Barbecue around Boston is an increasingly cut-throat competition, thanks to fan favorites like Redbones in Somerville, Blue Ribbon BBQ in Arlington, the Village Smokehouse in Brookline, and most recently, Blackstrap BBQ in Winthrop.
Even so, Larry J’s House of Q in Chelsea, which opened in September 2010, may be paving new ground, says namesake Larry Jimerson. “North of Boston the only things you had is pizza and Chinese food as far as take-out, and you can’t eat a sub for dinner every day,’’ says the owner. “I chose barbecue. Now I’m stuck in a pioneer role, spearheading what was never really an option here. But as the community continues to change, there’s opportunity.’’
With smoky meats and savory sides, Larry J’s is grabbing that opportunity by the horns. Appetizers like Buffalo wings ($8.95), charred brisket tips called Burnt Ends ($7.95), and Fire Balls ($5.95) certainly measure up to local rivals.
The name “Fire Balls’’ is no coincidence, says Jimerson. “That’s exactly what they are.’’ A few bites of the hot pepper meatballs, with their slow burn, is followed by a fiery climax. To wash them down, the restaurant offers beer, wine, and liquor, even stocking local brews from Chelsea-based Mystic Brewery, as well as other craft beers from Brooklyn Brewery.
Two stuffed baked potatoes offer a choice of ingredients: the Blazing Saddlebag ($5.95), with chili or cowboy beans, and the Texas Saddlebag ($6.50), with pulled chicken, pulled pork, or smoked brisket. The chili is relatively mild with no beans and complements the potato nicely, proving a better combination than the pulled chicken.
A pulled chicken platter ($8.50 sandwich; $11.50 platter) is underwhelming, as is the half rack of Texas dry-rubbed ribs with a St. Louis cut ($11.95 solo; $14.95 platter). The pulled chicken has a lot of dark meat and is fairly rough, more appealing to those who prefer dark meat and heavily smoked flavor. The ribs are extremely tough and sit virtually uneaten.
But we devour a crispy catfish sandwich ($11.50). It’s a good cut of fish, lightly fried, a refreshing change from ubiquitous heavily battered fish sandwiches. The half chicken ($9.95 solo; $12.95 platter), which can be ordered as barbecue or Jamaican jerk, is permeated by smoky flavor. Jimerson smokes all his meats in-house, and this particular dish is too smoky for our taste.
Not the turkey leg ($9.95 medium; $11.95 large), which is crispy on the outside, with only a slight smoky taste. It’s the best meat we try. “Any problem with that turkey leg?’’ inquires Jimerson, as the last bite is polished off a medium leg. We respond with confused looks. “The problem is, normally people wish they got the bigger one,’’ he says with a loud laugh. We wholeheartedly agree.
All platters are served with two homemade “fixins,’’ which can also be ordered individually. A delicious hearty mac and cheese has a slight crust. Candied yams are intensely sweet. Coleslaw, in a vinegar dressing rather than mayo, is tasty. But potato salad and cowboy beans fall short; the potatoes are bland and the beans are undercooked. However, the corn bread tastes like the type you might find at a backyard barbecue.
For dessert, Jimerson offers red velvet cupcakes, pecan pie, and sweet potato pie from Junction Bakery in Swampscott. The cupcake ($3.25) is tangy and sweet, with cream cheese frosting, a satisfying finale.
Larry J’s has the requisite shtick of a barbecue joint - Texas references, Lone Star state paraphernalia, and photos of movie cowboys. Working the register, Jimerson’s wife, Linda, a Malden native, jabs her Los Angeles-bred husband: “He’s not from the South, but he would never tell you that.’’
If it’s any consolation, Larry J, you’d never know by how the food tastes.