When it comes to down-home, family-owned barbecue restaurants, Back Porch Bar & Grill, 605 N. Fifth St., in Jacksonville is a local favorite.
My husband and I stopped in on a Sunday afternoon, confident that mounds of meat cooked low and slow over a smoky oak fire would complement a full day of football. Sure enough, NFL games were showing on TVs in the bar, while the dining room, decorated with Old West flair, was busy serving diners of all ages.
We found a table in the bar and perused the extensive menu. Unlike many barbecue joints, Back Porch stretches beyond smoked and sauced meat, offering stuffed sandwiches, towering burgers, hearty salads, pasta dishes, steaks and seafood. While the barbecue is touted as Texas style, all the entrees I saw coming out of the kitchen appeared to be Texas size, too.
Although I subversively eyed the salads and seared ahi tuna, my husband convinced me that this was a place to focus on the barbecue. He also pointed out that through careful collaboration in our orders, we could sample all the barbecued meats and plenty of sides.
He ordered a Longhorn combo, a choice of three meats and two sides for $21.95, choosing brisket, ribs and pork loin. I opted for a quarter of a smoked chicken for $13.95, also accompanied by two sides. That left only the grilled hot or German sausages unsampled, and while Zenner's sausages are tasty, they cook up pretty much the same wherever they're available.
The brisket, dubbed "the king of BBQ meats" on the menu, was clearly a star, meltingly tender, subtly smoky and lightly spiced with a savory rub. The long, St. Louis-style ribs were cooked to slipping-off-the-bone perfection, redolent with a rub of spices and brown sugar. The lean, peppered pork loin was still succulent and had a spicy zip. The chicken, too, was moist and flavorful, glistening darkly after hours over the smoke from local oak, according to the menu. The other key component here, the sauce, is nicely spicy although quite sweet.
Side dish options at the Back Porch cover the classics: baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, green salad, french fries, jojo potatoes, chili or soup. For a little extra, diners can upgrade to sweet potato fries or onion rings. The beans sport chunks of pepper and tomato and have a rich, earthy flavor. The coleslaw is simple and standard. The deeply browned jojo potatoes were crispy and salty, just the way they should be. The side salad earned its own star with the savory crunch of homemade croutons and a tangy roasted onion and tomato dressing.
Meals come with thick slices of fine-grained white bread, a traditional barbecue accompaniment that is baked at La Baguette in Ashland.
Ample portions ensured we had enough food to take home for later.
The Back Porch offers local beer and wine, as well as a selection of signature cocktails. It is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, staying open a bit later until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. See www.backporchjacksonville.com or call 541-899-8821.
— Anita Burke