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April 25, 2006

Jucy’s masters the barbecue basics … and beyond

When Columbus first visited American shores (which weren’t then called “American,” but that’s a whole ’nother story), he encountered the Arawak Indians (who weren’t really Indian, but let’s call a halt to all these digressions), and was reportedly amazed to find them doing two unusual things with fire. First, they stuck lighted cylinders of rolled, dried leaves in their mouths, inhaling the smoke. Second, they put chunks of raw meat on a rack of wooden sticks over hot coals and left the meat to roast ever so slowly until it became smoky and delicious.The first practice didn’t turn out to be all that good an idea, although it was literally addictive. But the second concept has yielded one of nature’s most noble foods. The Arawaks called it “barbacoa.” We call it “barbecue,” and now that I think about it, it’s mighty addictive, too.Dining correspondent KEVIN GIBSON headed out to the far East End this week to check out Jucy’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Q, one of the best barbecue joints in town. Here’s his report.STORY BY KEVIN GIBSON, PHOTOS BY BRIAN BOHANNONAnyone can put barbecue sauce on a pile of chicken, but that doesn’t make it barbecue.Take Mark’s Feed Store, for instance. Mark’s serves up some decent food, but it isn’t exactly what I’d call barbecue. Good sauces? Yes. Fun atmosphere? Absolutely. But when I think of barbecue, I think of great meat that has been seasoned and cooked down to smoky, mouth-watering perfection.Enter Jucy’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Q, located just a mile or so out from Interstate 265 between Anchorage and Pewee Valley. Jucy’s is a little off the beaten path (as a great barbecue joint should be), and from the moment you pull into the parking lot, you know you’re in for more than just another cookie-cutter dining experience. The gravel lot, the wooden shack and the smokestack puffing hickory-scented smoke tell the story quite clearly.Step inside and walk through a line, cafeteria style, where your plate will be filled to your specifications. Plenty of auto and airplane memorabilia adorn the plain wood walls to make a comfortable setting that’s perfect for barbecue.Jucy’s offers a pretty standard menu of meats and sides, from sandwiches to platters to samplers. A basic small sandwich is just $2.99, and you can go all the way from there to a three-meat sampler dinner for $9.99. Sides include a choice of potato salad, cole slaw, country beans, fried potatoes and onions, mac-and-cheese and green beans. You can add a cornbread muffin for 30 cents (although, unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until after I ate).Since I was dining alone and visiting Jucy’s for the first time, I went for the three-meat sampler. I chose pulled chicken, pulled pork (on the advice of my friend Kirk, who used to live near Jucy’s) and beef brisket, then added fried potatoes and onions as well as green beans. I also asked for pickles on the side, and was granted a ration with a smile and no extra charge. (Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that the pickles were sweet pickles, not the dill I expected. Yuck. But I still appreciated the smile and the price.)“Whatever I don’t eat, I’ll take home,” I told the friendly gentleman who took my order.I poured myself a soft drink, grabbed napkins and plastic utensils and seated myself in a corner booth — Jucy’s has a large, two-sided dining room as well as outside seating — and noted there were several business lunches going on nearby. Another table was surrounded by laid-back men whose business was a few friendly rounds of poker.I hardly knew where to start, so I chose the potatoes. They were tender, hand-cut, skin-on chunks of tender potato, cooked down to a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. I love the flavor of potatoes, and these weren’t over-spiced or too laden with the flavor of the onions. Just right.The green beans featured small chunks of country ham and bits of garlic, and the wide, flavorful pods were tender but not soggy. Soggy green beans are a big disappointment, but Jucy’s comes through in a big way. The pulled pork was next on the agenda, and it may have been the most tender barbecue I’ve ever tried — my friend Kirk did not steer me wrong. It was very moist, with a great barbecue flavor and just a little bit of spice. There’s tangy red barbecue sauce on every table, but this pork was actually better without it.The chicken was tender and juicy, too, a mix of white and dark meat smoked and gently pulled. You don’t need a knife for this amazing ’cue. In fact, you really don’t have to do all that much chewing. This may sound like a cliché, but it really does melt in your mouth.The Texas-style brisket had a wonderful smoky flavor, as it should, having been smoked for 16 to 20 hours, but it was a little on the dry side. I was given an end section, which is probably the reason for that, but to tell the truth, I liked the crispy black outer layer so much that I didn’t really mind the dry consistency anyway. I used the barbecue sauce liberally and crunched my way to satisfaction.I didn’t need a to-go box after all. I ate nearly every bite, leaving only a few stray beans and a few bites of potato. Needless to say, I didn’t have room for the homemade cherry or apple cobbler ($1.89). For next time, though, I’m thinking about trying the ribs, chicken and brisket dinner with two sides and bread (just $12.99). Yeah, I’ll probably need a to-go box next time.Jucy’s is located at 7626 LaGrange Road in Pewee Valley, and is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. every day but Sunday. Carry-out packages and catering are also available, and Monday night is all-you-care-to-eat ribs night ($13.95). The spacious dining room should be easily accessible for diners using wheelchairs, and major credit cards are accepted. Call 241-5829 for info. ’Cueing up some more smoked meatsArguing about who’s got the best barbecue in town is sort of like debating politics or religion: You can’t win, because just about everyone has a deeply rooted and emotionally held belief and won’t be swayed from it. That said, I can’t help riffing off Kevin’s theme with a few thoughts on my favorite barbecue spots around town.Jucy’s is a contender, of