Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday. This post continues my Manly Restaurant March Madness tournament.
This week our tournament begins in earnest with the barbecue semifinals. Check out my introduction article and last week’s selection show for more info on the tournament itself. I also reviewed most of these joints last year in my barbecue series. Today five square off head-to-head. May the most manly Q joint win!
The Franchise Play-in – Shane’s Rib Shack vs Jim N Nicks
It’s rather humerus to watch a franchise barbecue joint attempt to pay homage to a barbecue heritage within the confines of a strip mall. Both Shane’s and Jim N Nicks are guilty of this, which puts them on equal footing going into this match. Shane’s begins our game with an involved franchise owner. He owns three locations, Alpharetta, Crabapple and south Forsyth. He’s fairly active on twitter and in local business networking. Mark that as a small gain for Shane’s right off the bat.
But this match is never really close. Shane’s starting lineup includes the Southern Pride line of smokers… or perhaps I should call them ovens. There is nothing manly about this equipment, and nothing that does the craft of barbecue a bigger disservice. Simply put, Shane’s Q lacks smoke and a beautiful smoke ring. It is set-it-and-forget-it, oven-cooked Q for the masses.
By contrast, Jim N Nicks serves up pork, beef and ribs that pack a powerful punch of hickory flavor. Smoke ring? Yeah, it’s there and noticeable on every variety of meat served. And while they may also cook on industrial-quality equipment, they at least have racks of hickory logs outside the restaurant for fuel.
This one isn’t even close. Jim N Nicks wins from the opening tip off.
‘Cue vs Smokejack
Through a cruel twist of seeding, Alpharetta’s two top boutique barbecue joints face off in the opening round. Either of these restaurants have the potential to go far in this manly food tournament, but alas one’s season will end here.
Smokejack takes an early lead before even setting foot inside. On an average day, their smokers can be smelled for blocks away, even as far as 52 Bistro. ‘Cue calls a timeout to regroup.
While both restaurants sport made-from-scratch menus, ‘Cue is by far the leader here. Their homemade bread, fries and even pickles run circles around the sides at Smokejack. Their veggie of the day is usually a winner as well, my favorite being items like campfire potatoes. Manly veggies? I’ll say. At the half, ‘Cue holds a decent lead.
In the second half the barbecue competes. ‘Cue’s chopped pork is delicious, moist and sports a delicate smokey taste. Smokejack’s pork, while basted in Carolina sauce, hits with slightly more smoke and a much more flavorful bark. They both are fairly evenly matched in this contest, and the game goes down to the wire with ‘Cue holding a slight lead.
In the waning minutes of the game, Smokejack makes a substitution, bringing in a well-stocked bar. ‘Cue’s decent beer and wine selection can’t compete with Smokejack’s manly libations. An awesome selection of single barrel bourbons is enough to push Smokejack over the edge. ‘Cue is history.
Slopes vs Jim N Nicks
Slopes enters the tournament with a high Urban Spoon rating supported by super friend service. They are also the oldest barbecue restaurant in the area. Unfortunately for Slopes, this doesn’t translate into delicious meat.
Again Jim N Nicks runs circles around Alpharetta’s oldest Q. Barbecue is smoke and Slopes simply doesn’t embrace it. Their meat is lean, lacks bark of any kind and is often dry. This game isn’t even close.
Slopes fires back with Alpharetta’s best Brunswick stew. It’s packed with flavor and the right amount of veggies. Other side items like their fried okra keep this game from becoming a total blow out. But it still isn’t pretty. The cobblers at Slopes are also superior to any of the desserts offered at Jim N Nicks. It just isn’t enough to overcome a seriously weak barbecue game. Jim N Nicks cruises to another easy victory.
Jim N Nicks vs Smokejack
Jim N Nicks starts their baby back ribs, an entree that remained on the bench for two games. It’s a smart move as they are the best rack of ribs available in this area. They are meaty with a pink smoke ring that is throughout the rib. The rub packs some peppery spice that goes well with a slightly sweet sauce. In the rib game, Jim N Nicks pulls ahead.
Both restaurants trade jabs on pulled pork. Jim N Nicks loses ground here for serving pork that is almost always too mushy.The meat sticks to the roof of your mouth…not manly. Smokejack gains ground.
As halftime approaches, both teams go to the bench to compete on manly non-barbecue grub. Smokejack scores with a delicious chicken and sausage gumbo. Jim N Nicks responds with a surprisingly good chicken finger plate, perhaps the best in the area. Yet Smokejack’s meatloaf and fried chicken score some easy layups. At the half, Jim N Nicks clings to a narrow lead.
The second half starts with a return to Q, but this time in non-standard forms. Both restaurants offer barbecue in stuff like nachos and quesadillas. Jim N Nicks offers a barbecue taco which is very delicious. Yet late in the game their pulled pork fouls out for being consistently mushy, even in a taco. Smokejack fires back with an inventive “Cue” Bano sandwich.
As the closing buzzer nears the game is tied. Smokejack calls a time out and brings in their brunt ends brisket. No other barbecue restaurant in Alpharetta offers burnt ends, what many beef aficionados consider a delicacy. It proves to be the game winner, propelling Smokejack into the final four.