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Smoked, Sauced and Served

Barbecue is a personal subject down here in the South. Everybody knows about Sonny’s and sure, they serve great ‘cue. But there are plenty of locally owned and operated BBQ joints scattered about town that are worth seeking out. Here are just a few.

Monroe’s Smokehouse BBQ (4838 Highway Ave., 389-5551) takes diners on a down-home journey with collected country kitsch, vintage cowboy posters and old-school country record covers decorating the spacious dining room. Monroe’s presents a huge variety of sides that all deliver big flavor, perhaps due to the pork in the green beans, the pork in the baked beans, the pork in the collards… you get the picture. Monroe’s ventures outside the BBQ box with specialty items like brisket nachos or their justifiably popular chicken wings, and they offer a variety of sauces; go for the house Monroe’s sauce which is “sweet with a little heat.” Those who don’t live near the Westside can look for Monroe’s-On-The-Go, their mobile food truck operation, parked around town. To find it, follow the scent of BBQ. Or follow them on Twitter (@MonroesBBQ).

Don’t be put off by the exterior of Fred Cotten Barbecue (2623 N Main St., 356-8274). Inside this simple, windowless building in Springfield, you’ll find a shining representation of Florida-style barbecue. Fred Cotten puts their legendary sauce on all orders unless instructed not to, and those are instructions that should never leave anyone’s lips. Pick up a bottle of Billy C’s sauce or salad dressing on the way out.

The Pig has locations on the Westside (5456 Normandy Blvd., 781-9818) and the Northside (9760 Lem Turner Rd., 765-4336), and is just the type of no-frills establishment where you’d expect to get straightforward smoked meats, hefty sandwich platters and classic sides, all at extremely reasonable prices. Regulars swear their mustard sauce is the best in town and the friendly, hardworking waitresses make you feel welcome with feel-good phrases like “Bless your heart” and “Aren’t you a sweetie.” On nice days, the screened-in back patio at the Normandy location makes an ideal spot for an affordable, quick and filling lunch.

Let your nose guide you to Der-B-Q (1068 Park St., 356-0227) in Riverside’s Five Points. This tiny barbecue operation consists of a walk-up window and a smoker behind Derby House where slow-cooked ribs, pork butt and chicken emerge as if by magic. Diners place their order at the window and take their bag of barbecue home or enjoy it with a bottle of beer under the umbrellas on the adjacent patio. Der-B-Q is open late on weekends as they’re surely hoping to lure inebriated hipsters wandering the streets after spending time at nearby bars. A staff member is guaranteed to be calling out as you pass by on the sidewalk; if you’re lucky, he might offer you a sample of their tender ribs, mustardy baked beans or creamy coleslaw.

Just up the street is AJ’s on Park Street (630 Park St., 359-0035). The eatery does a brisk lunch business during the week but is only open for dinner on Fridays, when the restaurant turns into a street party with live jazz, two-for-one beer specials and buck-a-bone ribs. If you go for lunch, grab a seat outside in the covered eating area and order a brisket sandwich. Another surefire bet is the loaded baked potato with turkey, beef brisket, pork or chicken. AJ’s serves up St. Louis-style smoked ribs and a thin mustard-based sauce that provide the perfect amount of fuel for kicking off the weekend.

Treemendous BBQ & Catering (8927 Herlong Rd, 329-2888) is an out-of-the-way-from-everything joint off Normandy that  sports a friendly pink polka-dotted pig out front that greets diners and guides them to the indoor dining space, where countless piggy banks decorate the walls. Treemendous is a popular lunch spot for local workers and their smoked meats and “tree”mendous sides are available for off-site catering. Portions are generous and corn nuggets, fried okra, fried pickles and corn-on-the-cob sides are available along with the usual coleslaw and baked beans. A number of sauces are available but the pleasantly gritty mustard sauce stands out.

Mojo No. 4 (3572 St. Johns Ave., 381-6570) has a casual-hip vibe and offers a creative take on barbecue (read: pulled pork quesadillas, pimento grilled cheese and butterbean hummus). Scattered about town are its sister restaurants Mojo Bar-B-Que (1607 University Blvd. West, 732-7200), Mojo Kitchen (1500 Beach Blvd., 247-6636) and Mojo Smokehouse (1810 Town Center Blvd., 264-0636). Like its siblings, Mojo No. 4 is a high-ceilinged, single-roomed, open-concept restaurant, but the newest addition to the Mojo family transforms into a bar-like atmosphere at night. Specialty cocktails and a good beer list compete with impressive whiskey and bourbon offerings. Barbecue purists should order The Whole Hawg to sample each of their smoked meats: turkey, pork ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, chicken and sausage. Slather each meat with one of the delicious sauces that are nested in six-pack boxes on every table to find your perfect combination. The creamy, crusty macaroni and cheese is truly memorable.

The Q (1523 San Marco Blvd., 398-8437) is a great casual ‘cue joint and San Marco’s only late-night spot; on Fridays and Saturdays it’s open until 3 AM. It’s also one of the few barbecue spots that serves breakfast every morning and all day Saturday and Sunday. Go early for the Big Q omelet stuffed with smoked spicy sausage, country ham and hickory bacon or a platter of eggs, grits and your choice of meat (BBQ sauce optional). Beef and pork come either chopped or sliced and the list of sides is long and plentiful. Try the BBQ baked potato topped with pulled pork, sour cream and chives or the crisp fried squash.

Look for the pink pig outside a teensy shack well off the beaten tourist route south of St. Augustine to find Smokin’ D’s (110 State Rd. 206 E, 797-2050), a BBQ joint that serves smoked meats on a first-come, first-served basis. The proprietors wake up at the crack of dawn to smoke chicken, brisket, pork and turkey that they serve with the requisite piece of white bread and a choice of sides. The coleslaw and yellow rice are tasty but the barbecue baked beans are stellar—they contain a variety of beans that all retain their texture and are flavored with red bell peppers and smoky pork bits. Smokin’ D’s is one of the only places in the area that offers a white barbecue sauce. Because the joint has no dining room, many folks open their paper-wrapped sandwiches on the trunk of their vehicles and dig in right there in the parking lot.

No round-up of Jax BBQ joints would be complete without mentioning Jenkins Quality Barbecue, a local, family-run institution since 1957 with locations Downtown (830 Pearl St., 353-6388), on the Southside (2025 Emerson St., 346-3770), and on the Northside (5945 New Kings Rd., 765-8515). Dining in (instead of picking up at the drive-thru window) at the Downtown location guarantees top-notch people-watching opportunities and a taste of some delightfully messy, sauce-drenched Jacksonville cue. Jenkins is rightfully proud of their thick, pumpkin-colored mustard sauce which comes either mild or spicy. When asked if you want sauce on your fries, the correct answer is “yes.” The rib sandwich is legendary and it isn’t really a sandwich, per se, rather a half-dozen ribs wrapped up in butcher paper with just as many slices of white bread and, of course, that mustard sauce. Good thing a hefty stack of napkins comes with every order.