Many times while traveling home to Nashville going north on I-24. I would see a huge billboard for this place. I always say to myself "remember to go back down there and try them" and for some reason I never do. A couple of days ago my wife and I had to go down to the "boro" and while we were there, it was the perfect chance to justify a trip over. We looked it up on a map while we were down there and found we were about a mile away. Yeehaw!
Jim 'N Nicks is located just around the bend from the mall at Murfreesboro off of North Thompson lane. It is a newer looking place in an area that has been building up around the mall for the past couple of years. There is a good deal of traffic. There were lots of cars there. Surely a good sign. This is a "chain", but it is still small and fiesty. There are approximately 22 locations in the Southeast region, and they are home based in Alabama. There are 4 of these in Tennessee, including one in Nashville on Charlotte. It does not feel like a BBQ shack on the side of the road about to be comdemned, but I am OK with that. It's actually clean and neatly organized. For a Q-joint, it might be a little too "high class" for some of you from the boonies. Just wear a shirt and shoes and you should be able to get served... hehe
We walked in and I immediately smelled Hickory wood smoke - that alone is enough to get a Q-seeker excited. The place still looks new. It has a nice setting with brick walls and nice, light-wood booths. Very comfortable. The first thing I noticed was the sauces:
They have a regular red sauce, and hot and spicy sauce, and some Habanero pepper ground up to sprinkle on your food in case you like it REALLY hot. The sauces are made FRESH every day. They are based on a memphis style tomato based red/sweet but they are not a clone of any sauce I have had in the past. The original has a flavor in it that I can't describe, but it goes well will most things. The Hot and Spicy is my favorite. It is a bit darker (maybe some molasses in there?) and has a lot of spices in it. It is not super thick, but just right. It has just enough heat without scaring away the normal palette. The Habanero dust will take care of the serious hot heads should they wish to add more. The spicy sauce reminded me a little bit of the kind at the now out-of-business Mothership BBQ (RIP - Jim, we hardly knew ye). I liked the hot and spicy sauce so much I bought a bottle to take home. The sauces are better than Famous Daves BBQ - another chain with places in the Nashville area.
I ordered the ribs/brisket combo with beans and collard greens (YES!) - and my wife ordered the chicken with mac-n-cheese and brandied apples. I explained to our waiter Bruce that I wanted to try a very small sample of a couple of other things, and he was very helpful. He brought out a small container of pulled pork, slaw, and potato salad for me to try.
Let's get right down to it. This is some good stuff! The ribs were not over cooked like in a lot of places. It came off the bone easy and I noticed that the flavor goes deeper than just the surface. When you bite into them you taste the flavor in the meat all the way to the bone. I believe this is because they are slow cooked on a moving rotisserie style cooker/smoker and then moved over to a grill with hickory wood used to smoke and finish them off. They aren't quick cooked or quick boiled and then moved to the grill. When I was there for lunch st about 12:30 - 1 p.m., they were loading the racks up for the dinner meal indicating about a 4 to 6 hour cooking time on the ribs which is great. They do coat them with a rub but THERE IS NO MSG!!! We originally call another location who told us there was MSG in the rub but nothing else. However we were told later this is not the case. They use all natural ingredients and there is NO MSG in their food. This is a MAJOR plus in my opinion. Good Q needs no flavor enhancements.
The pulled pork had a good smoke ring and was not dry. Since I only had a sample I may need to go back and just try the pork plate - but it seemed fine to me. I would definitely like to have it memphis style on a sandwich and compare to Famous Daves BBQ - which I believe Jim 'N Nick's would win that battle. The brisket was tender, but the smoke ring was not a thick. It had some flavor but it came with sauce already over the top. This was the only negative thing I saw. According to the Texas law books and the Texas gospel, good brisket does not get sauce (even though I dip mine in it anyway). It should be cooked so long that it is almost falling apart and has flavor running through it. I think they need to cook it a little longer and a little slower. If they could use a little mesquite to give it a smokier flavor, that would be great. It should come with sauce on it only by request. I liked the chicken, and so did my wife, but she did mention there is a celery salt or something on the seasoning/rub that they use on the chicken that is just a tad strong. I did not think this was the case, but I was using quite a bit of the sauce on mine
The sweet tea was for real. Coming from Alabama, they -better- know how to make it. Some places in Nashville it's either like sugar water, wayyy too sweet, or non-existant. Here, they know how to make good sweet tea, and that is a plus.
