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JJ's Fish & Bar-B-Que - There Is Hope For The Inland Empire

Chino Wayne | Feb 23, 2004 01:13 AM

Every once in a while I catch the local public TV restaurant review program. Yes, even in The Dining Wilderness That Is The Inland Empire, we have restaurant reviewers. While maybe not as glamorous, sophisticated, or well traveled among the temples of dining that are described in other precincts, we do have local personalities who do their best at seeking out and tipping the rest of us local yokels, to what we might want to have for dinner in these parts. So the other evening I catch our local duo giving a report on a Thai establishment in LaVerne and a Q’ emporium in Ontario.

Having a strong hankering for barbeque, probably because I missed the recent big L.A. ‘Q tasting, and then was antagonized by a recent report on Backwoods BBQ by Russkar, I made it my mission to do some recon at JJ’s Fish & Bar-B-Que, the place that was sniffed out by our intrepid, local TV dining duo.

So around seven o’clock Saturday evening the Mrs. and I repaired to Herman and rolled down our local byways, heading northeast. Along about the time that we were on Mission Boulevard, following a large commercial aircraft on its approach from the west to Ontario airport, the Mrs. and I realized that where we were headed was the same place that the Mother-In-Law of Chino Wayne has her ‘Q brought in from. This could have portended a good thing, or a bad thing – you always gotta be a little wary when the Mother-In-Law of Chino Wayne is involved.

One of the reasons the Mrs. was willing to try this new (to us) barbeque venue is because, from my observation of the television report, and as confirmed by the fact that the Mother-In-Law of Chino Wayne gets her ‘Q from there, JJ’s barbeque is produced by a pitmaster of the same ethnic background as the Mrs. and the Mother-In-Law of Chino Wayne. As opposed to Backwoods BBQ, which from my perusal of their web pages led me to the understanding that it is staffed by honorable people of the same ethnic background as Chino Wayne, which is to say, just possibly, although not for want of good effort, not quite as adept at producing a certain, comforting, reminiscent of home, barbeque taste sensation. So an earlier plan to take the Mrs. and the Mother-In-Law of Chino Wayne to a sit down barbeque restaurant in Corona had been shelved. Instead the Mother-In-Law of Chino Wayne stayed at her house, fending for her own, and Chino Wayne, and Mrs. Chino Wayne went sniffing for some take out. (So already Chino Wayne had scored a big win, by not having to bite his tongue for a couple of hours in the presence of the Mother-In-Law of Chino Wayne.)

Though Herman is big iron from Detroit, and has a nice V-8 Corvette engine under his hood, he was no match for the jet aircraft, which faded and dipped lower, and lower, and then left our sight altogether, before we reached the corner of Mission and Mountain Avenue, in Ontario. On the tip of the southwest corner is a brand new Jack-In-The-Box, behind it is a tired, kind of run down strip center. Sandwiched between a mariscos joint and a storefront church, we found JJ’s. A small, hole-in-the-wall storefront with “FISH” and “BBQ” painted in big letters on the window, inside a counter and a few plastic chairs for waiting.

We ordered two St. Louis rib dinners, one hot links dinner, a side of hush puppies and a sweet potato pie. We were told that the hush puppies are fried to order, so it would be a while. I reassured the counter person that as “OK”. Almost all of the available seating was taken by other ‘Q aficionados who were regulars, or who apparently had seen the report on TV, and also came out in the rain to check out the barbeque. So not able to stay on my feet for very long, I returned to Herman and took a seat behind his wheel. Eventually everyone who had come before us left with their orders as I lolled in Herman, listening to the patter of rain drops and observing my surroundings. It was about seven thirty in the evening. The mariscos joint next door was all lit up, but it looked like only one party was dining inside. The storefront church was dark.

There were a few cars about in the lot behind me, and the lot was dark, the only light coming from JJ’s and to a greater extent, the mariscos joint. A couple of men walked by, one pushing a bicycle, the other holding a tall can of Budweiser and they loitered in front of the church. (This wasn’t the best neighborhood in the area, but not the worst either). The men with the beer and the bicycle then walked back in the direction they came from. The paint on the concrete walls of the strip center was faded and needed a fresh coat. There was a raised concrete planter bed right in front of JJ’s that just had dirt in it, no plants, not even a weed growing. It was all giving me just a little bit of an edgy feeling.

That edginess was great, I was sitting there thinking, this little hole-in-the-wall ‘Q joint in this scruffy little strip mall may be the real deal. I was getting really excited. By that time I had been waiting in Herman for about 10 minutes, the Mrs. was sitting down inside (the proprietor/pitmaster had found her a chair) reading one of those free newspapers, and the proprietor started packing it in, turning away a couple of different potential customers, apparently telling them he was closing up. All the while I am sitting in Herman working up my taste buds in anticipation. What a great overall feeling, that feeling that a ‘hound gets while on the hunt!

Finally, after a total of about 15 or 20 minutes, the Mrs. emerges from JJ’s carrying two bags of booty, Barely able to control my excitement, I start Herman’s engine and turn on his headlights. My heart rate increases, my throat gets dry. It’s raining harder, the Mrs. has to pull the hood of her coat over her head before she can make her way over to Herman. She opens Herman’s right rear door and places the two bags on the back seat. My nose is immediately assaulted with the aroma of smoke. I briefly consider asking her to throw the lap blanket over the ‘Q, just to keep it warm on the trip home, and to keep that aroma from torturing me, but don’t, because the Mrs. is standing there in the rain after having just brought my food to me, and I know she wants to get herself in the car. The Mrs. gets in the front seat next to me, before she is buckled in I am backing Herman out of the parking slot.

