma, where he graduated from high school and did a little community college work before going back into the restaurant work where he’d started years before as a part-time pot washer and line cook.
In the past couple of decades, he’s worked some top-line shops in Puget Sound and in Alaska (the Alaska Salmon Bake in Fairbanks), but he and his family wanted to come home to the City of Destiny (he and his wife and their two children live in Tacoma’s University Place neighborhood).
“I researched the type of restaurant I wanted and the location,” Gary said, “and people thought I was nuts picking this place. But it’s a niche market and there aren’t that many good barbecue restaurants around. This is a place where the suits and the jeans can enjoy good food.”
He puts in a 60-hour work week here, overseeing most of the cooking and operations and the small, close-knit crew that includes his sister, Pam Hill. Once Gary’s barbecued ribs and meat sandwiches became established on the menu, it broadened to include special items such as the Mr. Warthog 22-ounce Porterhouse steak with seasoned baked potato, sauteed veggies and steak bread ($23.95).
The pies, cobblers and cornbreads are baked daily — the kitchen fires up about five each morning except on Sundays (“closed for our day of rest,” says Gary, who also squeezes in a couple half days of R&R to spend with the family).
Eventually he hopes to phase up and out to making and marketing his own meat jerkies, jams, jellies and sauces and pastries. The catering service, begun just over a year ago, offers all his barbecue items plus extras such as seasoned corn-on-the-cob, barbecued meatballs, chipolte pepper chicken ribs and smoked salmon.
I’ll be making another pit stop there soon, if only to sample the Warthog chili and Warthog gumbo and maybe a side of a menu item called Nasty Rice.
If you make your own pit stop here, you’d be well advised to ask for more than one of those little pre-moistened cleanup tissues. And check the rearview mirror for sauce hanging in your beard. It’s a dead giveaway that you’ve been off your diet again.
More information: Warthog Barbecue Pit is at 4921 20th St. E., Fife. Phone in orders to 253-896-5091, or fax to 253-896-5092 or check the Web site at www.warthogbbq.com for more information.
By Jacquie Maupin, Tacoma City Paper
If opening his own restaurant is a dream come true for chef Gary Kurashima, then his Warthog Barbeque Pit is a dream come true for Tacomans needing a break from Tony Roma’s.
Kurashima, who started serving up barbecue from his Fife eatery six weeks ago, has a bare bones game plan: simple menu, simple decor and simply good.
A Tacoma native, Kurashima’s been cooking for 20 years and tinkering with barbecue recipes just as long. Until now, he cut his teeth as head chef at H.D. Hotspurs in Kent, the former Barbecue Pete’s on Mildred, and most recently at the Ruston Way Ram. And yup, the photos on the wall of the restaurant are of Kurashima at the Puyallup Fair, where he manhandled the smoke pits for 11 years.
The idea of the Warthog Barbeque Pit has been simmering on the back burner for at least six years, when Kurashima first thought up the name and registered it. Now a reality, the restaurant is housed in a converted log demonstration home cleverly decorated with miniature stuffed warthogs tacked to overhead beams.
Patrons, who swarmed in during a recent lunch rush from the neighboring business part and the Tideflats, squeeze together on benches at a scant eight tables. Kurashima’s already thinking expansion though. A front deck for picnic tables is almost complete, and a barn-like building next door, soon to be painted red, will host banquets.
As the owner and sole chef at the Warthog, Kurashima loves his niche food. The recipes are all his own, and he prides himself on using meat rubs and smoking chicken four to six hours and brisket 14 to 16 hours.
His methods have gained the approval of visiting palates from Texas, Memphis and New Orleans.
“It’s a good feeling when you get people from the South saying you’re doing it right,he said.
Kurashima calls barbecue fun food. Relaxed food. Food that doesn’t intimidate. But he couldn’t have been talking portion size.
A lunchtime visit by the TCP staff found the sandwiches served on French buns more than filling. The chopped barbecue pork sandwich ($4.95) was tangy , and the sliced barbecue brisket sandwich ($5.25) had a deep smoky flavor that was not overpowering. As one staffer put it, the brisket melted in his mouth like butter.
