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Country standby

J.R.'s brings real smoking 'cue to the 'burbs


It used to be that if you wanted good barbecue, you had to drive all over creation, seeking out the places where men in overalls congregated. My daddy, a notorious barbecue fiend, would drive 50 miles just to get some good chopped pork, Brunswick stew and sweet tea. If he was still around to visit J.R.'s Log House, he would realize a dream come true: decent 'cue, sides and iced tea just a bit up the road.

J.R.'s in Norcross is the oldest of three J.R.'s locations (the others are in Duluth and Suwanee). Locals come to this rambling "log cabin" in large numbers, especially during the bustling lunch period. But seeing as it's a suburbanized version of a country standby, you won't likely see any men in overalls here.

J.R.'s is not big on aesthetic. The decorating theme here is Dark Brown, circa 1982. Simple tile floors, dark paneling and a few faux-country decorative touches conform to the old-time barbecue joint principle: Enjoy the food and don't concern yourself with the look of the place.

Operationally, J.R.'s is attuned to the majority of customers who want to get in and get out within an hour. Breakfast and lunch service gets orders out lightning-quick, but service here is friendly and efficient. One of the best servers we've ever met works lunches and Saturday nights. My husband and I felt especially appreciative when she guided us through our choices, offering her honest opinion about selections.

Meals built around the 'cue are the highlight, with all of the meats -- pork, beef, chicken, turkey and ribs (spare and loin) -- smoked just right. J.R.'s chopped pork is a standout. (Order it on a sandwich ($3.50) or as a platter with two sides ($7.25 half; $9.50 full.) Moist, nearly velvety with a bit of smokiness, but not enough to drown out the pork flavor, it appears freshly chopped. I also like the turkey breast ($5.95 sandwich; $7.25-$9.50 platter), which retains its original buttery taste, though it can be a bit dry. J.R.'s does a fine job with its meaty loin ribs as well ($8.25-$11.75 platters). They are cooked through but not overly so, and like the other meats, they retain their flavor and character.

J.R.'s barbecue sauce is thick, tomatoey and slightly sweet with an underlying vinegary tang and small chunks of long-simmered onion. What sets this sauce apart is the addition of meat, a cooked-down combination of beef, chicken, pork and turkey trimmings. You won't really taste it, but the addition of this protein thickens the sauce.

The Brunswick stew passes the spoon test (it's so thick you can stand a spoon in it) and is pleasingly meaty. Thin-sliced onion rings are crisp and salty, with a subtle, satisfying meaty flavor. Ditto for the French fries. An occasional special, the potato casserole is a rich, artery-clogging wonder of sliced, layered taters and fluffy cheese sauce. Though we haven't had a chance to try the barbecue beans, we've heard they're a hit. A garden salad with a sprinkling of gourmet greens atop a mound of chopped iceberg lettuce disappointed, though it is better than the salads you find in most barbecue places.

Breakfast here is well-executed, from the creamy grits to the big honkin' biscuits to the generous portions of meat. Bacon is thick, chewy and crisp, hitting that fine line between undercooked and overcooked. Country ham is salty but not overly so. Eggs are done just right, not cooked-to-death, but not gloppy either. Along with your biscuits, you'll also get J.R.'s blueberry muffins, cooked like a sheet cake and sweet enough to make your teeth hurt.

You can make any meal here even better with J.R.'s iced tea. Having suffered through many a glass of bad, watery or sour tea over the years, we are happy to report that J.R.'s is consistently strong and fresh, whether you like it sweet or not.

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