Friday, May 25, 2012

Suit757 is Down with his Yellow Mess in the ‘Hood

Jenkins’ Bar-B-Q
830 N. Pearl St.
Jacksonville, FL

I had my first conversation with a black person when I was 20 years old.

Yeah, Suit757 lived a sheltered upbringing.

I told that person that everything I knew about black people came from The Cosby Show.

When she recovered from her wild convulsions of laughter – about ten minutes later, if I recall – she said that probably wasn’t the most representative depiction of black lifestyle.

I’m pretty sure she meant that to be an understatement.

But I have friends who claim to be experts on the latest comings and goings of hip hop culture who won’t so much as drive through the black neighborhood in their town in broad daylight with the doors locked.

And yet they claim to be connoisseurs of real barbeque.

I may still be confused about that guy who got shot. Six Pack? Two Pack?

Or how many “Doggies” are in Snoop Doggie Doggie Doggie’s(?) name.

Or is it no Doggies now?

No clue.

But I know enough to know that some of the best barbeque in America can almost always be found within a few miles of Martin Luther King Boulevard. And I don’t have a problem going there to get some.

Come to think of it, maybe I did spend too much time watching The Cosby Show.

Or just maybe, being a Suit in Strange Places conditions you to being out of place in pursuit of great food.

I mean really, the friendly folks at Jenkins' Bar-B-Que in the black section of downtown Jacksonville certainly don’t cause me any more concern than the collective head swivels from the natives at the backwoods redneck bars I’ve patronized in Mississippi.

You know Charlie Daniels’ song “Uneasy Rider”? Yeah. Been there. Done that. All the time. In a suit, no less.

So I don’t have any problem standing in line with the regulars at Jenkins to give my order to the lady behind the counter.

Especially when the barbeque is this good.

The specialty here? Ribs slow smoked over hickory.

Your choices are a large rack, a small rack, a double order or a “rib sandwich”.

The most popular order is the sandwich. I’ve ordered that before.

If I didn’t feel out of place being the only white guy in the joint, I would have if I actually tried to pick my “sandwich” up and eat it.

Um…don’t do that.

That’s because a rib sandwich in Jacksonville isn’t a sandwich at all. It’s a slice of white bread under three ribs (bone in, of course) and another slice or two on top.

These ribs may be slow smoked and tender, but you still can’t eat the bones!

The double order is six bones. Small rack is 10 or 11. Large rack is 13 or 14.

Since I had a dining companion with me, I knew I needed to go bigger than the “sandwich”. But how much bigger?

“Get a double order,” the friendly lady behind the counter advised. “If you get a small rack, you’ll have left overs for lunch tomorrow and dinner on Saturday!”

Hmm. Left overs aren’t an option for a Suit in a Strange Places. Ribs don’t travel well.

But, since I wasn’t planning to order any sides, I took a chance and ordered the small rack any way.

Good move.

Apparently the Jenkins’ lady must get all her knowledge of white culture by watching people starve on Survivor.

We had no problem polishing off the entire rack.

“Next time, we’re getting the large”, I said.

An absolute mess.

That is the only way to describe Jenkins’ ribs.

But messy in a good way.

For about twenty bucks I was handed a giant package of butcher paper that smelled like heaven.

Like a four year old on Christmas morning, I gleefully plopped down at a vacant booth and tore into the package.

At first I thought she had given me a loaf of Wonder bread. That’s all I could see.

Tossing aside my slices of white bread like superfluous ribbons and bows, the real reason I came to the “bad” side of town revealed itself to me.

A rack of ribs submerged in a pool of signature yellow barbeque sauce.

The sauce is yellow because it is mustard-based. And that’s the way folks like their barbeque here along the Southeast Atlantic coast.

“Most Northerners don’t like it,” is the way Jenkins’ owner Meltonia Jenkins-DuBois, describes her famous sauce. “But they get used to it.”

I don’t even like mustard. But I love Jenkins’ mustard barbeque sauce.

The sugar, vinegar and spice take the tart mustardy flavor to whole new -- and better -- place.

Providing more spicy kick than most mustard-based sauces, the sugar and spice are perfectly balanced. It’s sweet, but you get that enjoyable tingle on your lips too.

Jenkins’ offers a “spicy” version too for the hardened regulars.

Under that avalanche of sauce are some pretty good ribs.

I noticed that one end of the rack was smoky, tender and meaty. The other end offered a bit more tooth resistance while contributing more flavor from the smoke kissed “bark” of the meat.

Under the ribs was yet another half a loaf of Wonder Bread soaking up all that mustardy goodness.

I went through a small forest of napkins to keep the yellow sauce from running down my arms. Despite five minutes of scrubbing in the men’s room, my fingernails were permanently polished yellow.

By the time I gnawed the meat off the last precious rib and pushed back my mountain of bones and yellow stained napkins, I was feeling perfectly comfortable being the only white dude in Jenkins.

After all, I had proved myself worthy. I polished off a whole rack. Enjoyed the heck out of the quirky yellow sauce.

And knew enough not to eat the bones in my Wonder Bread sandwich.

Yeah. Suit757 fits in here. No problem.

I can hang in the black part of town.

Just don’t ask me what Snoop Doggie Dog sings.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.

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