Summer can be tough for the newly-minted adult. Memories of road trips, long days by the pool and summer vacations can get depressing when you’re gazing out the window of your fluorescent-lit office. To help shake us all out of our summer nostalgia blues, DIG tested three of the Baton Rouge area’s most venerable barbecue joints. These aren’t the only three, but they’re certainly standouts. We rated them on a few key variables including sauce, sides (which everyone knows are the most important anyway) and vibe.
Note: Cou-Yon’s and Jay’s Bar-B-Q provided complimentary food for this review.
470 N Alexander Ave, Port Allen (Cou-Yon’s also runs a food truck in downtown Baton Rouge on weekdays)
The Vibe: Smells amazing from up to a block away. Inside is pleasantly smoky. Decor is dinerish but not self-consciously so. Packed at lunchtime especially, but lines move fast. Otis Redding on the jukebox is another plus.
The Standout: Tough call. The loaded baked potatoes are notable simply as an exercise in maximalism–the potato itself is massive, and ours was stuffed with at least 15 fried shrimp, bacon, cheese, purple onions, jalapenos and more. But the truly remarkable dish here is the moist brisket. It might not be the most appetizing name, but this cut of meat is impressive. Made from the end of a brisket usually shredded or chipped, Cou-Yon’s serves it in thick slices which soak up sauce like a dry sponge. Living up to its name, it is moist, which we promise is a good thing and will actually dissolve in your mouth. You could probably feed it to a baby.
The Fixin’s: Three fairly standard tomato-based varieties of sauce: sweet, smoky and spicy. Spicy was the best–strong vinegar and cayenne flavors, well-balanced with a hint of sweetness. Smoky was also good, while sweet simply performs as advertised. Sides were not the strongest part of the meal. The barbecue baked beans are sweet, hot and runny as they should be, but the toast was plain and a little stale-tasting and the much-vaunted baked potato casserole was unimpressive.
The Verdict: A thoroughly impressive food-service establishment. Happy and friendly staff put out a huge volume of high-quality food at speed, serving some genuinely excellent dishes along the way.
2324 S Acadian Thwy, Baton Rouge (Another location on Siegen Lane)
The Vibe: Looks like a “family restaurant” in the modern sense–looks like a TGI Friday’s or an Outback Steakhouse. Large, spacious, a little gloomy and a lot of TVs. Does more dinner service than lunch.
The Standout: The ribs, as you would expect, are very good. There’s an unmistakable charcoal scent as soon as you lift them to your face that doesn’t give the impression of artificial smoke. Grill marks on the ribs themselves confirm the sense you’re getting something cooked with time and care. They’re moist, and though they could be more tender, there’s a lot of meat on each rib. Aside from being visually pleasing, the grill marks add a nice crunch and charred flavor. Other barbecue dishes were disappointing, with brisket tough and chicken tender but cold.
The Fixin’s: One sauce, served charmingly in a red ketchup squeeze bottle. It encourages moderation with the tangy, full-flavored sauce, though you may be tempted to smother some of the other dishes. When we said you could serve Cou-Yon’s moist brisket to a baby, it was meant as a compliment. When we say TJ Rib’s carrot souffle is sugared-up baby food, it is not.
The Verdict: Seems to be suffering from an identity crisis–our meal of three barbecued meats was arranged on a square white plate that would better fit a trendy cuisine spot, but the sauce comes in a diner-style squeeze bottle. Tries to be too many things, fails at most of them, succeeds at ribs.
5734 S Sherwood Forest Blvd, Baton Rouge (This location is run by the original Jay’s granddaughter and her husband. The original location is on Government Street).
The Vibe: Like an old country store with whitewashed walls. They even sell candy at the counter. Oddly, the walls are almost entirely taken up by Marx Brothers movie posters. Clientele here is a little older and quieter than the others. No radio, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Food served on wax paper in red plastic baskets.
The Standout: For each dish we tried, the portion was something close to what a normal-sized human being can expect to eat at a meal. That alone scores Jay’s some lunch points–it would be possible to eat here and return to work without collapsing in a steaming heap on your desk. As for dishes, the Hickory Burger with cheese is a simple dish, and well executed. A ⅓-pound patty, barbecue sauce, grilled onions and American cheese on a press-toasted bun could not be improved much. That we chose a burger shouldn’t be taken as a slight against the barbecue dishes, none of which disappointed.
The Fixin’s: Two sauces, alike in flavor, though neither is necessarily a standout. All of the barbecue meat dishes we tried were moist and flavorful enough to make the sauce mostly a non-issue. As for sides, the potato salad is pleasantly tangy, with mustard and onion flavors dominating, though a bit mushy. Coleslaw is drowning in mayonnaise but nicely crunchy.
The Verdict: Simple, unpretentious food done well and without fuss. Jay’s is a throwback from which many other restaurants could learn.