JR’s really is a shack — a ramshackle building with decor that includes a few dozen game animal trophies, pig figurines, and signs with slogans such as “If my pick-up truck ain’t here, I’m in the woods chasin’ deer…” Bathrooms are labeled Bucks and Does. When waitress Susan comes to take our order she notices that the roll of paper towels on the table (in lieu of puny single napkins) is low, so the first order of business — after bringing 32-ounce flagons of sweet tea — is to replace it with a full roll.
Ribs star. Although meat slips easily from the bone, they provide a serious, ecstatic chew that sets forth great waves of smoky, piggy flavor. Barbecued chicken is so tender that juice-saturated dark meat quite literally falls from a drumstick when we lift it from the plate. It is memorably delicious chicken, some of the best anywhere.
Only the chopped barbecue (pork, of course) is disappointing – somewhat drab and dry. That situation is easily remedied by application of one of three sauces provided to the table: mild, sweet, and hot. White sauce, echoing Alabama preferences to the north, also is available on request. It’s probably best suited for the chicken, but for me, this chicken is too good to mess with.
Fine, fine side dishes: thick, firm mac ‘n’ cheese; sweet, meat-laden barbecue beans; crisp and refreshing cole slaw. While Brunswick stew can sometimes seem like a kitchen afterthought, JR’s is nothing short of magnificent: packed with big shreds of pork, sweet tomato-fruity, and tongue-tickling spicy. When Susan heard me and Jane declaiming our admiration for it, she piped in, “I eat Brunswick stew here six days a week. I’ve been working here twelve years and I could never leave … because the food’s too good!”
While you enjoy the sun on Florida’s “Forgotten Coast,” your stomach starts to rumble, and the only thing that will satisfy it is BBQ. Well, J.R.’s Ribshack is just the place to stop that rumbling.
The first thing you notice as you pull into the parking lot (besides the heavenly aroma of smoked meats) is that the locals know about this place and they beat you here. You walk into the small dining room and are immediately greeted by the wonderful scent of pit-smoked meats; it welcomes you and lets you know you made the right choice.
Seat yourself at an open table if you can find one, but you’d better be quick about it for someone might steal your table first. The decor in the dining room just cries out “SMALL TOWN” and “FAMILY”; all around on the walls are certificates of appreciation from the Little League, Soccer League, and local dirt track racers. Other walls are decorated with colored drawings from the smallest of J.R.’s customers and, yes, J.R.’s Southern pride shows through with the mounted heads of deer and wild boar. The menu is straightforward and easy to read, but not so easy as to make your decision simple.
The pit-smoked BBQ pork shows its pink smoke ring and is tender and smokey. The quarter or half smoked chicken is truly a work of art: skin well-smoked, the white with just a tinge of smoke ring. The meat is juicy and easily comes apart from the bone. The ribs, too, have a nice smoke ring; the meat just comes off the bone with the slightest of tugs.
The meats do not need BBQ sauce, but for those who feel they must, J.R.’s has three different sauces to choose from. The first: a Tennessee sweet red sauce, thick and smokey sweet. The second: mild, a mixture of sweet and vinegar, somewhat thinner than the first, but it goes great with the chicken. The third sauce: XXX (hot), this sauce will make you sweat. It is based on the first sauce but with red pepper flakes and some serious heat.
The waitstaff is very attentive and quick to refill your half-empty glass of tea, or whatever you may be drinking. Their iced tea (unsweetened) is clear and tastes great, and helps quench the fire from the XXX sauce.
The dessert menu has brownie delight, banana pudding, and peach or apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream. I asked for peach cobbler but I was too late, so I chose my all-time favorite: banana pudding. I was not disappointed. The pudding was fresh, dense, and full of banana chunks, while the Nilla wafers disappeared into the creaminess. This is some seriously good banana pudding.
J.R.’s also offers AYCE pit-smoked meat plates, pit-smoked meat by the pound, and Picnic Specials. J.R.’s tabletops have their secret ingredient listed on them… “Good Old Fashioned Southern Pride.”