If the show Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives gets you lusting after authentic American barbecue and Southern soul food, you’ll be happy to hear that Smokin Joe’s Rib Shack in Fourways offers just that. Owners Tom and Cleveland have set up their very own dive in a guesthouse garden in Gauteng suburbia.
Price: From R125 for a main meal
Serves: Southern soul food and American barbecue
Best for: Laid-back weekend lunches that turn into dinner.
Parking: Off-street parking
Star ratings: Food 3, service 3, ambience 2
If you’re searching for something fancy, it’s best you keep driving. Casual, Southern-style home cooking is what’s on offer at Smokin Joes, and the menu is simple with daily changes. Ribs and smoked brisket are staples, with Cleveland lending his Mississippi hand to the barbecuing of the meat. Choose between a half or full rack of beef or pork ribs, accompanied by the sides of the day. Mac ’n cheese, a green salad and sweet potato fries are on offer during our visit. I am disappointed, however, that collard greens (available when in season), Southern corn bread, dirty fries and black beans aren’t anywhere to be seen during our lunchtime meat fest.
We go with the obvious choice of ribs – a half of both beef and pork – as the brisket isn’t ready for lunch that day. Cleveland and his smoker sit at the back of the guesthouse garden, along with a simmering pot filled with a meaty stock, ready to get the black beans going for dinner service. The ribs arrive with a generous portion of crispy sweet-potato fries and two hunks of mac ’n cheese. Both pork and beef are tender and well basted, but seem to lack any smoky flavour. The sides are decent, but the meat is clearly the drawcard and should deliver.
The dessert of the day, peach cobbler, sticks to the American theme. It sounds tasty, but the combination of rich meat and carbohydrates for the main meal leaves not much room for anything sweet. Sweet-potato pie and Mississippi mud pie are also known to feature.
As for wine, choose from either the house red or white (but what it is, nobody knows). The local favourite of Castle is on offer when it comes to beer, and there are a few spirits to choose from. A variety of soda cans are available for those who prefer to keep things non-alcoholic.
Friendly service with loads of smiles. Smokin Joe’s manager Mike takes a casual approach to things, pulling out a chair at your table and explaining how things work around here. Cleveland makes an appearance every now and then between the smoker, reliving a tale about his travels in Brazil or a memory from back home in the States.
Remember, we’re in the backyard of a guesthouse. Moody blues wafts out from the stereo under the lapa; plastic tablecloths line tables; melted candles stand tall in wine bottles; and blackboards highlight the menu offerings of the day. Old and foreign number plates hang from a garden wall. There’s also a swimming pool in the middle of it all.
Remember to bring warm clothes on cold days; you’re outside after all. Bookings are essential for evenings and over weekends. Smokin Joe’s shuts up shop by 8pm, so don’t think you can spend all night eating those ribs at a super leisurely pace.
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