Go: 8401 Vine St., Hartwell
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Payment: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
Red Meat Alternatives: Great selection of veggie sides, smoked portabella, chicken and seafood
Guess where I ate dinner last night? I had two lovely pieces of smoked Copper River salmon served atop a salad of perfectly crisp green beans and roasted red pepper slices, topped with tangy pink pickled onion slivers and dressed with a thyme vinaigrette.
If you guessed Jimmy's BBQ, then you obviously cheated and read ahead! No way you got that fair and square.
Yes, Jimmy's BBQ is bigger than its humble name, modest setting and cusp-of-Wyoming location would confer. When they opened in February, owners Ben and Christian Hattemer aspired to make great barbecue in honor of their dad Jimmy's memory. Christian's training at the Culinary Institute of America has spurred some innovations beyond the yeoman's job of perfectly pulled pork, and the result is a real diamond in the rough.
I made a quick stop at Jimmy's in the spring when we were working on CityBeat's Dining Guide, and I could see that something good was happening. The modest setting is a rehabbed fast-food restaurant and, though the brick-patterned tile floor remains and orders were taken at a walk-up counter, corrugated metal accents and fantastic art by Blues photographer James Fraher gave the space a touch of class.
I headed back with a big crew of tasters and saw that evolution was underway. There's still a counter for carryout, but now there's table service if you're dining in. Good table service — not polished, but young and friendly.
Jimmy's offers a small but satisfactory selection of beer and wine. We had started off with Einbecker Mai-Ur-Bock beers, a spicy little German number, when Christian appeared to ask what we thought of it. His distributor had sent it in place of Einbecker Pils and he insisted that we try the last two Pils, his treat, to compare them.
"A classic Pilsner!" my friend rejoiced, and we happily quaffed both.
If free beer wasn't enough to make us love the place, our food arrived. We ooohed and aaahed. I was glad I'd brought a clan of enthusiastic diners so that we had a variety of dishes to explore, but I was especially glad that I'd ordered the special of the day.
The salmon special ($15) was outstanding. It had been smoked on the premises, just as the more traditional pork and beef offerings. The flavor was superb, rich and subtle and the presentation top notch.
Another creative offering is the Smoked Portabella ($5) — a BBQ option for your vegetarian friends or to keep in mind next Lent! All kidding aside, it's a damn tasty sandwich, dressed up with chipotle mayonnaise and pepper jack cheese. We tried the macaroni and cheese ($3) with this, and it was impressive — fat corkscrews of pasta with rich cheddar sauce. The coleslaw ($2) was crisp and delicious. And the braised greens ($2)! Vinegar and onions brought out the best in them.
Jimmy's won the hearts of our meat-eating friends. These were no barbecue amateurs, mind you. Former Texans and dedicated foodies, they thoughtfully considered the merits of each of the three sauces on the table — a sweeter red, a darker, smokier red and a mustardy gem that I adored.
The free-range chicken ($11/half chicken) was juicy and well done, but it paled in comparison to the beef brisket ($5.50 sandwich, $13 full order), the pulled pork shoulder ($5.50 sandwich) and the ribs ($12 full slab, $10/half). The ribs were a tiny bit salty, but they were so meaty and had just the right amount of fat for flavor without dripping grease. Wonderful.
No one had room for dessert. Instead, we shared the cornbread ($2). Perfect mini-loaves, a very fine crumb accented with whole corn kernels convinced our youngest guests that "this is real." Real good, too.
Starting this week, they're featuring heirloom tomato salad, and they have plans this fall to smoke venison. They plan to offer more fish choices, barbecued when it's appropriate but prepared in any variety of ways. One to expect soon is New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp, a Cajun favorite that's actually not grilled. I'll be back to try it.
All of the meats, including my salmon, were smoked on-site in huge Old Hickory Pits smokers. Jimmy's Web site (www.cincybbq.com) has details, along with a photo essay about whole-hog cooking that's startlingly honest about meat.
The philosophy is a good one, and obviously the crew at Jimmy's is making a real effort to bring good food to the table. ©