A little redecorating makes all the difference in a restaurant. It's hard to imagine that just several months ago, the honky tonk-ish Double J Smokehouse & Saloon was home to Beignet Café, which was reminiscent of a French Quarter eatery.
Of course, it was home to the Tri-State Defender newspaper before that, and it started life as a bank. But with Double J, it's solidly a roadhouse, from decor to menu. Burgers. Steaks. And, of course, barbecue.
Double J serves baby back ribs, which are certainly popular in recent years. They do a very good job with them, too.
Experts will tell you ribs shouldn't be fall-off-the-bone tender, that you need a little bit of resistance for, oh, maybe character building or something like that -- I've got no beef with a super-tender rib.
At Double J, the ribs are delicious, with a wonderful crust that bursts with smoke and spice and an interior thoroughly infused with smoke. They're meaty, and plenty tender while still having a bit of tug.
They're intensely flavored (though not hot), and the barbecue sauce that comes with them is sweet. They are truly made for each other. The ribs are elevated by the tangy sweet sauce, providing a stellar example of balance in barbecue.
Unfortunately, there's only one sauce served at Double J, and it just doesn't work as well with the pulled pork, which doesn't hold up to the ribs.
I hope I haven't stumbled upon a trend of restaurants delivering ribs several levels above the pulled or chopped pork, but I've encountered this at several places lately.
The pork is OK here -- at least it has some flavor. But the flavor is mostly smoke, and there's nothing around to enhance it, to kick it up, except the sweet sauce. Our server said that a spicy sauce has been requested by many customers, and let's hope one is forthcoming.
The other problem is that while the meat is nowhere near minced, it seems closer to shredded than pulled. This is a personal preference, of course, but good money says that most people prefer the texture of larger pieces of meat.
Other than the pulled pork and some service problems which were properly handled (the wrong steak was delivered, but a credit was offered for the delay), the experience at Double J was a good one.
We tried three appetizers and liked them all, though the barbecue egg rolls were our favorite overall. The fat, crisp-fried wrappers are filled with pulled pork and creamy slaw, a nice touch. The sweet sauce was good for dipping, and a sweet chili sauce provided a completely different choice.
The sausage and cheese plate isn't sure what it wants to be -- it's hovering between styles, barbecue and charcuterie. It's relatively spare plate with an excellent sausage and a few so-so cheeses. The sausage might or might not be made in-house (conflicting reports on that), and has the distinct flavor of filé powder. It's somewhat coarse, grilled and served sliced. There are a few cheeses, a cheddar and a pepper jack among them, but they're thinly sliced and ordinary. There's nothing wrong with the cheeses, but they don't stand up to the great sausage.
Grouper bites are hushpuppy-like fritters of breaded fish that come with a tart and creamy lime tartar sauce.
The hearty and spicy chili will be a hit when cool weather comes back around.
The burger is big, cooked to order and good. So are the french fries and the onion rings, though the latter are frozen (the quality of frozen onion rings must be improving).
We ordered the 22-ounce bone-in ribeye, having heard through the grapevine a story about a diner who declared it the best steak he'd ever eaten. First of all, that's a hunk of meat, though with the weight printed on the menu, that came as no surprise.
I wouldn't call it the best ever, but it was a nice steak. It was cooked just as ordered -- medium rare -- and had a nice sear on it to add flavor and to hold in the juices. If it had rested a few more minutes before it was served, the steak would have been even better.
There's live music at the Double J most nights, and stages both upstairs and down. There are patios and bars on both levels, too, and there's smoking upstairs.
The food fits the atmosphere -- it's manly, fun and a little rugged.
And I mean that in a good way.
-- Jennifer Biggs: (901) 529-5223
Double J Smokehouse & Saloon/p>
Address: 124 E. G.E. Patterson
Telephone: (901) 347-2638
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.-3 a.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m -3 a.m.; Sunday: 10 a.m.-midnight .
Reviewer's choices: Ribs, (whole slab $25 with two sides; half, $15 with two sides); Double J burger ($7); barbecue egg rolls ($7); bone-in ribeye ($32).
Alcohol: Full bar.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars