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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Stations of the 'cue: III & IV

Posted on Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 4:00 AM

Release Date: 2009-09-02

The brisket-sandwich search inspired by the release of Texas BBQ: Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden continues with two more targets. My previous two destinations, Pat’s on East Houston and Chit Chats on Cherry, rated 11 and 15 toothpicks out of 20, respectively. `See The Fast Foodie, August 19.` Mr. J’s BBQ on South New Braunfels was selected through a crosscheck of several online sites such as Urban Spoon and City Search. Never again. 

But contributors to those sites did get one thing right about Mr. J’s: Its location isn’t exactly scenic (nor is it scary, as one writer proclaimed). The place fits the down-at-the-heels, canopied, ex-drive-in format with an order window and outdoor dining at picnic tables that have themselves long known the outdoors. Sides aren’t included in the basic sandwich price at Mr. J’s, but the list of available options is the most appealing so far in this brief survey. The collard greens, swimming in savory pot likker, were superior to the main attraction; these I could eat by the bucket-load. 

The brisket itself is served on a large and somewhat dry hamburger bun. The meat, though generously portioned and not notably chewy, was lean to a fault and accordingly verging on dry; it really could have used some fat. It also desperately needed sauce — just not this sauce, which smelled and tasted like a liquid-smoke product. This may have its place at the backyard grill, but not at a ’Q joint with any cred at all. Score: eight toothpicks. (It would have been lower without the greens.) 

Jones Sausage & BBQ House is located on Martin Luther King Drive, east of St. Philip’s College in a kind of no-man’s land. The building is painted a somewhat disquieting shade of dried-blood red, and, in a departure from the stereotype, there’s no outside dining. No order window, either; you must step inside, and at first it’s almost akin to stepping across the threshold of a dive geared more to beer and broads than barbecue and sweet tea. The inside is also painted dark red. 

But any apprehension quickly fades in the face of signs touting peach cobbler and 7UP pound cake. On my visit, two guys were watching Michael Jackson’s funeral on a small TV. The pitmaster took my order for a sliced sandwich, priced at a thrifty $4.49, and I settled back to watch the spectacle as well. Moments later, the maestro served the sandwich, brisket bounded by white bread once again. And at first bite, the dive became a shrine; the “center-cut” meat was ethereally smoky, tender, and moist, the sauce was spot-on, and even the white bread seemed perfect in its place. The celebrants at Michael’s wake should have been so lucky. Score: 18 toothpicks out of 20. The cobbler might have raised the overall score to a perfect Jackson, but I’ll have to go back to find out.

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