Last weekend, I followed my beak down Lower Muscatine Road, just past Sycamore mall to one of Iowa City’s favorite BBQ joints, Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack. Owned and operated by James Adrian and Jack Piper (co-owners of Atlas and Basta Pizzeria Ristorante), Jimmy Jack’s is housed in a red and white barn-like structure that features both indoor and outdoor seating. Being as I am a chicken, I instantly felt right at home.
Once inside the “barn” doors, your order is placed at a walk-up counter staffed by unfailingly friendly employees dressed in matching logo t-shirts. I put in my order for a pulled pork sandwich dinner, which included two sides (I chose fries and coleslaw) and a slab of honey butter cornbread. I also added an iced tea.
First off, I really like that Jimmy Jack’s brews their iced tea in-house. The clerk working the counter never fails to remind me to use extra ice, because the tea is warm when it comes out of the brewer. It’s a mystery to me why good, unsweetened iced tea is so hard to find–but Jimmy Jack’s does it right.
Once my food arrived, I hopped up to the long, stainless steel counter that houses a huge variety of sauces and condiments. Who doesn’t love a sauce buffet? I slathered the smoky-sweet Cowboy BBQ onto my pulled pork, and added a side of Carolina Mustard for dipping my fries. Four Alarm and Original BBQ sauces were also available, as well as pickles, chopped onions and jalapenos for garnish.
Appropriately sauced up, I took my seat and dug in. The bun on my pulled pork sandwich was big and soft, and soaked up a lot of the sauce, which drives me crazy but you gotta have a bun on a sandwich! The pork inside was so tender and juicy that it fell apart in shreds and had an excellent level of smokiness. I didn’t encounter a single piece of dried-out, crusty meat, which is exemplary BBQ in my book.
Jimmy Jack’s french fries are worth seeking out all on their own: square-cut and skinless, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. The Carolina mustard dip provides just the right balance of sweet honey-mustard tang. These fries really aren’t like any others in town, and be warned: They have been known to induce late-night, no-other-fries-will-do cravings.
The accompanying coleslaw was fresh and crisp, more sugary than savory. Nope, this coleslaw is classic Midwestern: Think the kind Mom used to serve out of her Tupperware at cookouts and tailgates. The meal was completed by a slab of cornbread basted in a shiny coat of honey butter.
The ambiance at Jimmy Jack’s is informal–patrons are seated at low wooden tables flanked by benches or steel booths. From floor to ceiling, the restaurant is always immaculate, and the staff jump to clear tables almost as fast as patrons can abandon them. Much attention to detail has been paid to creating the right down-home BBQ atmosphere, from the rustic farming equipment and antique portraiture decorating the walls, to the blues wailing over the sound system. Even the font on the menu and website has an old-timey feel.
I’ll admit I’ve eaten at Jimmy Jack’s more than once, and other favorites include the Smoked Portobello sandwich with provolone and roasted red peppers and the Smoked Half Chicken. As the name suggests, they also have some darn good ribs!
It’s no surprise that Jimmy Jacks’ was named Best of the Area in the BBQ category in last year’s Press Citizen’s Readers Poll. The next time you’ve got a hankerin’ for some authentic ‘que in a low-key setting, this spot is a can’t-miss.
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