Thursday, September 16, 2010

The strange nature of barbecue joint names.

BIG BEEFY SANDWICH:  And a side of cranberry slaw
  • BIG BEEFY SANDWICH: And a side of cranberry slaw
Does anyone really have a plain name for a barbecue joint? Outside of those places that go under a single name (Sim’s, Chip’s, Jordan’s, Lindsey’s, Nick’s) and the few that go by location (Riverside, Old Post), it seems that restaurant owners take great pleasure in naming their restaurant some sort of silly pun or catchy phrase in the hopes that the name might stick in the memory of those who hear it.
For the name of a place to so clearly come out amidst the Hogg’s Breath, the Spunky Pig, the Pudgy Pig, Hook Line & BBQ and such takes talent. So upon hearing about a place called Imajerk BBQ — well, we had to check it out.
Thing is, there’s a reason it got the name, and a story about getting there — and getting out of there. It all started on a Saturday afternoon in Cedarville.
Photographer Grav Weldon and I were heading to the first Razorback game of the season. We figured since the game didn’t start until six that we could grab lunch on the way up. Besides, the particular brand of GPS mapping locator system (okay, it was a TomTom) told us we could actually take Highway 59 up through to Siloam Springs, over and across — or take Highway 220 from just north of town and end up at Devil’s Den State Park. He’d seen the name somewhere, and being the curious folks we are we decided to go take a look.
Now, the first thing we noticed on arrival was that some jerk had parked his pickup truck in the center of one side of the parking lot. We didn’t really know what this meant. Was this the owner? Could that explain the name? There was also, inexplicably to us, a large portion of tree trunk next to the sign. We never did learn the significance of that.
We walked in and went from blinding early September noontime light to somewhat dark interior, the large plate glass windows mostly obscured by linked license places from Arkansas and surrounding states. There was a low bar across the back of the long room and T-shirts hanging above. We found a place to sit on the north side of the room.
Our waitress came over and dropped off menus. “Beverages on the back,” she told us, walking away to tend to another customer. The first thing I noticed was the beer. Crawford County is dry, but Imajerk BBQ has its own liquor license and serves about a dozen beer varieties.
Inside, the menu was pretty straightforward — dinners with two sides, sandwiches, side items and “just meat.” The meats were pretty inclusive — pork, brisket, bologna, chicken, ribs. Among the sides were smoked beans, fried okra, mustard potato salad and baked potato salad, fries and cranberry coleslaw. The last item in that list piqued my curiosity. I decided to get myself a brisket sandwich and some of that coleslaw. Grav wasn’t as hungry and just asked for a single chicken breast.
While we waited, we chatted about our assignment at the game and gawked at the T-shirts, many of which were tie-dyed. A few minutes later our waitress was back with our order and refills.
Grav just sat and gawked for a moment at his plate. He was expecting a single piece of meat, sure, but not the rather large and somewhat heart shaped chicken breast he received. It was bigger than his fist and a deep red in color. The skin had nicely turned in the smoker and was studded with pepper and spices. The cook had thrown on a big slice of Texas toast to go along with the bird meat. Grav found it nicely juicy and a lot more meat than he’d expected for a measly three bucks.
I was pretty impressed by the size of my brisket sandwich (the large, $5.75 — the regular was $4.50). The meat filled the toasted bun and spilled out over the plate. It was smoky but not spicy, a little more moist than most and plentiful. It had been shredded quite well. Next to it hunched an improbably amount of cole slaw, a white cabbage slaw studded with dried cranberries.
You know my curiosity was going to have me picking at those cranberries first. I was expecting, since there was fruit in it, for the coleslaw to be sweet. Instead, it was a nice firm Arkansas-style creamy and mild slaw, damp but not wet, with bits of carrot and purple cabbage. The cranberries gave it just the slightest sweet bite.
I had to try the barbecue sauce before I put it on my sandwich, and I was pleased to find it sweet and tangy, a little but not very spicy, a little runnier than firm and quick to soak into the meat. It was a good call.
Thing is, I’m an Arkansas girl, and when I see slaw and smoked brisket and barbecue sauce together, I want them all at the same time, so I dabbed in a bit of sauce on the meat and tacked myself a pile of that slaw on top of the pile of brisket, took the whole mess (or what didn’t fall on the plate) in my hands and took a bite. And that, I have to tell you, was one fine beef brisket sandwich. So fine, in fact, that I was about rude and nearly forgot to offer any to Grav. Fortunately, I guess, there was enough left on the plate after I picked up the mess for him to have a try.
So, he got to talking with the waitress, and it turns out that the owner’s ex-wife inspired the name. I guess that makes a lot of sense. So just in case you were wondering…
Anyway, we lit out of there after half an hour with the necessary meat on our bellies to survive the trip up to check out tailgating and tailgators. We’re thinking “hey, we have plenty of time, we’ll do fine. Let’s see where Highway 220 leads us.” And that lead to another frustrating adventure — not because we were all that upset, but because we had no idea Highway 220 is Arkansas’ only unpaved state highway. Thanks, TomTom, for not bothering to tell us that until we were two miles down the road. 20 miles of rutty, rolling gravel later, and we ended up on the backside of Devil’s Den State Park. I’ll tell you more about that soon.
None of this, of course, is a detriment to the decently good barbecue you’ll find at Imajerk BBQ. If you’re in that neck of the woods, you should go. It’s located at 8828 Highway 59 North in Cedarville, north of Van Buren. Since that highway’s the only one that goes through town, you can’t miss it. Imajerk is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. You can call if you somehow miraculously manage to get lost, to (479) 262-2144. If you do want a drink, private club membership is free. And remember not to take Highway 220 if you really don’t like to go 15 miles an hour for 20 miles.

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