The pulled barbecue chicken sandwich ($4.95) evoked mixed feelings–good flavor, but the meet was stringy and dry.
A other item that Kurashima has super-sized is the Warthog chili ($4.95). This chili is all about chucks. Chunks of hamburger, chunks of tomatoes, green pepper, onion and two types of beans. This is the kind of chili, with its mingling of sweetness and bite, to warm the belly on a rainy night if it doesn’t burst your buttons first.
The barbecue ribs entree ($7.50) also delivers a deep-smoked flavor, and the meat slides right off the bone. The meal is served with a choice of side dishes. The potato salad is respectable, but more satisfaction comes from the slice of solid corn bread and delicious honey butter.
However, true barbecue fanatics will know the Warthog is the real deal once they try the barbecue baked beans ($1.25 small, $2.25 large). Swimming in a stew with fresh green pepper and chunks of beef, these beans are no joke. They are mildly spicy and sweet, and the flavor grows pleasantly more prominent even as two-day-old leftovers.
If there’s room left, diners can try the single dessert item, blackberry cobbler ($1.95). A small, flaky pastry sits atop a sea of berries. The berries are warm and on the sweet side, but that could be tempered if there were enough pastry to finish off the berries.
Kurashima chats easily with customers from his work at the grill, often asking how the meal was. If you stop in to see him, let him know Tacoma thinks he’s doing it right too.
By Steven Fasano, The Olympian
FIFE–Driving back and forth to Seattle on a regular basis, I kept seeing this sign in Fife: “Warthog BBQ Pit.” Being a lifelong fan of barbecue, I eventually gave in and paid a visit.
I must admit, though, I’m up to my third visit now, because I’ve got a good excuse to pay this much money for barbecue.
That’s right, Warthog BBQ Pit is not inexpensive, but if you go ready to spread some cash around, you will be stuffed by the time you leave, covered in barbecue sauce and wearing a satisfied grin.
On my most recent visit, I enjoyed a half-order of baby back ribs, and even though I was full by the time I left, it wasn’t the ribs that filled me up, it was the trimmings: barbecue beans baked on site, honey cornbread and potato salad.
To me, that is disappointing. I prefer to be filled up on the main course, especially when it tastes as wonderful as head chef/owner Gary Kurashima’s Memphis- and Kansas City-style barbecue. But then again, if I had any more meat, I would never have been able to finish off a piece of the Warthog’s homemade Key-Lime pie. Oh, my! The meringue was so creamy I didn’t even want to make my way to the key lime!
Gary’s barbecue experience ranges from H.D. Hotspurs to the Ruston Way Ram, with quite a bit of time spent at the Puyallup Fair’s smoke pits. This all smokes down to some awesome tasting meat.
My favorite meal, hands down, would have to be the Moo, Cluck & Oink, which encompasses my three favorite food groups: beef, chicken and pork. This meal costs $9.95, the same as my most recent repast of a half-rack of baby back ribs, but comes with a larger main course.
The Warthog has a very relaxed atmosphere, with stuffed warthogs and various barbecue memorabilia liberally arranged on the walls and rafters of a converted log demo home. And even more relaxed is the open air “barn” next door, which serves as additional seating for banquets and overflow.
Now don’t fret if you just have to have a beer with your barbecue. Gary is patiently waiting for his liquor license. And although it does take the city a ridiculously long time to approve one, the Warthog will have one soon enough.
The somewhat sassy staff informed me that no only do they serve lunch and dinner, they cater, provide sumptuous banquets, box lunches and produce full holiday season dinners, complete with smoked meat to be picked up by customers during the holiday season.
But don’t wait for the holidays to come around. There is nothing quite like slow-cooked barbecue and a glass of ice-cold lemonade on a warm, late summer evening.
And if you’re anything like me, you will feel like snortin’ all the way home with such a full belly!