Over the years I have learned to breathe deeply in barbecue joint parking lots. When I don’t smell woodsmoke, I usually don’t taste it later. ¶ Smoke greeted me when I stepped out of the car in front of Joe Tomasino’s place, J&L’s Boulevard Barbecue. Inside was a room decorated with license plates and a motorcycle, and a counter where you order. It’s a Spartan setup, with half-filled, unlabeled sauce bottles on the tables. A server cooks or warms up your food and brings it out. ¶ The minimal menu does not include salads, or any other feature that might be considered encouragement of vegetable eaters, but that’s the barbecue joint way. ¶ There’s no doubt it’s real barbecue, though. When the meat is good, I don’t care as much if the table’s wobbly. Or the sauce bottles are mysteries. I wasn’t prompted to reach for a sauce bottle once while I was there, which is a compliment, in a way.
The spare ribs ($23 a full rack) were tender inside, crusty outside, slathered with sauce and smoky all the way through. The tender pork pulled cleanly off the bones. Everybody asked for seconds, and the ribs were gone.
The pulled pork was moist but not mushy, and had a hint of smoke. I wished for more bark, the almost-charred outer crust of a barbecued butt, but the meat satisfied. A platter ($8.40, sandwich $6.30) was an ample serving, and we could have shared another.
The smoked turkey sandwich ($5.50) was a healthy portion of moist sliced turkey and mustard on a bun. Late in the meal, after I should have stopped eating, I was still pulling out slices of turkey and making sure they didn’t escape.
Beef brisket ($12 platter, $8 sandwich) was moist, but lacked smoke. Its hearty flavor made me think it would make a good sandwich with horseradish.
Rotisserie chicken ($7.35 platter) was dark around the edges, like adequately grilled chicken. Its tender meat was bland by itself, but a bite into a drumstick and its sauce-brushed skin was satisfying.
All platters come with two sides. The best was the “Frenchy” fries, hand-cut and cooked to order. These spud batons were terrifically crisp and hit with peppery seasoned salt, leaving me wondering why everybody can’t do that. We ordered a second round, and those went, too.
Macaroni and cheese was gooey elbows, the pasta still firm. The baked beans tasted like Bush’s, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The coleslaw was crisp and not drowning in mayonnaise. A special “potato explosion” side, with many of the ingredients of a stuffed baked potato but served by the scoop, was a rich upgrade from the standard mayonnaise potato salad.
The cornbread was in single-serving ingots, moist, and topped with honey-butter and wrapped in plastic wrap. While I am all for avoiding stale cornbread, much of the honey-butter ended up on the plastic wrap.
When the personal-sized brisket pizza ($8) came out, I was surprised by a whiff of smoke. Turns out this crisp little flatbread is baked directly over hardwood embers, browning the cheese and giving the dish a campfire touch without having to worry about setting up a tent. This fire-blessed treat was my favorite bite of the meal, after the ribs and pork. Next time I’d ask for a pulled pork version, though.
There’s a fire-grilled chicken quesadilla ($8.40) on the menu, too. The place also cooks its burgers over a hardwood fire, which couldn’t hurt.
Our server was friendly and patient. J&L’s isn’t going to win any interior decorating contests, but its kitchen turns out honest food at a decent price, including real barbecue.
J&L’s Boulevard Barbecue: 7 plates (Out of 10)
Humble joint serves real barbecue, fire-blessed pizzas.
WHERE: 697 Erie Ave., North Tonawanda (695-8888, www.buffalosbestbbq.com)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Sandwiches, burgers $5.50-$8.19; sides, appetizers $2.40-$10.29; platters, $7.65-$24.24.
PARKING: Lot. WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.