Four years ago, a friend of mine invited Cindy and I to watch an Iowa Hawkeyes football game from a suite in the skybox at Kinnick Stadium that was leased by his wife's grandparents. Jumping at the chance, I immediately said, "You bet!" In addition to the unlimited beer and the comfy accommodations, they also had food catered in from a local barbecue place called Jimmy Jack's Rib Shack on the eastside of Iowa City. The barbecue, I thought, was fabulous. I've been meaning to stop in to Jimmy Jack's to try their barbecue in house and on a recent trip where I was driving by Iowa City, I decided to stop in for some barbecue.
The owners of Jimmy Jack's are, of course, named "Jimmy" (James Adrian) and Jack (Piper). James and Jack were lifelong friends who grew up in Burlington, IA with similar backgrounds. Going to school at the University of Iowa they worked in restaurants and found themselves working in restaurants after getting out of school. Adrian worked in New Orleans at the prestigious Commander's Palace. Piper ended up working at the Stein Erikson Lodge in Park City, Utah. Both Piper and Adrian ended up in Boulder, CO working at a restaurant before they decided to come back to Iowa City and open the Atlas World Grill (now simply known as "Atlas"), an eclectic restaurant featuring different recipes that both learned along the way.
Adrian and Piper would subsequently travel to other citys to try other restaurants - preferably barbecue restaurants. Their favorite destination was Kansas City and the plethora of barbecue joints in that city. Both became judges associated with the Kansas City Barbecue Society and they decided to open their own barbecue joint in the barbecue barren Iowa City area. They found an (I believe) old Long John Silver's location on Lower Muscatine Road across from Sycamore Mall on Iowa City's southeast side. (see map). They opened Jimmy Jack's Rib Shack in the summer of 2005 and it immediately became the place for area barbecue aficionados. (In 2011, along with partner Brady McDonald, Adrian and Piper opened Basta Pizzeria and Ristorante in downtown Iowa City.)
It was after the lunch rush when I rolled into Jimmy Jack's. The smell of hickory smoke was emanating from the building into the summer air. You order at the counter and they'll bring the food out to you. The menu is located on the back wall behind the order counter. I was greeted by a younger girl who asked me if I knew what I wanted. Since I hadn't been there before, I needed a couple minutes trying to figure out what I wanted.
At barbecue joints that I'm not familiar with, I like to get a sampler plate of two or three meats. The only problem is that Jimmy Jack's doesn't have anything like that. They have sandwiches - barbecue brisket, pork or turkey, along with a smoked sausage sandwich, and a smoked portobello mushroom sandwich for the vegetarians who somehow may fall into the place. Their main entrees of pork ribs and smoked chicken is, well, that's it. There's not much to choose from on the menu.
I decided to get the half-rack rib dinner that came with two sides. I got baked beans and fries to go along with it. I also got a couple bottles of beer. I found a table along the window in the dining room and waited for my ribs to show up.
The dining room at Jimmy Jack's had a number of tables with individual bench seats. There were bench seats attached to a tin wainscoting along one of the walls. There was a condiment area along one wall along with a pop machine.
The walls in the dining room at Jimmy Jack's were adorned with a number of antique woodworking tools. I found out later on that Jack Piper's father was a lifelong woodworker and they used a number of his tools that he used over the years decorate the place. Actually, it was kind of interesting to see some of the woodworking tools on display.
About 10 minutes after I ordered at the counter, the young counter girl came out with my ribs and sides. I went over to the condiment bar and saw that they had four different types of barbecue sauce - their original sauce that was similar to a Kansas City-style sauce, a Cowboy sauce that was a little more sweet than their original, a Carolina mustard sauce that tasted like honey mustard out of a jar, and a 4 alarm sauce that intrigued me. It turned out that it was - possibly - a 2 alarm sauce. At least to me, it wasn't all that hot. Mixed with either the Cowboy sauce or Jimmy Jack's original sauce, it helped zip up the taste of both of those.
The ribs were meaty and tender. They had a great smoke ring with a tasty bark on the outside of the meat. With the combination of either the Cowboy or original sauce mixed with the 4 alarm sauce, it gave the meat a little pizazz. The ribs were very good.
The fries were sort of a steak-style cut potato and were also very good when dipped in the barbecue sauce. The beans featured two or three different types of beans with chunks of meat. I added some of the 4 alarm sauce to the beans to kick up the taste a bit, but they weren't all that spectacular even that way. And the dried out honey corn muffin was a throw away for me.
It was a lot of food and I was rapidly getting full from the ribs. There were eight meaty ribs that were served to me and I was very satiated when I finished the last rib. I was also all I could do to finish my second beer, I was so full.
While I can't say that Jimmy Jack's is the best barbecue I've had, it's continually awarded the best barbecue in Iowa City by voters over the past few years. I was very impressed with the ribs. The sauces were all right, but nothing that were extremely good. And it was a somewhat fun place to have some food. I just wish they would have a few more things on the menu including sampler plates to try ribs, brisket and/or pulled pork at the same time. While I won't crawl back to Jimmy Jack's, if I were in the area and hankering for some barbecue I'd go back.