Jake's Dixie Roadhouse on Moody Street in Waltham has a large bar area and a smaller dining room. The painted brick walls are generally free of the usual BBQ decor, instead relying on a few neon signs, a shelf of hot sauce bottles (not for consumption) and a cardboard Elvis standup. The bar also has two TVs and a projection screen TV.
On an early 2006 visit after not having gone for a while, my wife and I shared Buffalo shrimp and fried dill pickles to start. The 7 large, crisp shrimp were closer to the color of lobster than Buffalo wings, making them look very appetizing. They were good, with a nice, tangy Buffalo flavor. The lightly battered dill pickles were quartered into spears rather than sliced, a nice method that allows you to taste the pickle and batter in perfect harmony. I have not had a better fried pickle, though I wish the dipping sauce had more oomph.
There are two kinds of ribs here: babybacks and "Memphis" spare ribs, plus Buffalo style ribs and deep fried ribs as appetizers. Barbecue entrees also include pulled pork, chicken and brisket. The combinations here aren't as flexible as at most BBQ joints, so I got a half rack of the Memphis ribs. I was pleased to see that the ribs were generously dry rubbed, grilled without sauce and served with sauce on the side. The pink, meaty ribs had a tasty rub outside and a slightly sweet and smoky inside, with a good flavor. The ribs were moist and bordering on juicy, with a slight snap to them like a competition rib should have.
I asked for all three sauces, including a sweet (peachy), house (brick red, hickory flavor) and hot (Caribbean feel). All were better than I remembered and all had a good consistency and depth of flavor.
Cole slaw and baked beans were ordinary; the dry, burnt cornbread was crusty and dry. A watermellon wedge was a nice touch.
Follow-ups: Four follow up visits were all pretty good to very good. Memphis ribs were again flavorful and juicier to boot; fried pickles were again excellent; fried ribs were battered and crunchy outside but a little dry inside; puffy onion rings were good. I tried the “Bubba” combo that includes ribs, pulled pork, chicken and brisket. Ribs were good. The pulled pork was tender, smoky and flavored with a strong dose of vinegar (which I like but some may not). Brisket was average on one visit and very good on another. Chicken was very good. Sides again were fairly ho-hum. Overall, a very respectable combined “mental score” for the four meats.
More recently, I tried the burger (stacked high with condiments and cooked perfectly to order) and the had the babybacks for the first time in a while. These were among the meatiest I've encountered, cooked to competition tenderness, with a nice crust on the outside and plenty of juices inside. The smoke was noticeable but not overdone. The catfish bites appetizer was worthy of a seafood restaurant. Plump, juicy wings, though they could have been a little more crisp, had a nice flavor.
Jake's Dixie Roadhouse has entertainment on weekends, "all you can eat" on Sunday and Monday nights and convenient parking behind the building. Red Sox games are played on a projection TV against a high brick wall.
I like the fact that they always have a specials menu and try new things all the time. Jake’s also has special events every few months, such as the SPAM challenge and Rib Wars, in which other restaurants compete with the home team. Customers get to try samples from each competitor and vote on a winner. These are fun events.
The bottom line: a good meal, with many more hits than misses. I hadn’t been much of a Jake's Dixie Roadhouse fan in their early years, but my 2006 visits showed both improvement and promise; more recent visits mostly delivered on that promise. In the greater Boston area, I still have a few places I prefer over Jake’s, but I'd go back in a heartbeat.