We get about a tenth of a mile down the road before the Mrs. is over the seat and removing the sweet potato pie from one of the bags. She removes the plastic wrap from a little, mini, individual sized sweet potato pie. It was about four inches or so in diameter. With her fingers she grabs a hunk of pie crust and filling and puts it in her mouth. She asks me, “Would you like some?”

Barely able to stifle myself, I say, in a low, composed voice, “Yeah, I would”.

Breaking off a portion for me, she remarks as she puts it in my waiting open hand, “You usually don’t like this”, as I think to myself, “Oh, but I know I am going to like this.” My ‘hound senses screaming as an endorphin rush goes through my brain. And it is good. The crust is very fresh, very light, just crisp enough, just sweet enough. The filling so not like all of the bad sweet potato pie I have had in my time, dense, but not too dense, tasting of sweetness and sweet potato, but not overpowering potato, with a flavor layering of nutmeg. It is cold, apparently just out of a cold case or refrigerator, and I can only imagine how good it would be if allowed to warm up a bit. But that would never happen with this mini-sweet potato pie, the Mrs. and I consumed it in about 60 seconds. I am normally a pumpkin pie man, and I normally always pass on sweet potato pie, but I vow I will never pass on JJ’s pie.
We proceed on the road towards home. The aroma from the backseat permeating everything in the car. I run through two stop lights that are closer to red than they are to yellow, just intent on making it home and tearing in to the ‘Q. The Mrs. is alarmed, but somewhat tolerant, because she has not eaten all day.

We make it home. The first item I sample is the hot links. Each dinner comes carefully wrapped in sectional foam containers, with foil around the meats, which seems to help with the heat retention. In the hot link container the large section is filled with coin sized slices of links, swimming in sauce. The two smaller sections hold potato salad and beans. A baggie with a couple of slices of bread, a napkin and a plastic fork round it out. I grab the fork and start forking in links. These are the best local links I have had in a very long time. These hot links actually had some heat to them, I was able to experience a very nice, slight, mellow burn in the back of my throat. The meat was flavorful, fine grained and dense, the casing snappy, and the sauce on the sweet side, with, what else, a hint of nutmeg. I understand that JJ’s does have a spicy version of their sauce, and that is what I will ask for next time.

We asked for greens as one of our sides, but by the time we got to JJ’s they had run out. So in addition to the standard potato salad and beans, we had one side of cabbage. The cabbage was OK, nothing very memorable. The beans also were OK, I have had worse and I have had better, and yes, the beans had a slight nutmeg flavor to them. The potato salad was terrific. It was a less cubed but more mashed rendiction than I prefer, but it was good. It was made with celery, pickles, mayo and mustard. On my next trip to JJ’s I will opt for the potato salad as both of my sides.

The ribs were very meaty and smoky. I believe JJ’s uses mesquite, the Mrs. was not as enamored of the ribs as I was. (She would have preferred baby backs, and probably hickory smoked). The meat was tender, but not so tender as to fall off the bone, which is the way it should be. It was tender enough that it was very easy to bite in to, but still hefty enough so that you knew you were chewing a piece of meat, not some meat scraping from a bone. I enjoyed the ribs. They came bathed in the sauce (I forgot to specify sauce on the side, as I intended), but the smoky meat stood up very well to the sauce. I really enjoyed the ribs, and even though that nutmeg theme was present in the sauce, I forgot all about it as I enjoyed the smokiness of the meat.

In addition to what we brought home. JJ’s also has rib tips and brisket. Fried catfish and fried snapper. A few other side dishes, peach cobbler, and a cold case full of soda.

Oh, and those hush puppies that took 20 minutes, they will not be coming home again. They were ‘OK’, but certainly not worth 20 minutes.

As I said, JJ’s is a hole-in-wall with just a take out counter. If you want to eat their food you will either have to do it over the hood of your car or take it somewhere. So while not a destination restaurant, if you happen to be in the area, or passing through on I-10 or the 60 and need a ‘Q fix, give it a shot.

They are open Monday through Friday from about Noon to 7:00 P.M., Saturdays till 8:00 P.M. (or maybe only until the proprietor decides its time to close). Closed on Sundays.

As to the Mother-In-Law of Chino Wayne, perhaps the wife, daughter and nephew and I have been a bit too harsh when talking amongst ourselves about her. Prior to the Mrs. and my excursion to JJ’s, we learned that the Mother-In-Law of Chino Wayne, when she gets her ribs home from JJ’s, puts them under the kitchen faucet and rinses them off. She then gets out her bottle of Bulls Eye and pours that abomination on the ribs. Maybe, just maybe, she has something there, getting that hint of nutmeg off, but we gotta get her to use something other than Bull’s Eye for crying out loud.

Two rib dinners, one hot links dinner, one side of hush puppies, one sweet potato pie, $30.03.

JJ’s Fish & Bar-B-Que
814 South Mountain Avenue
Ontario, 91762
(909) 460-7727

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