The Walking Pig
ARTICLE BY VANELIS RIVERA AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK
The Walking Pig is styled as a modern Southern pub serving a varied menu of hand-crafted foods and beverages housed in a renovated 1930s storefront, one of many quaint businesses on Plank Road.
The Walking Pig is an unusual name for a restaurant serving traditional southern favorites as well as creative versions of regional classics, but the evocative nomenclature comes with a story. Once upon an eclectic downtown scene in St. Joseph, Louisiana, an old bar and cafe existed on Levee Street. It was well-known for its neon pig sign, a curiosity made all the more fun by the neon legs trotting back and forth in flashes. And, though it closed sometime in the 1980s, its revelries and crazy memories of merrymaking live on in the hearts of many townspeople. It was not a difficult choice, then, for Jessica and Stacey Mobley to pay homage to a locale with such a jovial grasp on the community when considering what to name their new restaurant. “Somebody just threw it out,” says Jessica, who was immediately fond of the name. “I just thought it was so cute. And, you know, fun, memorable.” Nevertheless, unlike its namesake, The Walking Pig, as it stands, is styled as a modern Southern pub serving a varied menu of hand-crafted foods and beverages housed in a renovated 1930s storefront, one of many quaint businesses on Plank Road that is sure to bring a celebratory squeal of delight to a new generation of revelers.
Jessica originally grew up in the nearby town of Waterproof. “My family’s been here for many generations,” she says. After college, her husband Stacey got a job in video and film production in the Nashville area, so they made the move and stayed for about 25 years. During that time, Jessica, who has always had an inclination for culinary pursuits, began to network with restaurants through her own small business. After a while, she talked her husband into buying a food truck in order to further establish her business and eventually open a small restaurant. After three years of working from the food truck, the pair found a space outside of Nashville, a “little place” where a barbecue joint was moving out. “We thought, it’s really tiny, you know; it’s perfect to jump in. We can handle that,” she informs. Within a year, their tiny restaurant Delta Bound was “busting at the seams,” so much so that they had to expand, and “just by chance,” were able to use the space next door, doubling their square footage. Though they maintained that space for six years, the couple always considered returning to Tensas Parish. Consistently communicating with friends and family, they were informed of the revitalization efforts sweeping the historic downtown area. “It started looking like maybe we possibly could open a business here, and not have to wait until retirement to move back home,” says Jessica.
With a desire to assist in the downtown reinvigoration and a deeply rooted love for their community, the couple returned to their early stomping grounds. “We thought that would be awesome if we could take what we were already doing and bring that to St. Joseph,” enthuses Jessica. They shared their specifications and restaurant concept with Becky and Michael Vizard, the owners of the building that now houses The Walking Pig, and ultimately rolled up their sleeves and worked alongside them to make their vision a reality. The restaurant opened its doors on September 1, 2021, consequently setting in motion an exciting new economy offering jobs, training, and a place for the community to immerse themselves in entertainment and leisure. “We just really wanted to serve [the community],” she adds.
When thinking of curating the interior, the pair was determined to provide a comfortable and approachable aesthetic, “so that people could, you know, feel comfortable to come every day for lunch if they want to, but also have a little bit of refinement.” The spacious interior of wood-lined entryways, hanging brass light fixtures, and wood-paneled roof creates an atmosphere suitable for a casual lunch, date night, or even a celebratory gathering of family, friends, and/or co-workers. “We had a bunch of Christmas parties booked this past December,” says Jessica, who has observed parties running the gamut from “really casual all the way up to very dressy.” In order to further maximize the feel of the space, Jessica and Stacey leaned into the design instincts of Becky Vizard, owner of B. Viz Designs, who helped pick out light fixtures and paint colors. “She and I talked many times over design ideas for the interior,” shares Jessica, who at the time was 400 miles away in Tennessee. “And it’s not quite finished. You know, there are a lot of things that still we want to tweak and finish out and add to it. [It’s] just gonna have to come in stages because the most important thing was to get in and get open.” One such idea that Jessica has been churning involves enlivening the walls in the hallway with newspaper articles, photos, and other memorabilia from the town’s history. She has already started a collection with the help of the town’s museum and library situated next door to the restaurant. “I think that would be so cool for people to be able to look through and see what downtown used to look like. You know what, where the businesses were… what the houses looked like.”
Taking a similar approach to the menu, Jessica wanted to make sure that not only was she honoring southern cooking, but also keeping more modernized dishes approachable. “In Tennessee, you know, we call it deep south food. Here, it’s just you know, the southern food that everybody loves,” says Jessica, who aimed to, more than anything, make her dishes from scratch. “Having a scratch kitchen is what makes the food unique to you.” Both Jessica and Stacey have a love for the food industry, and her husband, in particular, is a “big foodie” thanks to her coaxing. Though the foundation of their menu items stem from what they began when owners of Delta Bound, they wanted to make sure they had standard items, like a catfish po’boy people can’t get enough of, or “a really good hamburger.”
A few menu items featured smoked meats, an influence from her husband, and one that he developed while they lived in Nashville. “In Tennessee, you’re kind of immersed in barbecue culture,” she says, revealing that he always wanted to learn the careful and patient art of smoking meats, so he taught himself. “I love our smoked chicken salad,” says Jessica. This “amped up,” traditional Southern-style chicken salad incorporates their smoked chicken, alongside the expected pecans and cranberries. “We sell that by the pint,” she says, referring to their grab-and-go fridge, which also consists of a variety of dips (pimento cheese, boudin dip, and Neiman Marcus dip) and soups (butternut squash, black bean and roasted pepper, and braised cabbage). “I love our tacos,” continues Jessica, who has dubbed her creations “Southern-style tacos,” using a flour tortilla, filled with regionally-inspired ingredients. Their pork belly taco is smoked Berkshire pork belly, pineapple pico, Sriracha honey glaze, and cabbage. More on the wild side is their blackened alligator taco: Louisiana gator tail, pico, avocado, and chipotle crema. Feeling down-home vibes? Their Southern fried chicken taco is sure to please with apple slaw, guacamole, and Green Goddess dressing. Their catfish tacos are seasonal because it includes a sweet corn salsa and the corn used at The Walking Pig is ordered fresh, “which you can’t get really good all year round.”
By far, the brisket melt sandwich is the most popular item on the menu. It is a smoked brisket topped with pepper jack, house BBQ sauce, and fried banana peppers and placed between house-baked white bread. “It was even one of the favorites in Tennessee. So it must appeal to a bunch of people.” Not to be outdone by the savory bliss the menu has to offer, a few sweet dessert items are always circulating the counters. In addition to cookies, pies, and puddings, Jessica has featured some truly unexpected layered cakes, such as the bourbon-laced Lane cake and Hummingbird cake, a banana-pineapple spice delicacy originating in Jamaica.
Initially, Jessica and Stacey sought to use their culinary chops to offer some things borrowed and some things new to their flourishing community. By pushing the envelope on their menu items, they hope to inspire the Northeast Louisiana community to start seeking culinary adventures in their neck of the woods. “It’s kind of unexpected when you go to a sleepy place. And there’s, you know, a hidden gem that you love to discover. And it surprises you pleasantly,” expresses Jessica, adding, “I want people to feel like this is their restaurant.”
The Walking Pig is located at 139 Plank Road Saint Joseph, LA 71366 and is open Thursday through Saturday between 11 AM and 2 PM, and Friday & Saturday between 5:30 PM and 8 PM. Visit their website https://www.the-walking-pig.com/ and scroll through their Facebook page to learn about their daily specials and seasonal menus.