Is barbeque like the September Man? Dead after September? Cold weather sucking the heat from the smoker like a vampire, having to check the temperature and feed the fuel box a few times each hour. All the competitions moving deeper south where people hang outside yearround and lemonade is always in season. Raking up the leaves and putting the deck furniture away, the cover for the smoker within reach. You can always just grill if needed. Right? Sure, it’s easy to bury the smoker beneath the clumsily coiled hoses for a few months, and break it back out next April, loaded with new recipes, new enthusiasm, and a new box of wet wipes. Easy enough. Nothing to write about until then. Or so I thought. I am a slow learner, but when I do, I like to think that it sticks. You don’t have to be outside, sidling up to your own smoker, or at a friend’s place next to his rig in order to enjoy the taste of smoked meat and sweet sauce. When the weather turns, as it always does in Jersey, you can go out on a walkabout, a pilgrimage of sorts, looking for cooking that is as good, or (cough!) maybe even better than yours. So when we went looking for a place to watch Rutgers play North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl (certainly not Detroit), we gravitated toward our old stomping ground of New Brunswick. But not within the Bermuda Triangle of our freshman year (Grease Trucks, Stuff Yer Face, Tumulty’s), or even the extended area of our later years (Arthur’s, Old Bay, Draft Picks), but somewhere new… somewhere within the facelift of the “new” New Brunswick. So when Chris suggested Brother Jimmy’s, a relatively new barbeque restaurant in town, I bit. And it was good.
According to the website, ( www.brotherjimmys.com ) Brother Jimmy’s is a place that started in New York City as a home away from home for Atlantic Coast Conference alumni, to watch the games that regular networks didn’t carry and to eat food that was the destination of late night college road trips. Since its opening in 1989, Jimmy’s has opened a number of restaurants, including six in NYC and one across the river. As luck would have it, the New Jersey restaurant landed in New Brunswick, in the thick of where we wanted to bathe in a sea of scarlet as the Knights played. On the day after Christmas, the campus was empty and most of the students were home for the holidays, but parking on the street was still a bear. I had to drive around a bit to find a place on the street, but at least I didn’t have to walk beneath the water dripping from the limestone of the railroad trestle to get to the doors of the place. Anybody who has walked to the New Brunswick train station knows what I am talking about. I tried to think back to what occupied the space of the restaurant back when I was a student, and not surprisingly, I couldn’t. The old taxi place where we could catch a ride across town to Cook College was still next door. Craiger’s surf and skate shop, Earth Core, was up the hill and around the corner. But here? No idea. But it doesn’t matter anymore, because once you walk through the doors, you’re no longer in New Brunswick or care what used to be there. You’re now in some barbeque joint that could be in any city south of the Mason-Dixon line. Or NYC, I guess.
I was a bit early, so I grabbed a few beers from the bar to wait for Chris, Linda and Justin. About a third of the place is designed for the bar crowd: large windows open to the street, craft beers on tap, space for large groups to belly up to the bar and get loud. Done it, love doing it, but that is not why we came. We came for the game and the company…and the meat. The rest of the place was table seating enclosed on three sides by rustic wood walls and signs that you would see in any roadhouse. If I could have a mancave look like this, I would. Looked like it could seat about a hundred people to sit and eat, and at the moment, most of them were empty, so I wasn’t worried too much about finding a good spot to watch the game. But time flies, and as game time approached and my friends and I had had a few, you start to notice all of a sudden that the place is pretty hoppin’ and your tables are filling up fast. Like a man on a mission, I scoped out one of the few remaining tables that offered what I thought was a good view of a television screen, and the manager, Dan, was good enough to accommodate the large guy with a beer in his hand that had a particular one in mind. I can only imagine how many times he has been in this situation, so I can appreciate now his patience with me. On the way to the table, we counted the televisions in the room and landed on about 18, so we were able to laugh at ourselves for being pretty stupid.
Our server was a cute young woman named Dina who made us feel like she was hanging and watching the game with us, and every now and then would have get up to get us something. I don’t know how many tables she had, but if it always felt as if we were her one and only. When she found out that we were there for the first time and were interested in learning everything we could about the food, she was always happy to talk or answer questions for us. She even introduced Brother Jimmy’s signature shot of whiskey with a pickle juice chaser to us. Now I gotta have one every time I go down. Don’t take this the wrong way, Dina, but at that point, I rather you hung up your apron, pulled up a chair, and did some more shots with us. You are very cool.
