Note: This review predates the relocation of Joey C's to larger digs with 70 seats, a full bar and expanded menu.
A tiny over-the-counter joint that stretches the definition of "Roadhouse" (no bar or bar beverages), Joey C's is a convenient pit stop not too far from I-95: exit 34 to Route 1 south to a small side street. Though cramped with only a few tables, Joey's has a quiet inviting charm. The surrounding area is mostly residential; parking is easy but a little tight. BYOB is an option.
The compact menu features smoked pork ribs (babybacks and St Louis cut spares), pullled pork and chicken, with brisket available on weekends only. Platters van be ordered with or without sides; there are no combination platters; sandwiches don't include sides. Mexican accounts for more than half the menu, with nachos, quesadillas, burritos, tacos and fajitas all on offer. For the healthy eater, there are a few different salads and a low fat turkey/vegetable chili in addition to the beerf chili.
I spaced two visits about a half year apart, visiting Joey C's on a weekend afternoon and a Friday night. Because of the tight quarters and open kitchen, I made both visits takeout orders to allow undisturbed photo taking.
Chili: A small bowl ($4.95) in a plastic container provided piping hot meat with fully melted cheese, the smallest possible allotment of the tiniest beans and a thin layer of separated liquid meat fat. The meat was all ground beef, so smooth that it had the texture of mashed potatoes. This was very mild, with not only very little chile pepper heat but very little flavor, period. With a little hot sauce, though, it's a serviceable winter warmer.
Pulled pork sandwich: Served on a Portuguese roll, the pulled pork sandwich ($7.95) delivered a layer of meat and a layer of cole slaw. The pork had good texture but was bland even with the slaw. Overall, uninteresting except for the uniquely soft and super fresh Portuguese bun.
Pulled pork platter: Served lightly sauced in an aluminum salad tin, the pulled pork ($15.95 with two sides and cornbread) on my second visit was a bit of an upgrade from the sandwich. Texture was similarly tender with just the right amount of give and bite back. Flavor was where the upgrade occured: unlike the first try, I could taste some smoke and spice. Not a tremendous amount, but a little. The meat already had some natural moisture of its own and the saucing added more, while not adding anything to the flavor.
Ribs: A half rack of St Louis cut spares ($15.95 with two sides and cornbread) was packed into a sleeve bag for my takeout order, preserving heat and moisture without compromising texture. Although the menu says you can get the ribs with sauce on the side or mopped on, I was never asked; they arrived with sauce on the side. They had a good crusting, with a spice rub that delivered ample texture but hardly any flavor. The inner meat wasn't full-on juicy but it was moist. Though I didn't see a smoke ring, there was a light smoky flavor. Dipped into the Carolina barbecue sauce, the ribs were nominally satisfying but still too plain to satisfy a real barbecue urge.
Three sauces are available in small containers, and all of them have the same color (brown) and texture (thick, like pudding). Variations in flavor from the ironically bland Zesty sauce are slight: the Chipotle brings faint heat and faint smokiness; the Carolina brings a faint vinegar tang while maintaining the same uncharacteristic thickness. All of the sauces are homemade and prepared with agave nectar instead of corn syrup.
This is the area where Joey shines. Collard greens were twice cooked to the perfect doneness, just shy of wilting, with a thin broth that accented the large leaves with a little spice and more than a little garlic. Cole slaw looked storebought but was very homemade tasting, with large, crunchy cabbage slices and a creamy, tangy dressing. Potato salad, made with just the right amount of egg, brought even more freshness, letting the large chunks of potato sing loudest among the herbs, mayo and light vinegar. Though competent, the mild mac and cheese was the only side that didn't make an impression. Cornbread is the sweet Twinkie style, but one of the moistest renditions I've ever tried and a rare steal at 75 cents per additional piece.
The Bottom Line
There are barbecue joints better than Joey C's and there are barbecue joints worse than Joey C's. While I can't see myself with a craving or a burning desire to revisit, they'd be a convenient, doable (though slightly expensive) pit stop if I'm passing through the area. It's close enough to McDonald's that you could bring a Joey C's takeout order there and let the rest of the family eat fast food. If you do, don't forget to grab a McDonald's taco sauce packet to perk up your pulled pork.
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