Hot Eats: J & C Barbecue Rises From the Ashes in Ferguson
Very few dining experiences are more St. Louis than blues and barbecue, and J & C BBQ and Blues is bringing flavor and tunes to North County residents and those who make the worthwhile drive from the city. The restaurant was still in the works when destruction hit—flames and smoke from protestors after the Michael Brown grand jury verdict—and owners Cathy and Jerome Jenkins had no profits yet for repairs to the badly damaged building.
So they turned to creative solutions, including an online fundraising campaign—and their success is evident in the restored plate glass windows on three sides of the building, the brightly painted music murals wrapping all four walls and the customers chatting between tables as they wait for their carryout orders. Come later on weekend evenings and the mood is even more celebratory, with live blues on a low, wide stage that dominates nearly all of one wall. Bands also perform hourlong, family-friendly auditions on Tuesday evenings for the chance to headline the weekend shows.
THE ’CUE The Jenkins’ approach combines elements of Memphis-style barbecue (like rubs before cooking and vinegar-based sauces) with St. Louis-style cuts of meat and serving preferences (like “wet” ribs smothered in
sauce). Their use of charcoal on the grill rather than smoking meats over hardwood might surprise some, but the results will silence skeptics. Eating the pork ribs requires a fork and knife—or fingers and teeth, for the hard- core diners who don’t mind a little vinegar and tomato dripping down their arms—because the slabs are fall-off-the-bone level good.
Among the regulars looking to chat while they wait for their pickup orders, the rib tips are a clear favorite. We were equally impressed with the bite- sized hunks of meat in the pulled pork sandwich, which stayed moist and juicy even after being carted home and reheated the following day (for the record, portions are robust). The hot dogs, chicken legs, hot sausage links, bratwurst and burgers, all cooked on charcoal, pick up a fantastic smoky flavor.
THE REST When the smiling server asks what sides you want, make sure one is steak fries. They’re thick-cut and hearty, perfect for soaking up meat juices and barbecue sauce. Other sides are tasty staples of the South: beans, green beans, fried corn on the cob, fried okra, coleslaw and potato salad.
J & C straddles the casual world of a takeout barbecue joint and the liveliness of a venue with live music with ease. The bar is set back in the corner, where it’s used more by servers filling drinks than customers consuming them, which has the effect of keeping the family-friendly vibe the Jenkins wanted on weekends.
This is the Jenkins’ second eatery on Florissant Road in Ferguson. Cathy’s Kitchen opened in 2013 serving an eclectic menu of American breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes with a heavy influence of the South and Southwest. Its fiercely loyal customers showed up after the November unrest to help clean up broken glass and other damage—and to marvel together how much worse the damage could have been had it not been for the protestors who joined arms to protect the business during the riots.
J & C looks altogether different from its predecessor on the surface, but its heart has the same openness and joy in offering food and hospitality. There’s probably a very deep lesson in there somewhere, but it’s best to put aside pondering, get down to business and order—otherwise you could miss out on the last slice of fruit pie in the display case. And like the barbecue, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
This article published in ALIVE’s August, 2015 issue.