There's not much in the way of real barbecue in the Lancaster area, so my wife and I headed up Route 30 towards York on Friday, remembering that there is at least a chain barbecue restaurant there. When the chain had a long line of people waiting, we passed it up and started looking for something else. Well, Route 30 in York has just about every chain you can think of, and they were all packed, so we got off the main road and wandered north up Route 74 until my wife spotted a little storefront that said "Smoky Joe's - Best Pork in Town."
It was a little joint next to a Rutter's convenience store, not really a restaurant, that looked like it had once been a pizza place. Plain formica tables, counter service, self-serve fountain soda, and a TV playing Wheel Of Fortune. We were looking up at the menu board when the owner, a born salesman, held up one finger, urging me to wait a minute. He turned around, and took a foil-wrapped package out of the hot box behind him. He laid the package on the counter, unwrapped it, showed it to me, and said "How would you like that slab of ribs?" Angels sang. I nodded, and before I knew it we were sitting at a table with real barbecue ribs, and chicken, and beef brisket.
The ribs were dry rubbed and as tender as could be. Most of the ribs you get in chain restaurants are more braised than barbecued. They're sopping wet with sauce and falling apart by themselves. These were dry on the outside, but moist and pull-apart tender within. The rub was spicy, but not overpowering. They tasted like pork, not like barbecue sauce. Incidentally, squeeze bottles on the table held two kinds of sauce, a standard tomato-based one, and a Carolina-style vinegar-based sauce. We mixed them together as our host suggested and dipped the ribs. Tears came to my eyes.
The chicken was moist, tasty, and as tender as it could possibly be. The brisket was meaty and full of beef flavor. The fries were great, but we could hardly eat them, we were so full. They also have seafood and other southern specialties. I look forward to going back to try them, but I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to make it past those ribs.
We mentioned to the owner we had been heading for the chain up the street. He told us how when he opened in 2003, he had people lined up out the door every night. Then the barbecue chain opened, and business has been way down for him since then. That's what I hate most about those places, they drive people like this out of business. If you're ever in York and looking for some real barbecue, and you can do without the bar and the crowds, check out Smoky Joe's, real nice people and the best pork in town.