Friday, November 23, 2012

QUICKVIEW: LJ'S Barbeque- +++/$$

Barbeque: the only truly American form of cooking.

I'm not joking. Barbeque is the only form of cooking unique to the New World. It's believed to have originated in the Carribean islands and then migrated out onto the mainland, and eventually into the culture of European explorers and, ultimately, people in Rhode Island.

And speaking of Rhode Island, we have a surprisingly robust selection of BBQ considering our distance from the food's genesis. Along with the subject of this article, we have Wes's Rib House, Smokey Bones, Rick's Roadhouse, Ribs & Company, and the various bbq-ish options at the various chain restaurants in various towns.

I had previously been completely satisfied going to Smokey Bones whenever the urge for ribs and pulled pork struck me, but after its recent purchase and transformation into a "fire grille," the mind-numbingly overt sexism has soured me to the place. Women are used exclusively as decoration and they all but declare that men are beer-swilling, sports and sex-obsessed, humanoid buffalo.

Oh yes. I love being made to feel like a cro-magnon when eating my ribs.

Smokey Bones' homepage currently features a "hot babe" serving beer. If you click on their "About Us" section, you have another hot babe serving beer. Look!

The Smokey Bones Home Page. Yes. Please. Take a look around at all of our beer and breasts.

The About Us page that says everything about them that matters.
Let's break down and analyze their About Us page.
At Smokey Bones, we specialize in three things: good food, good drinks and good times.
That's it? As a restaurant, you should specialize in a few more things than just that. Like organization and operation, cleaning, refrigeration, and other such important things for running a place that serves food like knowing how to use a goddamned Oxford comma. And also, what is this? Cheers?
We are a bar and fire grill, but not necessarily in that order.
Oh good! I was worried for a moment. This "fire grille" garbage has been positively shoe-horned into everything they make, as though the marketing guys think that by taking a stupid idea and simply making it omnipresent somehow negates its stupidity.
We are grill masters who respect the power of the open flame. We like simple, yet flavorful recipes and believe marinating is not to be taken lightly. We know medium-rare isn’t the only way to cook a steak, but believe it should be.
This is completely acceptable marketing speak.
We believe pork should be slow smoked and pulled often.
I think this may be a masturbation reference.
Slow, as in 11 hours over hickory logs every night, and often, as in every day at every restaurant.
This is an excellent sentence. It makes me want to visit the restaurant.
We know it’s our bartenders that make our drinks great, not the liquor. Although the liquor doesn’t hurt. We think beer should be ice cold and consumed regularly.
Because obviously, the more attractive the woman, the better the beer from the tap. And doesn't Smokey Bones think that encouraging alcoholism is a bad idea?
We know our servers bring much more than food to the table.
Indeed. They also bring boobs. I'm not kidding. I cannot think of a single restaurant where a greater percentage of the servers are female aside from Hooters.
We are big fans of sports, loud music and surprises.
Why in the bloody blue fuck would I want surprises at a restaurant? I want food as expected. If I order a burger, and get a bowl of fruit, I'll damn well be surprised. I'll also be angry.
And we believe in laughing often, especially at ourselves.
This is good, because you are laughable.

You can understand why the atmosphere has become intolerable over time.

So it was with great relief that I found LJ's to have the air of a local joint, populated by locals from the surrounding neighborhoods, without any insultingly stupid marketing statement defining the restaurant's character. Do you know what's on LJ's website? Pictures of food. How novel.

The interior is simple. The place settings are utilitarian, with whole rolls of rough paper towels at every table. They provide squeeze bottles with house-made BBQ sauce, and a wider variety of hot sauces than is likely necessary. The closest thing that I can think of as a competitor is The Oak Hill Tavern in South County.

The wait staff was friendly and decently fast. The menu is very large and priced well. They offer a prix fixe option for $20 that includes an appetizer, two sides, corn bread, dessert, and a beer. Platters are usually in the $10-$20 range and offer an enormous amount of food for little money. Even if the food was merely adequate, LJ's would be a good deal.

And the food is much more than adequate. This is the real deal. This is not the crap "BBQ" that you get at places like Chile's. Their babyback ribs were just fatty enough and just firm enough to provide some satisfaction in biting while still falling off the bone. Their spice rub is muted and austere, perhaps a bit too, but when combined with a light drizzle of their sweet house cause becomes an excellent representation of the meal. Their pulled pork is on the fatty side, but is soft and flavorful as a result. And holy crap, do they give you a lot of pulled pork. Two mounds of it took up over half of the plate. You will consume a significant percentage of a pig with this meal. And again, all of these choices come with two sides and cornbread for the price.

Their platters represent a small portion of the menu, though. They have sandwiches, burgers, grilled pizza, and soups/salads. Their burgers were a good representation of the difference between this place and other restaurants and the subtle value that is available. At Smokey Bones, they have long since ditched providing a side with their burgers. They still aren't a bad deal, mind you, but this is what I mean when I talk about the fundamental difference between a local restaurant and a chain. At Smokey Bones, with dozens of locations, not including a side dish with their burgers could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra annual revenue. At LJ's, it may equal a couple hundred. There is little motivation to skimp, and thus they don't. For the same price, at LJ's, you get a side. To me, that matters.

And about those sides, their french fries were surprisingly good. Crispy and light and tasting like they were made from fresh potatoes, which I'm assuming they were. Their house beans were a little thin — I like my baked beans thick with bacon, beans, and fillings — but sweet and good. Their candied yams were candied and yammy. Basically, all good on the Western front.

Everything we had was good. The atmosphere was good. The service was good. The food was everything I could have hoped for, and even a bit more. And that is what LJ's is about: the food. It's not about sports, or idiotic slogans, or puns, or packaging. It's about food, made with skill, and served up for a fair price. I will be returning to LJ's soon, with slow-cooked pig on my mind.

LJ's Barbeque: +++

727 East Avenue
Pawtucket, RI 02860
Delivery: 401-353-4121

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