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I feel a touch greedy ordering a three-meat plate ($9.95) for lunch, but on arrival, the quantities are hardly daunting. A few slices of turkey, a smallish turkey-jalapeño sausage and a fistful of pulled pork make for refined dining. The sausage, custom crafted for Joe's by local purveyors, stands out for its intelligent peppering -- just spicy enough to hold interest without inflicting oral harm.
More pigs give their lives for the pit ham, and I salute their sacrifice (one-meat plate, $6.95). These must have been happy porkers to produce such firm and slightly sweet flesh. It's a perfect foil to the slightly mushy, nondescript dinner roll alongside, but what happened to the fantastic caraway and Cheddar bread I receive one time? This crusty masterpiece should be required eating with all entrees.
Sides are uniformly outstanding, with two "don't miss" best sellers, cheesy potatoes and BBQ pit beans. Bathed in a silky sharp Cheddar sauce sprinkled with green onion, the baked Idaho chunks cause a fork war with my dining buddy. He is more generous with my beans, and for this he is allowed to remain at the table. I spoon up every bit of this killer combination uniting kidney, lima and navy beans thick with shards of sausage, chicken and beef.
301 N. Gilbert Road
Gilbert, AZ 85234
Potato salad is addicting, with skin-on red potatoes prettily dotted with chopped red pepper, fresh dill and pickle Chiclets in a light mayo-paprika glaze. This same light touch with condiments creates blissfully clean-tasting coleslaw, crunchy with fresh purple and green cabbage and carrots.
My veggie-hating friend even appreciates the fresh sweet corn with butter and the inspired applesauce, thick with chunks of apple in an alarming neon pink hue. A limited special offering of roasted sweet potatoes topped with crunchy brown sugar deserves a permanent position.
Careful readers will have noticed that I have not yet addressed that which makes barbecue an individual personality -- the sauce. That's because Joe's sauce merely gilds an already golden lily. Touted as "a fusion of ideas about Arizona flavors," the mixture reads like fine wine: mildly sweet, slightly tangy, with fruity undertones and just a hint of pepper. It's good stuff, but not the devil's brew that my companion speaks of in his macho rantings.
Even the habanero-spiked version is not scary "I Dare Ya" as promoted, but it does have the clean, hot kick of the world's hottest chiles. Thin and smooth like traditional Spanish hot sauce, it's my choice to punch up the meals.
Rather than criticism, my analysis is meant to show that sauce -- any sauce -- must simply be a complement to an already firm foundation. There are plenty of barbecue joints that gleefully mask low-quality meats and inferior cooking processes with ladles of complicated goo.
Such is the high quality of Joe's basic ingredients, in fact, that the kitchen wisely offers just a light glazing of sauce. You'll probably want to add more, and it's available from heated urns at the end of the line. Turn up the heat, please -- by the time we completed our short walk to the tables, the small paper cups had cooled. Note: If you're getting takeout, be sure to ask for habanero sauce -- only the regular sauce is included.
Lighter appetites (not us!) will appreciate the chopped salad ($4.95) with BBQ ranch dressing and bread (add chopped meat, $6.95). But why waste the calories when you can have a jumbo baker (loaded, $3.95/with meat, $5.95)? Weighing in at a full pound, these Idaho-born babies serve up the firmness that only honest baking can impart. Nestled on a bed of coarse salt to stay warm, the spuds are served to plate with toppings of shredded Cheddar, chives, sour cream and real butter. I lick my lips as the crisp skin cracks open to reveal steamy potato flesh and its perfect nutlike aroma.
With all the sweet flavor of pecan wood and barbecue sauce, dessert may seem like overkill. It is. Chocolate chip cookies (95 cents) and lemon cake ($1.50) are sleepy, but apple crisp ($2.50) is downright abusive. The disappointingly cold innards are good fresh fruit, but the crispy topping is anything but. Chalky and dry, it leaves a bad taste that only Joe's bargain 25-cent cup of coffee can chase away. Opt instead for a homemade ice cream sundae or banana split. My companion coos happily over his choice: an ice cream float, starring Joe's homemade root beer (yes, you can taste the difference).
Or, go my route and finish off with a luscious Stewart's Classic Orange 'n' Cream soda pop. Pulled from an ice tub packed with bottles of Fresca, Limeade and non-alcoholic beers, the magical nectar is a Creamsicle in liquid form.
While Joe's Real Barbecue won't register a Richter on your tongue's spice-o-meter, it will charm you with its dignified approach to delicious, down-home cooking. And as for my companion, I think it's about time he took a 'cue from the professionals.