I already live on an island, but if I lived on a desert island, I'd have my books, a beach badge-free stretch of sand, a 24/7 tiki bar with endless loops of Tom Waits, Drive-by Truckers and Everything but the Girl, and a restaurant known for one thing.
There is something about smoked meat that gets my juices going, so when Brother Jimmy's of New York fame opened in New Brunswick, it's a wonder I didn't show up a week or two before they started serving food.
The restaurant is located on prime real estate in downtown New Brunswick - steps from the train station. The owner is Josh Lebowitz, a former manager of the Brother Jimmy's in Manhattan who purchased the company in 2002 from founder Jimmy Goldman. There are five company-owned Brother Jimmy's in New York, with franchised locations in Miami, San Juan and St. Maarten.
New Brunswick is the first company-owned restaurant outside New York, and Lebowitz is eyeing Jersey City as Jersey location number two.
For me, ribs are the true test of any BBQ joint. If you can't make ribs right, what can you make? The ribs at Brother Jimmy's come in three variations - Northern-style (smoked and then grilled with Jimmy's BBQ sauce), Southern style (smoked with Brother Jimmy's Memphis rub) and Dry Rub (smoked with a 21-spice rub).
If you're like me and favor dry rubbed over sauced ribs, go the Dry Rub route. I can't speak for those 21 spices, but there's loads of complexity here, and the meat is cooked just right. The Southern style ribs are a step down in taste, but they're still worthy. Rib dinners, which include a half rack of ribs, one side, cornbread and pickles, are $19.95.
The cornbread, by the way, is top-notch: not too firm, not too crumbly. Saved three pieces, toasted them the next morning, and called it breakfast.
The Carolina pulled pork sandwich ($9.95) is not the usual wet soppy mess, but a bundle of agreeably dry, nicely peppery meat. The BBQ chicken is smoked, grilled and basted in barbecue sauce, but the latter is goopy, overwhelming the meat. The brisket ($16.95), thick and tender is good, makes up for it.
Sides? The collards you can find in your local market, but the potato salad, mac and cheese and cole slaw are all recommended. Try the BBQ baked beans with chunks of
pork, and you'll definitely dig the pig in that mix.
Other items include pulled chicken ($15.50), country fried steak ($16.25); blackened catfish ($15.95) and pork chop with ancho sausage stuffing and maple butter glaze ($17.95). All dinners and Southern specialties on the menu include one side, cornbread and pickles.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que opened in Newark last May. My verdict back then: good ribs, but the rest of the menu seemed hit-or-miss.
Dinosaur may beat Brother Jimmy's in atmosphere - the latter resembles a glorified
sports bar - but Brother Jimmy's ribs are better, and so is the food overall.
Lebowitz is thinking Jersey City for a second location, but I wish he'd think Jersey Shore, where I live. Then maybe I won't have to worry about opening a BBQ restaurant on that desert island.
By - Peter Genovese