Review Date: 09/17/15
Visit Dates: (08/22/15) (08/30/15) (09/05/15)
Located on the main drag of Route 138 about a half mile off I-495, 2 Jerks BBQ is the product of two brothers (evidently, the two "jerks") with fine dining chops and degrees from Johnson & Wales. The smoker is a Cookshack.
Everything's spread out and easy here, with plenty of parking to the side and rear of the restaurant and roomy seating inside. Two different dining rooms flank a centrally located smaller bar area. The décor is mostly understated, with a few obligatory nods to barbecue lore.
The barbecue features St Louis cut pork spare ribs, pulled pork, brisket, smoked half chicken and house made sausage, further extended by candied house smoked bacon, burnt ends, wings and brisket chili as appetizers. Barbecue entrees can be had as single, 2- or 3-meat platters. Sandwiches include pulled pork, brisket and pulled chicken, plus a burger. For the less barbecue inclined, they also offer fried chicken, a changing steak, fried bologna, gumbo, oysters, cornmeal crusted pork chops and three different salads with or without meat.
I bookended a Sunday night visit with two Saturday night visits, joined by either a well travelled barbecue aficionado or Young Bride, all in a three week span about six weeks into the operation.
Cornbread: You don't even have to place your order before the cornbread arrives in a
basket with soft honey butter, more of an amuse than a side. On all
three visits it was so fresh it was still warm. I like that the crusts
were a darker golden brown than you normally see. There's a hint of molasses,
cinnamon or other autumnal flavor in there, but it's more corn (and corn
kernels) and mostly butter that elevate this version over other cakey
approaches. It's coarse and it's very moist, even the next day. I'm
having a hard time thinking of a better cornbread within a hundred
miles. I crave it.
Bacon: The "plate of bacon" ($9.99) is smoked in house, sliced thin, candied via a liquid topping and served in a single hefty big stack. The slices tried on visit 1 were a little thinner and a little wetter than I imagined, but they exhibited nice porky flavor and a strong cure. Though a little droopy, they were simultaneously crisp, which is the sweet spot I like. A few pieces had unrendered fat, but most were fully edible. I would have ordered this again if not for the availability of burnt ends on visit 3.
Wings: On two different but nearly identical tries, eight very large wings graced the plate ($10.99), wielding a profusion of densely packed rub that seemed to have been applied both before and after smoking. Outer crispness was fully achieved. Inner moistness, not so much, but they weren't dry. Flavor came mostly from the rub, which reminded me of Shake 'n' Bake with its salt content and all around savory approach. The dip on the side is an Alabama White sauce, a tangy mayoey number that's a nod to Big Bob Gibson's (Decatur AL). Overall, I don't see an inclusion on the next PigTrip Wings List, but it's a solid effort.
Fried Green Tomatoes: Okay, let's get one negative out of the way right off. These tomatoes ($6.99) weren't green and weren't tart. That said, there was a lot to like about this appetizer. The presentation was outstanding, with a piccalilli of sorts topping each crunchy-battered top. And the green goddess dressing on the side—a little mayoey, a little citrusy, with a basil punch—gilded the lily even more than the piccalilli. I liked the batter and the batter-to-tomato ratio. As for the tomatoes themselves, green or not, they were wonderful: very fresh, juicy, naturally sweet and more intensely tomatoey than your typical Stop & Shop variety. Tip: that green godess also makes a great dip for smoked chicken and brisket.
Brisket Chili: Here's another interesting presentation ($5.99), with melting-before-your-eyes
strings of cheese sitting above the chili and scallions on top. Beans
are included but kept to a minimum. A bag of Fritos corn chips is served
on the side: you can keep them whole and dip, or crumble them on top.
It still tasted like chili, only significantly sweeter than most chilis, possibly from
the pepper selection but more likely from some added house barbecue
sauce. Tender from being cooked down, the brisket was actually smokier
than what's served as a barbecue entree. The meat isn't lacking, but the
ratio of thick broth to brisket is higher than most. I've read online reviews talking about the high heat level, but my sample was mid-range. Although I like the approach, I'd hold off on the chili and go with any of the other appetizers listed here.
Burnt Ends: It's not listed on the menu, but if you ask, $6.99 will get you a
gigantic plate of twice-smoked one-inch cubes from the point cut—the
fattiest part of the brisket. Fortunately, that fat's mostly melted into the meat,
allowing you to eat each piece in its entirety. I tried about a half dozen cubes, finding a couple that were dry and firm, many more that were moist and tender, and crispness every time. A couple of those moist bites were full fledged juicy. The sweet and tangy house sauce got applied lightly enough to aid the moistness without compromising the beef flavor and the strongest smoke of any item I've tried here. A solid effort that's among the region's better burnt ends.
Ribs: Ordered all three times on 3-meat combos ($18.99), the ribs all three times brought larger-than-expected portions, with at least five bones and a thick cut. The first visit's two combos both included ribs, so a full rack probably got split between the two plates, with the long end exceptionally thick. Rub was much like the wings: a very dense application and similar Shake 'n' Bake flavor led by salt. Interiors were fully juicy twice and borderline juicy once (visit 2). Bark, crust and outside/inside textural contrast were pronounced all three times; smoke and interior color were fairly low all three times.
