Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: JD's Smokin' Grill and Bar

When I first really started to get into the fine details of barbecue, Kentucky Greg taught me a very important lesson: "There is no such thing as bad barbecue. There is simply barbecue you might like, and other kinds of barbecue that other people might like." So as I sample local grub and write about it here, try to keep that in mind. Even though I'm one of the smartest yahoos you'll ever meet, my tastes may just not be the same as yours. Please support all our local barbecue dives and judge for yourself stupid!

JD's Smokin' Grill and Bar

JD's Smokin' Grill and Bar
When I heard about JD’s Smokin’ Grill and Bar a few months ago and did a brief review of their menu online, for some reason my first impression was that this was simply another burger and wing joint that just happened to serve a few barbecue dishes. My only excuse (besides too many beers) is that I didn’t read carefully enough, because after Jill and I met a few friends out for a late dinner last week, I can now testify that JD’s is most certainly an authentic barbecue place that knows a little something about smoking them pigs.

What JD’s is not, is a little hole in the wall, off the beaten path barbecue shack. It is a pretty large, open space for a typical joint and has plenty of seating, booths and tables, as well as an outdoor patio. It’s very easy to overdo the vintage sign and old license plate look when you’re trying to give a place that “ole’ country” feel, but JD’s is done simply and gives off a very warm feeling for such a large space. The cleanliness throughout was impressive and worth noting, and the wait staff was extremely friendly.

JD's BBQ Wings
JD’s menu is pretty extensive for a joint that touts itself as having authentic barbecue, so for this review we skipped the more traditional burgers and salads, and went straight for the “q”. We started with two appetizers: the Red Neck Egg Rolls ($6.50) and the Jumbo BBQ Wings ($6.29). The egg rolls were filled with JD’s pulled pork and homemade coleslaw, served with a side of sweet chili dipping sauce. The fried roll itself and the coleslaw had a groovy crunch to them, complimented by the tenderness and mild tang of the barbecue pulled pork. The dipping sauce offered just enough sweet and mild heat, so it did not overwhelm the pork and slaw flavor, but complimented it just right. (My only suggestion is that these could be served on some sort of napkin or deli paper to soak up a little of the oil that settles on the bottom of the fried rolls.) The “jumbo” barbecue wings were just average size actually, but once we tasted, we were not disappointed. The wings are first smoked on JD’s pit, and for my taste, they hit the smoke just right. It was not too heavy, which can be easy to do with small cuts of meat, but strong enough to stand out. The wings are glazed with JD’s mild barbecue sauce and finished off on the grill. Again, the sauce and char were mild enough that they did not overpower the great taste of the smoke, but gave just enough sweet flavors to make it all work well together for an exceptional barbecue wing.   

Red Neck Egg Rolls
Next came out the complimentary homemade cornbread. According to their website, this is owner Dinah’s special recipe and it is served hot with a generous spoonful of their maple butter. I am not a huge cornbread fan in general, but after listening to our friend Taryn go on about it being “perfect”, I had to dig in myself. The cornbread had an ideal consistency and crumble, with just the right amount of sweetness, highlighted by the rich, nutty flavor of the maple butter. (Hint, melt the maple butter right over the cornbread while it’s still hot.)

But onto the main event barbecue, JD’s sample plate ($15.99) including sliced brisket, quarter chicken, and ribs. We first tried the brisket which was sliced thin and served with the original mild sauce on top. Even though Cale and I had a short debate about thinner vs. thicker cuts, the brisket was tender, moist, and easy to pull apart. The smoke was rather mild and could have gotten lost if a stronger sauce was used, but overall it was really well done brisket. The quarter chicken consisting of a leg and thigh (you also have the choice of getting a breast and wing) was again smoked on the pit, glazed, and finished on the grill. For Cale the char was just right, while I would have liked a bit less since I think it overwhelmed some of the other flavors. However, the meat inside was moist and enjoyable.

Sampler Plate with Brisket, Chicken, and Ribs
So to be honest, we came to the restaurant late and were the second to last table to be served. I’m not fishing for an excuse here, but the ribs we had were a little dry. There were some good flavors there in the spice rub and glaze, but…

Okay now wait. You don’t think I’m going to review a barbecue place and verbally slap around their ribs without doing my research do you? Well read on folks. I drove back down to West Seneca a couple days later for lunch all by myself, cozied right up to the bar, and with a cold beer in hand ordered a half-slab of ribs ($15.99). I made it a point to ask the bartender (shout out to Irma!) to tell the chef “light on the grill char”, and she happily did. I enjoyed some friendly chit-chat over another beer and when the ribs came out I knew it was the right thing to come back for. Presentation was outstanding with a beautiful dark-red color and shiny glaze. (Sorry, but I forgot to take a picture. Give me a break. I’m still new at this…geez.) When I bit into the first rib the meat was tender, with just enough pull to keep the meat on the bones without making it difficult to eat. The meat had a nice smoke ring and that hickory flavor came through really well, complimented perfectly again by the mild house sauce.  For many barbecue joints, reputations can be made or lost on their ribs, so I am glad to say these are well worth a visit to JD’s.

Some final thoughts and opinions:
JD’s offers three original barbecue sauces table side: Mild, Original, and Rebel Yell (spicy). In general I think barbecue should be about bold flavors, but I thought in this case the mild sauce complimented most of the meats the best. It was sweet without being too aggressive, while the flavor of the original sauce didn’t hit me as well. The Rebel Yell sauce had a strong cayenne pepper taste and was our second favorite.

I tried three of JD’s side dishes not including the cornbread. The big hit for me was the real mashed potato with gravy. A hearty mash of potato with some chucks and skins left in, underneath a thick ladle-sized potion of gravy. Recommended.

JD’s offers a pretty standard fare of bottled and tapped beers including the usual Blues and Buds, along with some local choices from Great Lakes Brewing and Flying Bison.

Sorry, but there was no room in the bellies to review any of the homemade desserts.

It can be extremely hard to get all of the flavors that go into barbecue to play nice together, and overall, JD’s does it better than many of them. When I describe the flavors and techniques as mild, don’t misunderstand, it’s not a bad thing. JD’s offerings had a milder smoke flavor, but that was complimented extremely well by the mild sauce they are glazed with, and those are complimented by a mild char on the grill, and all those profiles together make up really enjoyable barbecue. Owners Joe and Dinah have done a really nice job putting together a welcoming restaurant, and yes I get it now, some pretty smoking barbecue.

Thanks again to Jill, Taryn and Cale for a fun night out and helping me with this review! At the end of our evening I did ask if I could go back and look at owner Joe’s pit, but alas it was past closing time and they had to promise me next time. I’m holding them to it.

JD's Smokin' Grill and Bar
1956 Ridge Road
Buffalo, NY 14224
www.jdssmokingrillnbar.com