Located behind a dance studio in a former paint supply warehouse, JW's Burger Bar is just a stone's throw from the roundabout that joins several major roads in Scituate. A 3-sided bar is the focal point ahead of two separated narrow dining areas. You'd swear by all the fishnets and nautical decor that this shack used to sling seafood, but that's merely coincidental. The owner is Jimmy Burke, a longtime Boston restaurateur who's migrated to South Shore ventures in recent years. Burke also happens to be a longtime amigo of Chris Schlesinger (Jake and Earl's, East Coast Grill), so the inclusion of a couple of barbecue items has a little more credibility than one would normally associate with a burger joint.
The name says burgers and the menu unsurprisingly is mostly burgers, but they do offer smoked pulled pork on sandwiches, smoked ribs by the rack and a ribs/pork platter combo. The burgers are touted as grass fed and hormone free. There are also turkey, salmon and veggie burgers, plus a Pearl hot dog.
Well over a year after I heard of it, I hit JW's for a Saturday dinner, making sure to arrive when ribs were available.
Fried pickles stuffed with pastrami: An order of these ($6.95) presented about a half dozen pieces of about the same size, shape and puffy beer batter composition as chicken fingers. The slightly crisp batter gave way to the tartness of the pickle and the strong cure flavor of the pastrami that to me tasted more like corned beef. A drizzle of creamy mustard sauce added yet another dimension.
Ribs: Ordered on the ribs and pulled pork combo ($14.95 with fries, cole slaw and cornbread), this quartet of joined bones had the curvature of babybacks but the length of St Louies. The surface had just enough crust, some speckles of rub and a light coating of sauce halfway between brown and red. Equally if not more noticeable: the white cross section that looked more like a grilled pork chop than a smoked rib. Doneness was just about right, with the meat clinging to the bone but tearing off easily in moist bites. Flavor didn't carry much smoke or rub; the faintly sweet sauce led the charge but didn't overwhelm. Actually, the opposite was the case, at least as far as the whole: pleasant for sure, but not much meat, not much smoke, not much rub, not much oomph.
Pulled pork: The pile of pork opposite the ribs looked very dry but was actually fairly moist, with the added textural contrast of significant bark content to balance the more delicate shreds. Flavor didn't exactly bowl me over, but the still-light smoke was a big step up from the ribs. Still, there was enough going on to make it at least doable, with texture far better than most. Put some of this in a pillowy bun with a quality sauce and it would work well. On its own? As I said, doable—nothing more, nothing less.
Not counting the protein variations, there are maybe a half dozen burger choices, all served with fries and slaw and all coming in at $13.95.
Bun: Choices are white or whole wheat; I went with the latter. This arrived at room temperature, unbuttered, untoasted and noticeably larger in diameter than the patty it contained. Its high density compounded the burger-to-bun ratio issue.
Beef: It's touted as grass fed and hormone-free, which appeals to many and is a wince-inducer to some others (hand raised here). That usually results in a loss of moisture (not as much fat) and flavor (ditto), but here the moisture was just fine. We're not talking floodgate of juices, but the as-ordered medium rare patty was plenty moist—at least on its own. The bun had a lot of dryness to make up for, so when considered in tandem, moistness came up short. Flavor was fairly light. The patty appeared griddled, but without much crust or seasoning. I thought there was a little, but the server later commented that they don't season the burgers at all; they let the natural flavor of the beef speak for itself. Must be a low talker.
Toppings: The presentation is openface, so the single lonely tomato slice looked sadder and lonelier than it might have otherwise. The plentiful and thoroughly treated port onions brought some nice sweetness with just a hint of bite. The Stilton's blue cheese sharpness would have made a beautiful contrast, but unfortunately turned out thin and barely noticeable.
There's a predictable Kansas City style house barbecue sauce, plus two Caribbean style hot sauces with much more character. All are homemade and good.
Fries: The standard included side with every sandwich and the barbecue platter, the fries are hand cut, with skins on. They have an old-timey taste with saturated texture that may not be 100% crisp but never verges on soggy. Lightly salted and very enjoyable.
Sweet potato fries: For a $1.95 upcharge, you can swap these in for the regular fries. These had light sweetness, soft interiors and a less homemade taste.
Cole slaw: Also included (in varying sizes) with the sandwiches and barbecue, it's overly mayo'ed and underseasoned. Bland.
Cornbread: Liberally buttered and grilled, this large block had coarse texture and intense corny flavor buttressed by all that butter and the grilled-in component. By far the best part of the meal.
Popcorn is presented at the start of the meal. Soda refills are not free. Coincidence? I wonder.
Everything seems to be a buck or two more than it should be.
The Bottom Line
While nothing was bad, nothing really grabbed me at JW's. Not the burger, not the barbecue, not the sides. I really liked the cornbread, but that's not going to warrant a return visit.
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