I follow a handful of national and regional sportswriters on Twitter and on more than one occasion when one of them have ended up in Lincoln, NE, they've tweeted about going to a barbecue place by the name of Phat Jack's. I tried to go to Phat Jack's on a visit to Lincoln last year, but I found that they close at 7 p.m. After a meeting with a dealer in Lincoln recently, I made it a point to go in for a 5:30 dinner at Phat Jack's.
If you're a regular reader of Road Tips, you've found that many of the barbecue places I've been to started after the owners had been on the competition trail for a few years. That's exactly how Phat Jack's started out.
Matt Burt was a Lincoln native who married his wife, Jackie, in 2004. They soon moved to the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, KS to be closer to her parents. Matt Burt was a plumber by trade, but his hobby and passion was barbecue. In 2006, Matt Burt, along with his father-in-law, Tony Mateer, and a neighbor, Phil Allen, the trio started a competition barbecue team.
The team needed a name and they came up with a number of ones that had a barbecue theme, but none of them stuck. Finally, someone came up with "Fat Jack's" which was changed to "Phat Jack's" taking the urban slang acronym for "Pretty Hot and Tempting" and making it "Pretty Hot and Tasty". There was no Jack in the bunch - the closest being Phil Allen's young son, Jack, who wasn't fat or phat - but the name just sort of stuck.
They entered their first competition in Shawnee, KS and, according to Matt Burt, they didn't do too well. However, they regrouped in time for the 2007 season and placed 4th overall in the World Brisket Open sponsored by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.
While they didn't win any contests in 2007, they placed high enough in many of the events to garner the attention of many barbecue aficionados. But the team didn't last much longer than that. The team was just down to Phil Allen and Matt Burt when they were invited to compete in the prestigious American Royal Invitational in 2008.
Matt Burt's parents, Ron and Kris, convinced the young Burt's to move back to Lincoln and they would help them open a barbecue joint of their own. This was a daunting task because Lincoln had a pretty lively barbecue scene at the time. However, when they opened in 2008 in a spot that used to house a former barbecue joint at 40th and Cornhusker Highway, the original Phat Jack's was a hit.
And almost immediately the place proved to be too small for the hordes that came in to try their barbecue. That location didn't have much seating, it had no kitchen and it had a very small parking lot. The Burt's made do with that place, getting their business built up and Matt going out to barbecue competitions in the summertime, until they moved to their present location in the Belmont Shopping Center, a strip mall in the bottoms of north Lincoln at 11th St. and Cornhusker Highway, just east of Interstate 180 that goes between downtown Lincoln and Interstate 80. (see map)
This place appeared to seat about 50 people and looked like it could have been a small burger joint in a previous life. Trophies and awards from competitions that Phat Jack's have won over the years were on shelves on the wall. I got in at the right time. There was just two other tables that were filled and I had no problem getting up to the counter to order.
The menu at Phat Jack's is on the wall behind the counter with the sign above it that says "Order Here". The barbecue at Phat Jack's is - of course - Kansas City style with Matt Burt coming up with the rub concoction for his brisket, ribs, pork shoulder and chicken. The menu is pretty basic with sandwiches, racks of ribs, combo meals and meats by the pound. They also feature burnt ends - when available - and loaded baked potatoes with either a choice of brisket or pulled pork. Interestingly, they have a couple of menu items that are vegetarian friendly - the Debbie's Way that features coleslaw, tomato, shredded carrots, and a red onion slice that's drizzled with a Carolina-style vinegar BBQ sauce and served on a bun. You can also get a Debbie's Way loaded baked potato, too.
Well, I'm not a vegetarian and I was up for barbecue. I was greeted by a lady behind the counter and I looked over the menu. It was a little difficult to comprehend for a first timer at Phat Jack's. At the top of the combo list was the Jack Jr. Combo - three ribs and your choice of a meat. (If I'd paid attention and read down one more line, I would have seen the Jack Combo - three ribs and your choice of TWO meats. Next time, I'll get that.) I ordered the Jack Jr. Combo with brisket. I also got a choice of two sides. Baked beans was an easy choice, but I hesitated on the second one. I asked her, "What would you get?"
"A lot of people like our cheesy hash browns," she quickly replied. I signed up for that as a second side.
Phat Jack's doesn't have a liquor license, so I couldn't get a beer with my meal. That was disheartening because I do like a cold beer or two with barbecue, but it certainly wasn't a deal breaker. I got a bottle of water instead. I got a number and she said she'd call it out when it was ready.
Because there was no one else in line, I was barely settled into my seat at a two-seater table when a young lady brought my barbecue out to me. It was served in a paper boat with the beans and cheesy potatoes in styrofoam cups. A paper towel roll was on the table along with bottles of Phat Jack's homemade sweet barbecue sauce and spicy barbecue sauce.
The ribs were meaty and had a nice rub spice on the bark. The pink smoke ring was present and they pulled off the bone rather easily. The ribs were outstanding. I'm a sauce guy, but I was hesitant to put any sauce on the ribs because they tasted so good on their own.
The brisket was served on a piece of white bread. It, too, had a nice pink smoke ring and the meat was tender and had a great flavor. I tried some of the sweet sauce on the brisket and it was good. It was a little spicy on its own, but not bad. I thought the same thing about the spicy sauce when I tried it - a little spicy at first. But then about five seconds later, the heat very sneakily kicked in. It wasn't overpowering, but it was enough to get your attention. I really liked the spicy barbecue sauce at Phat Jack's.
The baked beans, I have to say, were also outstanding. I usually like to add barbecue sauce to baked beans at most barbecue joints to liven them up. I didn't have to do that with the beans at Phat Jack's. They featured chunks of brisket and pork in with the beans, and they were thick and flavorful. I couldn't help, however, to put a little of the spicy sauce in with the beans. To me, that made them even more outstanding.
The lady's recommendation of the cheesy hash browns was also spot on. They, too, had a great flavor, but were very rich. I concentrated more on the barbecue and the beans making sure that I wouldn't get filled up on the cheesy hash browns.
While I was eating, I decided that I came at the right time as a long line formed from the door to the counter about 15 minutes after I arrived. People were flocking in for Phat Jack's barbecue before they closed at 7 p.m. (They're open at 11 a.m., Monday thru Saturday.) For my first visit to Phat Jack's, I was mightily impressed. The ribs and brisket were very good, and the baked beans were outstanding. I liked the cheesy potatoes, but I'll probably try the cole slaw next time - or get double baked beans. Everything I expected from Phat Jack's came to fruition for me. It's one of the better barbecue joints I've found in the Midwest. Even if they don't serve beer.