When we go to a place, we have to try everything that would put on our own menu, of which sides and corn bread are a huge part. You can tell a lot about a place by their corn bread. When the Team Boy B Que guys are sitting around a table of barbeque and the sides are put down on the table, it’s everyone for themselves. Linda can hold her own as well. But when everybody gets a taste and favorites are quickly chosen, you don’t have long before the bowls are empty. Forks are optional, although I am glad to say that Chris used one as he wolfed down the creamed spinach. I can’t guarantee that they were used on anything else. The sides that we tried were the spinach, brussel sprouts, cole slaw, and beans. I like to try the greens, and can appreciate them, but its they are not what I covet. Justin developed a recipe for cole slaw long ago that we make for our own families to this day. Every bowl of slaw is compared to this and when we tried it, we looked at each other and nodded. It passed the muster. It didn’t look like much, but it had a great balance of mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, and sugar mixed with the cabbage. I could eat a plateful and still heap it on a pulled pork sandwich for good measure. The beans were delicious as well. The menu said that it was infused with pork, which wasn’t obvious by looking at it, but after trying it, I wasn’t really looking anyway. It didn’t last long on the table. I used a fork, if anybody is keeping score.
When we go for the meat, there are two ways to do it. The first is to ask the server for whatever they recommend, and while this often brings great results, you run the risk of not being able to try everything. The other way is to get a sampler plate, and that is what we did: three of them. Each had a chicken, pork, and brisket, served in one manner or another. Again, no forks involved. Forks don’t allow the teeth to tear off the meat the way that we like to try it. Justin and I elected to try the pulled pork first because, like corn bread, you can tell a lot about a place by the pork. It came naked (no sauce) with the option of putting on any of the three types of barbeque sauces that are in the rack on the table, but we didn’t have to touch them all night. Didn’t need to. Except to do a shot of the Carolina vinegar sauce. At the time, it was deliciously awful, and I cringed at the huge dose of vinegar as it went down, but I wouldn’t hesitate to pour it all (my plate) over just to change things up. The pork was deeply smoky, confirming out opinion that “less is more”. Many places disguise the taste, or lack of, by bathing the pulled pork in sauce, but by the taste of the pork, we had confirmed that if you don’t need to, then don’t. Moist and tender, on it’s own. In a competition, the judges would enjoy what we had just as it was. Chris went for one of the baby back ribs, and then passed the bone along to us. It was good, but not memorable like the spare ribs that came next. The spares came either wet or with dry rub. I chose to go for the dry rub first, and the rib was perfectly tender, not falling from the bone, but rather with the slightest of tug from the bone as the bite comes off and into your mouth. Although most people talk about meat falling off the bone, if it all comes off with the first bite, then it is too tender and has cooked too long. The dry rub combined the sweet and hot in a nice thin layer that accented the large amount of meat beneath. When Chris let me try the wet rib though, I was immediately jealous. The sauce on the wet rib had the textbook tangy sauce that really changes up your gameplan, and has you ordering an entire half rack “just like that.” We were a little disappointed with the brisket on the one platter as it seemed to come from the end of the cut and didn’t allow us to really taste the interior. When Dan heard this, he went into the kitchen and brought out some hot sliced brisket that melted like butter along the sweet veins of fat that ran through it. Beef brisket that would make my dad very happy.
Dina and Dan introduced us to Bryan, the general manager. He seemed very proud of the restaurant, as he should be, and took us into the kitchen to see the smokers. Unfortunately, we caught them at a time when they weren’t filled with meat, but we were still able to see and appreciate the set up. Gas kept the temperatures at a low and even heat while the apple and hickory chunks gave the meat its distinctive smoky flavor. Amazing that the three smokers could serve such large crowds of eaters.
Overall, a great time out hanging with friends, watching Rutgers win, and eating great barbeque. If you go there, make sure you sit at one of Dina’s tables, grab at least one sampler platter, drink the signature shot, and come back again for more of everything. Love that its not far away and now a part of the Rutgers student scene.