I experienced a kind of dejected longing while waiting in line at Jambo’s BBQ Shack. I watched forlornly as the servers weaved through the packed dining room carrying the kitchen’s two signature monstrosities: the Sadie, a huge baked potato stuffed with butter, sour cream, and cheese topped with brisket, sausage and baked beans; and the Jambo Texan, a towering sandwich of brisket, pulled pork, bologna, sausage, and ribs on Texas toast. There was a time, and it wasn’t too long ago, when consuming one of these in its entirety would have seemed like a worthy challenge. These days, the thought of it just made me tired.
Or it may have been my surroundings. On a recent weekday evening visit, the tiny spot in South Central Arlington was crammed past capacity, and the line to order snaked between loud tables of happy families gorging themselves on Jambo’s smoked meats. It was almost too much stimulus for the end of a long day, but, during the 20-minute wait, I was twice reassured by my fellow customers that the reward would be worth it.
What wasn’t going to be worth the wait was a table in the joint’s charmless fluorescent wash. Whatever atmosphere it can claim quite literally hangs in the air –– the place smelled delicious. There was nothing organized about the chaos and cacophony, and the effort required to keep a place in line while dodging servers, customers, and their besauced children made me crave the quiet solitude of my car.
Jambo’s three-meat plate is a great way to experience the range of the pit without feeling like you’ve stumbled into an episode of Triple D. The link sausage came pre-sliced but retained a velvety texture that smoothed out the intensity of the spice. The pulled pork was lean but perfectly tender. The sliced brisket had one of the most beautiful smoke rings I’ve ever seen –– a wine-colored halo more than a quarter-inch thick. Everything tasted of clean smoke and balanced seasoning. Perhaps most remarkable was that the meat retained a juiciness that didn’t seem to depend on fat — there was nothing on my plate that was too dry or too greasy.
Jambo’s BBQ Shack
2502 Little Rd, Arlington. 682-213-2780. 11am-8pm Tue-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
The side dishes, on the other hand, were nothing special, and maybe that’s for the best. A few bites of mediocre potato salad swimming in sticky-sweet yellow dressing can only make the brisket seem more magnificent. The coleslaw served as a suitable palate cleanser but was underdressed and under-seasoned. The fried okra were rock-hard pellets of cornmeal batter forming a hermetic seal around the center, causing visions of large brown freezer bags being slung off the back of a truck. But whatever. The meat here is the star of the show, and the vegetables won’t let you forget it.
You might do best skipping the sides altogether and doubling up on homemade peach or apple cobbler. Packed with fruit, light on syrup, and with a dense, biscuit-like crust, it tasted like it had just been pulled off of a campfire and scooped out of a Dutch oven.
The condiments were middling, though the pickles deserve special mention. Thick-cut, crispy, and fresh, they were a far cry from the limp, crinkled dill slices usually found at barbecue joints. There were two sauces on offer, one too sweet and the other too spicy. Fortunately, Jambo’s barbecue doesn’t need much saucing — there is true pit mastery at work here, and it produces a result that stands best on its own.
[box_info]Jambo’s BBQ Shack
Three-meat plate $15.50
Fried okra $2
Peach cobbler $2.50[/box_info]