CarpetBaggers and Interlopers beware. A Southerner's take on the 'Cue
As someone who considers themselves a Southerner by the grace of Gawd I would like to weigh in on the debate about the best 'cue in and around Tampa. And for all you transplated yankees playing along on the home version of our game, when I say 'Cue that means Barbecue. Now that we have that sorted let's get down to brass tacks and dry rub...and yes, I was born and raised in Plant City so that just adds to my expertise.
Kojaks is probably the best barbecue joint in Tampa. Hands down their ribs are consistently mo' better than just about anywhere else you will try around the bay. They have a pretty nice selection of other cuts as well. If you like smoked sausage, and if you're below the Mason Dixon Line why wouldn't you?!, Kojaks has what they call "hot links" on their menu. That's a really nice Georgia made country smoked sausage with enough spices in it to make you reach for their perfect sweet tea more than once. Their other cuts of meat are succulent and their protions are usually beyond decent. When we talk about sides there are the usual suspects on their menu (potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, maccaroni salad, green beans, corn on the cob) but they also have some pretty fantastic buttered parsley potatos that you will order just about every time after you have them the first time. The sauce at Kojaks is pretty decent cross between a catsup based red sauce and a vinegar sauce. They got the blend down pat on it and their spicy sauce is just as good. After you're all done with that and wash it down with the afforementioned tasty sweet tea, I definitely reccomend that you sample their Chocolate cake. Have it warm and have it with their vanilla ice cream. For those of you lucky enough to have grown up in the South I promise you that it will give you visions of holiday dinner at your granny's house or lunch after church on Sundays. I would love their recipe. It is perfectly moist and gooey chocolate cake and they get it right every single time. If you get it warm and have it with the vanilla ice cream you'll be just f-i-n-e fine. They'll probably have to roll you off the porch when you leave.
Jazzy's BBQ in Tampa is an okay place to go. The 'Cue there is decent. They do pulled pork better than anything else meat-wise on their menu. the number one and only reason to go to Jazzy's takes place only on Fridays at their restaurant. They have a little old lady that comes in on Friday just to make the maccaroni n' cheese that they offer as a side dish. It is only available on Fridays when she comes to work and only until Gawd finds out how good her mac n cheese is and calls her home to make it for him and the angels. The rest of their food isn't bad, it's just not consistently awesome in my humble opinion. Their is always a line at lunch time at Jazzy's so go early. And if you want to taste the best mac n cheese goodness on the planet you for damn sure better go on a Friday and get there early. Or better yet call in your order early. They do have a good call in and pick up service there. If you see me there on a Friday and your ass was too slow to get any mac n' cheese you better keep your hands off mine or you will draw back a nub.
First Choice BBQ, like Kojaks, is the shizznit when it comes to the 'Cue in the greater Tampa Bay Area. This fact is evidenced by the line that winds out the door and down the sidewalk EVERY day for an hour or two at lunch time. First Choice used to be called Brothers BBQ for those of you in the know. It was in fact started by a group of brothers, who also happen to be brothas, and they know their 'Cue. I am going to say this for the benefit of all the carpetbaggers in the audience, brothas know a thing or two about the 'Cue seeing as they more or less perfected it as an artform in this country. Try everything they have on the menu there. It's all good. You can stand in line at First Choice and listen to the symphony of the pounding cleavers as they demolish full pork butts and roasts that have been wood-smoked for a day or two. It is a good tune they play there and lord knows I have tapped my foot more than once listening to it. I will offer a cautionary word or two about First Choice here. The maccaroni salad they offer as a side is deceiving. It is deliscious, but also spicy enough that you'll think the devil himself was in the back whipping it up. All their other sides there are standard fare and good, especially they're handcut french fries. One last thing about First Choice in Brandon, there is no air-conditioning so it gets hot as the sixth level of hell if you sit in there awhile and eat. Take out is a smart idea at this place. For your own personal safety you should probably know what you want by the time you get to the front of the line and it is your turn to order. The combination of the heat in that joint and the long line of waiting to wrap your lips around a big juicy rib is enough to make people violent. I am not exagerating when I say that I almost saw somebody get shot there over taking too long in line to order. Somebody in the back of the line was tired of the yankee in the front of the line trying to figure out what they wanted. (The menu is not that hard people!) Heated words were exchanged, a little pushing / name calling followed and the last words the whole restaurant heard from the guy in the back of the line was, "I got something for you in the truck, I'll be right back pal. Don't you move." Unfortunately for that guy he didn't see the deputy sherriffs eating at the little table in the back. I am guessing he had his dessert over on Orient Road. ;o) I will let you all in on a secret that just may save your life. They opened another First Choice over in Plant City. It is even better than the original due to the addition of air-conditioning and the fact that not too many high-fallutin' folks from South Tampa will make the trek to the booming metropolis of Plant City. It's owned and run by the same brothas from Brandon and the food is the same.
Jimbo's BBQ in Tampa is decent. If you want their best shot you'll have to make the trek over to Lakeland way out on Memorial Blvd. Their ribs are almost as good as Kojaks. Their sauce is actually better. It is a perfect blend of peppers, vinegar and tomatoes that will make you glad to be down South. Jimbo's does some really great things. Their homemade pickles and pickled peppers are out on every table when you get there and if you hit the bottom of the bowl they will bring you another one I swear. Don't take your neighbor's or someone is gonna get bit. They have killer hushpuppies at Jimbo's these little golden deep-fried nuggets of heaven are one of the best things they offer there. They are perfect for soaking up rib drippins and extra sauce you may have slopped around the plate. They are tasty enough that you have to remember one thing, when it starts hurting you should stop biting because you have run out of hushpuppy and are gnawing on your fingers. Order extra, you'll want them. Along the vein of desserts you cannot leave Jimbo's without trying their homemade apple pie with vanilla ice cream and the little cup of warm cider to pour over it. Sweet Jeezus you will want to slap your gramma and someone else's. It is that good. The only thing with Jimbo's is that it can be a little on the pricey side for a not so consistent 'Cue experience. Your mileage may vary.
Whoever brought up Famous Dave's BBQ in a serious discussion of the 'Cue should just be slapped. Not that it's a bad joint, but Famous Dave's is to the 'Cue what McDonald's is to good cheeseburgers. It's edible, it doesn't necessarily suck and it's cheap but if you have other alternatives you should take them. Seriously what a disappointment you turned out to be. Please turn in your 'Cue card as you go back up north. They have Famous Dave's in Minnesota for Christ's sake. They ice fish in Minnesota and that's their idea of "fun". That's all I got to say about that.
In closing I will say that 'Cue is truly an artform. I sampled its delisciousness in pretty much every place that is reknowned for it in this country. Tampa has a few good spots for the 'Cue I will say that, but if you really want to find out about the 'Cue it's gonna cost you time and gas money. How much is a little taste of heaven worth to you?