Mrs. Jones is one of many eateries that line the Lower Mills end of Dorchester Avenue, but there's no attempt to be the next "in" place. It's one massive room that's about 90% open kitchen, with a few obligatory stools and eating ledge for those who want to eat their bounty immediately. A gigantic prep table and multiple holding bins allow for surprisingly efficient handling of the orders by just two people. Also surprising—make that a pleasant surprise—is that there's a smoker in the kitchen, and when its doors open, the room is filled with sweet fruitwood smoke perfume that should get any barbecue fan excited. Requests to add more seating are a near-constant among the patrons, but the owners prefer the current arrangement to keep things flowing.
Barbecue fare at Mrs. Jones include two kinds of ribs (babybacks and St Louis cut pork spare ribs) available as a "sandwich" (four ribs), whole slab or dinner plate. Chicken, sausage (mild and hot) and turkey drums are all also smoked. Soul food selections include fried chicken (wings only), ham hocks and pork chops with gravy. Plates come with two sides and cornbread. Interestingly, the only two-meat combo is ribs and chicken (specials on both visits had a fixed 3-meat combo) and you can't order more than three sides apart from a platter (even if adding on top of a platter).
As you might expect of a soul food joint, sides run deep, with all the usual suspects: collard greens, blackeyed peas, cabbage, candied yams, cornbread, etc.
Daily specials include deep fried turkey on Sundays, pigs feet and chitlins on alternating Tuesdays, meat loaf on Wednesdays, oxtails on Thursdays, fish and grits on Fridays and smoked ham on Saturdays.
I stopped in with two different friends for Saturday lunches three weeks apart, with near-identical orders to gauge consistency: BBQ ribs, BBQ chicken, fried chicken and BBQ sausage. On the first visit I took everything the way it came; on the follow-up I requested sauce on the side.
Fried Chicken Wings: The service system at Mrs Jones has its pros and cons. On the plus side, the lines move much quicker than you'd expect, given the constant lines. The cost of that expedience here is that the fried chicken—the hallmark of most soul joints—is not cooked to order. That means it's taken from holding bins rather than fresh from the frier, compromising the crispness even on the best pieces (texture ranged from uncrisp to borderline crisp to moderately crisp, even on the same visit). I liked the thinness of the batter and the mostly peppery seasoning but wished there were more salt and complementary flavors. The interior meat was uniformly excellent for moistness, tenderness and mouthfeel; interior flavor was solid but unexceptional.
BBQ Wings: Who would have guessed that the BBQ wings would be exceptional? I'll admit that I certainly didn't, and I'm glad I was wrong. When I order "BBQ wings" at a soul food joint, I expect flash fried wings drowning in a thin, tangy tomato-based sauce that's generic to a fault. At Mrs. Jones, the wings are legitimately smoked and have an intoxicatingly pleasant wood smoke flavor. Skin was borderline crisp both times, with more lasting power in the unsauced batch, which still had a light coating of sauce from the cooking process that provided adequate lubricant and nice flavor. Maybe it was the wood (which sang loudest among the complex flavors) and maybe it was the saucing, but the rub on the BBQ wings seemed distinct from and superior to the ribs. Back to texture: the interior mimmicked the fried wings for moistness and tenderness and trumped it for mouthfeel, offering a caramely characteristic that I find in many of my favorite wings. These would be among them.
St Louis Ribs: That first batch of ribs may have looked like your everyday overcooked, oversauced soul ribs, but those intermittent smoke dispersals from the kitchen inspired confidence. Well crusted beneath the sauce, these ribs had a mostly-pepper rub that echoed the chicken. Texture was just about perfect, supplying tender meat that allowed a clean bite that pulled easily off the bone without falling on its own. The smoke was lighter than I aniticipated considering the smoky whiffs earlier, but it was enough. The sauce had some nice compexity (sweet, tangy and spicy with some pieces thrown into the smoothness) to complete the ensemble,
On the second try, the unsauced St Louis ribs duplicated the first batch with only slight deviation: the crust less pronounced, the pepper more pronounced and moistness ramped up to full-on juiciness. Texture was again just right.
With or without sauce, the ribs satisfied for texture and smokiness. all around flavor will satisfy too as long as the out-of-the-mainstream pepper treatment is welcomed.
Sausage: Available in mild and hot varieties (I'd use the term "spicy" rather than "hot," because there's more flavor but not more heat), both sausages had your basic hot dog flavor, only with a lot more oomph. There's also a lot more juiciness at the price of more heaviness. Smoke is again noticeable and again lighter than on the chicken.
A single sauce did a nice job when applied on the meats and had more impact when used on the side. The thick brown number had sweetness, tang and heat in a configuration not similar to what's in stores. I liked the little chunks that gave it some body.
Sides as a whole proved to be a strength. Collard greens were mixed with okra and cooked to the perfect doneness, with all of the stiffness (and bitterness) gone, but no sogginess set in. Flavor was straightforward, with no meat, vinegar or sugar to intefere with the natural "greenness" of the vegetable. Macaroni and cheese offered yet another detour from soul food cliché, with a loose and creamy (and mild) topping that had noticeable butter. Crisp cole slaw was also creamy, with some tang mixed in. Potato salad was lightly dressed and heavily accented with egg. And I mean heavily. Yellow-tinged cabbage was cooked past wilting and was probably kicked up just a bit via broth, not butter. Cornbread from the first batchtasted like a storebought mix, but the second visit's batch was coarser and a little less sweet.
Nearby street parking is a lot easier than you'd think.
The Bottom Line
Boston soul food that defies many soul food expectations, most pleasingly with real pit barbecue. Flavors veer somewhat from the classic barbecue blueprint, but the meat quality is generally high and the sides are outstanding.
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