Take a minute and think about barbecue. Not just any barbecue. I mean the kind slow-cooked in a deep pit over smoldering oak embers until each morsel is a heavenly combination of exterior crust, interior moistness and strong, clear smoky flavors. Barbecue at its juiciest, smokiest, heart-throbbing best -- like you'll find at Tom Jenkins Bar-B-Q. Just be prepared to stand in long waiting lines with other loyal fans, because it goes with the delicious territory.
Where: 1236 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, 954-522-5046
Credit cards: cash only
Hours: lunch, dinner Tuesday-Sunday
Reservations: not accepted
Sound level: quiet to moderate
Bar: no alcohol
Smoking: not allowed
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Children's facilities: high chairs
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The restaurant, housed in a building that looks as if it was plucked from the backwoods and plunked down on Federal Highway, deserves honors for a number of reasons -- the first of which is great barbecue. Then, there's the history: a heartening story of friends Harry Harrell and Gary Torrence, who dreamed of their own restaurant but couldn't get bank financing. So, they operated from a roadside trailer until borrowing enough money from family and friends to open Tom Jenkins in 1996.
An enticing smoky pungency and undeniable rustic charm permeate the ambiance of this no-frills dining spot -- a mix of wooden picnic-style tables, paper plates, plastic utensils, rolls of paper towels, ordering at the counter and waiting for your number to be called before picking up the food. And, don't be surprised if you wind up sharing a table with others since there are just eight, and, four of them are half tables.
The house sauce is a deep reddish-brown and so beautifully balanced between sweet and vinegar it tickles the palate with a wonderful combination of spice and sorcery. Those whose love of fine barbecue runs deep will devour the glazed baby backs with perfect blackened edges and a load of meat between each rib. (A steal at $10.45 for a full slab.) These aren't the fall-off-the-bone kind, but they're nice and tender with a just right chew satisfaction -- cut between the ribs and piled high for easy eating.
The pit master wields his cleaver with the finesse of a master chef, hacking up the best chopped pork and beef in the city. I like to order these big chunks of lean meat in half-pound portions under the "meat only" section of the menu ($6.95 each). Then, I add in sides. They're all homemade in a wonderful family-reunion sort of way. The baked beans are sweet and deliciously gloppy, the coleslaw is crisp, fresh and light on mayo, collards are symphonic; the excellent potato salad isn't mushy; greaseless hushpuppies are golden-browned perfection, and then there are the corn muffins. These are a moist and fabulous antidote to those numerous dry versions we've coughed over in other places. (Sides run $1.25 for small; $2.00, medium; $2.50, large.)
Barbecue is what it's all about, but don't overlook the divine fried catfish ($8.95) -- four large fillets crusted in cornmeal breading for good exterior crunch against soft, sweet white meat that couldn't be more perfectly cooked. Dip them in homemade tartar sauce that works refreshingly well with the fish.
Visit on Friday or Saturday after 5 p.m. and if they're not already sold out, consider yourself lucky to snag an order of homey apple ($2.65) or peach ($3.65) cobbler. Luck holds out the rest of the week, too, with slices of luscious sweet potato pie ($1.75).
Come here for affordable, delicious food and the satisfaction of knowing that restaurants operated by people who throw their heart into everything that leaves the kitchen may be on the endangered species list -- but, thank goodness for us all, they're not extinct.
Please phone in advance to confirm information on hours, prices, menu items and facilities. For review consideration, please fax a current menu that includes name and address of restaurant to 954-356-4386 or send to Sun-Sentinel, 200 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301-2293.If you would like to contact dining correspondent Judith Stocks, e-mail her at judithstocksreviews@yahoo .com or write to her in care of the Sun-Sentinel.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times