course. For a time there, it jostled for my top spot with two BBQ joints at opposite ends of the Metro: Bake’s Bar-B-Que, now at 5427 Valley Station Road in the far southwest, and Vince Staten’s Barbecue, recently moved out the road a piece, from far northeastern Jefferson County to a new shopping center on the ground where the historic Melrose Inn once stood. The address is 13306 W. US 42, just over the Oldham County line. Sadly, though, I can’t rate either spot among the leaders anymore. Bake’s continues its tradition of friendly, hospitable service, but its rather spartan strip-mall setting lacks the country-style comfort of its original location on Old Third Street Road; and while the ribs still literally fall off the bone in spoon-tender portions, the meats in general suffer from a soft, almost mushy texture that makes us wonder if they’re cooked by a combination of smoking and stewing. The whole fried dill pickle spears are memorable, but most side dishes seem bland and short on seasoning. Staten’s, meanwhile, still bears the name but no longer the personal stamp of the co-author of “Real Barbecue”; Vince has moved on to a newspaper job in Tennessee, we’re told. The new location under new management is dark and surprisingly grim, with a bit of a grunge-bar feel, and we’ve found the meats stringy and tough. My current barbecue winners, along with Jucy’s, include the estimable Bourbon Bros. BBQ, which has staked a claim on the little white hut at 2900 Brownsboro Road (near Hillcrest) that formerly housed the first iteration of Melillo’s and later the short-lived Huttster’s Burgers. These guys know how to smoke meat, and the battery of well-used smokers and piles of hickory logs out back demonstrate that there’s no foolin’ about how they do it. Splendid ribs are thick, meaty and remarkably fat-free, and pulled pork passes the spoon-tender test. Table sets offer a choice of vinegary North Carolina sauce, thick, sweet Sweet & Smokey and fiery Texas Hot; and side dishes keep up the same high pace.Also winning my barbecue trophy is Ken-Tex Bar-B-Q, just north of I-64 at the second Shelbyville exit, 1163 Mount Eden Road (KY 53). Also appropriately housed in a hickory-scented wooden shack, this amiable spot vends true Texas-style barbecue, including tender, smoke-scented beef brisket with a proper pink smoke ring around its perimeter, and memorable smoked turkey and barbecued chicken and pork. Just as Texas barbecue should, it comes with sauces on the side so true cognoscenti may enjoy the subtle delicacy of smoked meat without distraction. —Robin GarrBarbecue is one of nature’s most perfect foods. The other, of course, is pizza, and we’ve got good news in that department this week. Here’s LEO’s CARY STEMLE in a car with a little pizza light on top to deliver it. Welcome back a familiar face (and taste)Close readers of LEO dining coverage over the years know about Curt Burko, the Brooklyn native who birthed New York Capri Pizza, which first appeared in these parts way up in Borden, Ind., and more recently in Clarksville.He’s left that venture, and this week he’ll open Burko’s New York at 2781 Jefferson Center Way in Jeffersonville. It’s in a strip center near the Meijer superstore at Ind. 62 and Allison Lane (look for the Tumbleweed as a landmark).This is great news, because Burko and Co. put their focus squarely on food, with everything prepared to order. All of Burko’s familiar recipes are on the menu — the mammoth baked calzones, the pasta dishes with that terrific marinara sauce, the bread knots slathered in garlic butter, the pizza. He’s added items like a deep-fried calzone and a few shrimp dishes, and now there’s a lunch menu.The restaurant will serve wine and several bottled and draft beers. Inside there’s seating for 75, and about 40 outside. Six TVs will let you keep up with the ballgame.Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. on Sunday. Call (812) 284-0043 or (812) 284-0058 for info or delivery. Meat? Who needs meat?Grossed out by all this talk about smoked animal flesh? Here comes correspondent LEAH STEWART, an obligate veggievore who helps keep us posted on good things to eat for those who don’t eat meat.“Nearly 25 years ago, when I first went meatless,” she said, “it was much harder to get a great vegetarian meal in an upscale restaurant. Today’s menus celebrate local produce, and today’s chefs are getting darn creative in coaxing a depth of flavor from even the most ordinary vegetable.”What’s more, she said, vegetarians aren’t segregated any more. Many omnivorous restaurants now offer fine vegetarian main dishes that aren’t mere afterthoughts. Here’s her account of a memorable meatless dinner at The Patron:An amuse bouche presented on a blue-glass crescent, a Belgian endive leaf filled with gorgonzola, apples and walnuts, happily forecast flavors to come. Then came a demi-loaf of Blue Dog bread, house-made white sesame-seed and poppy-seeded lavash flatbread, with well-aged balsamic vinegar, and we’re already red-lining the Wow Are We Glad We Chose This Restaurant Meter.My daughter, also vegetarian, pursued an easy solution to the meat-free entrée challenge, requesting a meatless rendition of a course normally made with meat. The Chef’s Whim pizza of the evening was built this night with roasted tomatoes, toasted fennel seeds, fresh mozzarella and sausage, but The Patron gladly accommodated her request to simply omit the sausage. The thin-crust pizza came with plenty of veggies, and the toasted fennel seeds added a flavorful top note that paired nicely with the creamy fresh mozzarella. This was a pie with panache … and no meat. I tucked into a sun-dried tomato and Capriole goat cheese Napoleon. Layers of phyllo, roasted Roma tomatoes, onions, peppers, and Indiana’s great goat cheese made an edible tower, napped with a delicate yellow pepper sauce that was gorgeous to look at and even better to eat. Roasting tomatoes and onions brings out a depth of flavor that the vegetables are meant to have.Desserts were casual perfection, too — not overly fussy, and accented with fresh seasonal fruits, they showcased their ingredients well. And they were meat-free, of course.You’ll find The Patron at 3400 Frankfort Ave., just past Cannons Lane, in the pretty little building with the mural on the side. Call 896-1661 for information, or check their Web site, www.thepatron.org