The sides were great. This is the first BBQ place in Tennesee that not only knows it is proper to serve collard greens at a Q joint - they actually know how to cook and season them properly! This wasn't chopped up bits of saw dust from a can that taste like a school cafeteria, this was the real thing. I could have just ordered two or three bowls of that and a rack or ribs and just went into an artery clogging feeding frenzy! The mac-n-cheese was as close to home made as I have had recently. The slaw is interesting because it is a combination of vinegar and mayo based. Some places do one or the other and most only consider the slaw an afterthought so they do it badly (both kinds). This was a well balanced slaw that tasted fresh and went very well with the rest of the meal. The beans did not taste like they were out of a can - they tasted like real baked beans you might have at your own back yard BBQ cook out. Very authentic. I felt the same way about the potato salad, which reminded me a lot of my mothers. I did not taste the apples but my wife gave me the thumbs up and that is usually good enough for me. Overall, the sides were not considered an afterthought but a critical part of the meal and general experience of the meal.
I guess word had gotten out that a "Blogger" was checking out the place. Bruce brought out the head Q-meister - Christoper Zaferis (who everyone calls "Zeke") to greet us. Zeke is a very nice guy who invited me back to see how they prepare the food. He takes a lot of pride in the attention to detail and the passion of cooking good food for customers. As you can see, he showed me the place where the mojo happens - where they cook the ribs on the grill over hickory wood.
I was impressed by the great service of Bruce (our waiter) and Zeke's willingness to spend some time with us explaining how they do things there. And that's when he mentioned PIE!!!! Zeke had a couple of slices sent out to us, one chocolate and one coconut. Zeke said he was pretty proud of the deserts and after tasting them I can see why. Most of you who know me know that by the end of the main course, I am done. But I decided to box up more Q than I normally do so I would have room for desert. I gotta tell you it was a great surprise. At several BBQ places, you might come across some decent banana pudding or something, but this was different. The pies at Jim 'N Nick's are more like the deserts you might find on a Disney cruise ship prepared by top chefs (and yes, I have had those before). The crust was flaky and awesome. The chocolate cake had a fudge flavor that was so good, but it was not too rich - you could eat more than one or two bites (which I did). My wife does not even like coconut, but ended up liking that one the best. It is not as sweet, but it is sooooo good. We saved half of them and ate the rest the following day. Most of the time I never talk about deserts because the meat is the central focus. For sure, the ribs are the star here, but the pies take a back seat to NOBODY. Make sure you try a slice when you go.
In summary, Jim 'N Nick's has what we have been looking for in a place in middle Tennessee: Good tasting Q, good sauces, good sides, sweet tea, awesome deserts, and good service. I know I must sound as giddy as a school girl, but you know by my past entries that I don't pull any punches. I would give these guys a 9 out of 10 because they have it all together in one package and that is hard to find. The only thing I would recommend is to figure out how to treat the brisket like an authentic Texas BBQ place would. Judge Beans in Nashville would be an example of how it should be prepared and served, but he has MSG injected all in it and that ruins the experience for me and several members of my family. If Jim 'N Nick's ever gets the upper hand on the brisket, they will have a knock out punch to any place that dares stand in their way. Famous Dave's would be the nearest competition style-wise in a resturaunt and the menu items, but I think they have them beat by a long shot.
Jim 'n Nicks is a GREAT place to experience a good southern BBQ meal, and I highly recommend it to my Q-brothren. Tell Zeke that Big Daddy at BBQQuest.com sent you over.
To check out their menu and find out more information, here is their web site: