In a town known for its nuclear power plant and little else, in a corner of an old gas station across the street from a small motel, sits Jimmie James BBQ, an unlikely source of a delectable dinner.
Armed with a borrowed smoker, Jim and Robin Guyle started Jimmie James as a weekend concession stand in 2007. In 2013, they opened their brick-and-mortar location on Route 104 in Scriba at the site of the former Telly’s pizzeria and Clifford Fuel Co. gas station.
On the restaurant’s white metal siding were red block letters spelling out the name of the restaurant, covering an area far larger than the restaurant itself. The main dining room had about eight tables, plus a few seats at the bar, each seat marked with a paper placement advertising banks, car dealerships, paving companies and other local businesses.
For a barbecue restaurant, the menu was quite long and diverse, which is beneficial, because restaurant pickings are generally slim between Oswego and Mexico. In addition to barbecue, Jimmie James offers a selection of fried appetizers, burgers, pizza, subs, fried seafood, chicken wings and sandwiches.
Wanting to focus on their specialty, we ordered fried pickles ($4.99), a half-rack of baby back ribs ($15.99 for the dinner, $12.99 for ribs only) and a three-meat combo platter ($17.75/$14.99 on Thursdays).
The walls of the restaurant were decorated with guitars, license plates and other road signs. What I originally thought was the name of the restaurant written in script using metal behind the bar was actually made using guitar amplifier cables.
The vintage gas pump near the front door still says “leaded gasoline.” It’s part honky-tonk, but not kitschy. If it was any fancier, you’d feel uncomfortable grabbing a paper towel from the roll at each table to clean your hands after licking them clean of barbecue sauce.
Chalk this one up in the lesser-known food debate column, but the dispute between chips and spears when it comes to fried pickles is a conversation worth having. I tend to favor spears for the exact reasons why Jimmie James’ spears were so good.
These spears, served five to an order, provided an optimal balance of hot, crispy crust and soft, natural coolness of the pickle inside. Even more impressive was the fact that the breading stayed on the entire time, despite repeated dips in ranch dressing.
The three-meat combo platter comes with a pulled pork sandwich, one quarter barbecued chicken and either a quarter-rack of ribs or a portion of beef brisket. Both dinners come with salt potatoes, baked beans and your choice of macaroni or potato salad or coleslaw.
Salt potatoes, the quintessential Central New York side dish, are often made and rarely perfected, but Jimmie James sure came close. The slight snap of the potato’s salty crust quickly gave way to a creamy, tender interior that soaked up the pool of melted butter.
I found a few pieces of meat in my baked beans—a welcome addition—and the red skin potato salad was flavorful and tasted homemade.
For me, the proper coleslaw needs to have a healthy punch of vinegar or else it’s like eating crunchy mayonnaise. Fortunately, Jimmie James’ version is vinegar-forward with just enough mayo to hold it all together.
Both the pulled pork and chicken were tender and delicious, but the star of the platter was the brisket. The smokiest meat of the bunch—evidenced by the deep pink smoke ring around the outside of the meat—the brisket was fork-tender and packed a beefy punch of flavor.
The complexity in making proper barbecue comes not from the ingredients used, but rather proper technique, timing and lots of patience. And in this old gas station, in a town were dining is a distant third behind the nuclear power and aluminum plants, Jimmie James is doing it right.
Note: As of Feb. 26, 2017, Jimmie James BBQ is closed.