Flavor was definitely pleasant, though just a little something was missing—possibly in the rub, which, while not overly salty, was strong on salt but light on sugar and heat. Regardless, the winning texture made these ribs more than enjoyable all three times.
Pulled Pork: The constants were light porkiness, light smoke and lighter color, but
all three of the samples (all coming on 3-meat platters) were different
from each other.
The first visit delivered some large chunks and mostly long, wiltingly tender strands that separated with the slightest of tugs. All of the meat was beyond moist and well into juicy, thanks to strong fat presence. Because it was melted in rather than as separate areas, every bit of the pork was fully edible and fully delicious. Bark presence was moderate and slightly softened, but fresh tasting. This first sample was the only one that had Carolina style vinegar worked into the meat.
The second visit's pulled pork had no strings, going exclusively with large chunks that carried no detectable vinegar and not too much visible bark. Tenderness wasn't an issue, but this time the moistness just wasn't there.
Visit 3 rebounded with smaller shreds and a much higher bark level, fully lubricated with liquid porkfat. Again, no detectable vinegar, even though an orange pool of liquid sat below. Each bite was supremely tender, luscious and porky. No sauce needed.
Brisket: The first visit's first visual was not a positive one, as the four thick
slices bore large appendages of fat. But it turned out to be a false
alarm: the serving was large enough and the fat was removable enough
that it left behind some very flavorful meat with much more invisible
fat melting to keep it fully moist if not downright juicy. Smoke that
was only barely noticeable in the other meats was more prominent here;
rub was also stronger, again led by salt but different from the chicken and ribs. Texture kept its end of the bargain
with an easy bite showcasing proper doneness. This brisket had just
about everything you could ask for, with the exception of crunchy bark
and a smoke ring, but sometimes smoke rings are overrated.
On visit 2, the brisket mixed really large, thick slices and smaller chunks. This time the fat was more marbled into the meat and less on the edge, and this time the smaller chunks brought the missing bark and crunch. The meat once again had a nice give and substantial moisture, though falling just shy of juicy.
Visit 3 replayed the same themes: thick slices, fully moist, slightly elevated smoke. Rub was lighter this time, but texture again prevailed.
Chicken: Tried on visits 1 and 3, the half chicken on a 3-meat combo impressed both times with good size, very high rub content, very crisp skin and extremely moist meat, even in the breast. Flavor came mostly from the rub, which—like the wings—had a Shake 'n' Bake feel. Smoke was light but still noticeable. Though more about the near-perfect texture than flavor, this chicken is one of the best examples in all of New England.
Sausage: Tried on the first and third visits, very long links had very dark, very crackly casings that snapped with vigor. Inside, the meat was coarsely chopped, somewhat firm and more than somewhat moist. Smoke was again light but noticeable. Italian on both occasions (sweet once, hot once) so far, the sausage will be a changing item that will sometimes be pork, sometimes beef.
Probably not a strength here, the three table sauces in squeeze bottles are pretty basic interpretations of the standard sweet/tangy, the standard vinegary and a mostly yellow mustardy. Maybe it's just me, but I did notice a little more nuance and depth in the house and mustard sauces on the last visit.
Collard Greens: Large leaves, cooked past wilting, accented with onion and bacon, but more of a star was the flavorful broth that went savory all the way (sweet and tart not necessary) to the the bitterness of the vegetable and bring out its essence.
Black-eyed Pea Salad: A cold and refreshing counterpoint to the meat, this was a little long in the tooth on one visit, and fully crisp and alive on another.
Baked Beans: Small, semi-firm beans in a dark, molasses-heavy sauce, with tiny chunks of bacon and slivers of onion along for the ride. Too sweet for me.
Cole Slaw: Crisp, crunchy and topped with seeds, but ultimately a little dry. What little condiment was there hadn't fully set, as if it were just assembled minutes earlier.
Brussels Sprouts: Flash fried (with no breading) to crisp them up and tossed into a tasty cooked-down broth (much like you'd get with collard greens) featuring chunks of Benton ham.
Mac and Cheese: One of the better examples of this dish brought thick spirals of pasta liberally coated with a thicker creamy cheese sauce. This is an adult version with nice sharpness.
Potato Salad: Very large chunks of skin-on red bliss potatoes carried mucho condiment but poco flavor.
Mashed Potatoes: I only had one bite but it was a good mix of potatoey with just enough butter and just enough salt to complement.
Baked Sweet Potato: I didn't try any bites of this one, but take a look. Young Bride liked it.
Value is impressive. A 3-meat combo for $18.99 is more than fair at face
value. Then when you find that the ribs and chicken portions are
practically the same as they'd be on their own (half rack and half
chicken), it's even better.
Servers are green but eager and know the menu well.
The Bottom Line
Yes, the smoker is the dreaded Cookshack. Yes, the smoke levels are mostly low (all of the brisket items are exceptions) and color is mostly monotone. But these guys know how to cook and manage to get flavor into the meat and on-point textures—crisp where it's supposed to be crisp, moist where it's supposed to be moist, tender without flirting with overtender—much more often than not.
Combine that with some cheffy touches (salads, apps), some outside the box items (fried bologna, candied bacon) and what might be the best cornbread in the region, and you have a joint that's the best in the area and arguably worth a drive.
Yelp reviews of 2 Jerks BBQ
Zomato reviews of 2 Jerks BBQ