Published 8:00 pm, Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Not Robert and Johnnie Smith.
For the Smiths, July 4 is one of the busiest work days of the year. You see, they own JB's Slo-Smoked Bar-BQ, just over the Brewster line on Route 6.
"A lot of people want to serve barbecue on July 4, because it's an all-American food," Smith says. "But nobody has time to put in the hours it takes to make it."
He's talking about five to 12 hours. It takes that long to make authentic, fall-off-the-bone- finger-licking-good barbecued fare such as ribs, pulled pork or chopped barbecue. And beef brisket, the cut of meat that intimidates even the best of cooks, takes 16 hours or longer.
Smith handles meats with tender-loving care, cooking them oh-so-slowly on a rotisserie in a gas-fired oven at only 225 degrees. The oven has a space in back for wood that also burns slowly so its smoke can waft over the meat and flavor it.
"I try to use wood that has some sweetness to it, such as cherry, or apple wood," Smith says, speaking by telephone from his restaurant. "I also use mesquite, hickory, walnut." He rubs the meat with his own special rub and later sauces it with his homemade sauce, both of which he hopes to market someday.
And all this takes time. So that's why the Smiths are working July 4.
"A few years ago, when we first opened JB's," Smith says, "we at first thought of closing for the day like a lot of restaurants do. Then we said, let's put up a sign and tell customers they can call orders in ahead of time and pick up barbecue on the 4th."
Ninety people called them for barbecue.
"It was a lot of work, but it was a great day," Smith recalls. He's expecting a similar amount of orders for this July 4.
By now, most of their customers know the Smiths are operating from a new location. Previously on Lake Avenue Extension in Danbury, they now run JB's from 3867 Danbury Road, in a small shopping center on Route 6, just about 2 miles west of Trader Joe's on Mill Plain Road. They opened the Route 6 business November 28.
"Our lease was up in Danbury, so we closed for a while until we could find a new home for our business," Smith says.
He cooks barbecue in an immaculate kitchen that can be seen from the dining area of JB's. A good portion of the family's business is take-out, but if you prefer to eat in, there are tables for about 20 people.
The Smiths first launched the Danbury JB's in April 2003.
"And we were amazed at how it took off," Smith says.
A former chef for the Marriott hotel chain in Danbury, Smith says he appreciates all that he learned while working under executive chefs in Marriott's kitchen, but, when he makes barbecue, he uses old family recipes, handed down verbally by his grandfather, Jessie Lee Vines, who died when Smith was 22.
"He used to say, 'When you first put the meat in the oven, let it stay for 35 minutes before you put any rub on it. That way, the pores open up then it absorbs the flavors of the rub better.' That's the kind of secrets he would pass on."
Smith, a soft-spoken man with a refined manner, was raised by his grandparents in Danbury. Each summer the family spent summers in a family home in North Carolina, just outside Greenville.
"My grandfather made barbecue almost every day "" not just for holidays and special occasions. So, I watched him and learned. Cooking up barbecue is second nature to me."
His biggest selling item for July 4, or at any time, is pulled pork.
"That's made from pork shoulder and has to cook at least 10 hours," he says. "We use white vinegar in the sauce, so it's a little more tart than ribs."
This July 4 the Smiths will be offering side dishes such as coleslaw, made from Johnnie Smith's recipe, baked beans, corn bread and hush puppies, and desserts such as banana pudding.
"My wife makes most of the side dishes," he says.
Smith and his wife, Johnnie McGee Smith, graduated from Danbury High School, where they were sweethearts. The couple lives in Danbury and has three grown children. Their son, Johnell, 19, is a student at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, and a daughter, Este, 20, is pursuing a modeling career in Manhattan. Their oldest daughter, Melanie, 26, helps run JB's.
"She'll say, 'We've got to work on the macaroni and cheese,'" Robert Smith says of his daughter. "She likes it to be creamy. Some people don't like it that way. So we'll talk about it and make adjustments." Melanie oversees the restaurant during the day and also preps foods for her father.
Robert Smith studied food-service in high school, joined the Army National Guard, cooked for his military unit and nine months later, began working for Marriott. After 10 years with the hotel chain, he took a job at Kimberly Clark in New Milford as warehouse manager/system operator, where he remained for 17 years, until he reopened JB's.
"I decided JB's deserves my full time," he says.
The business is named for his wife's first name and his nickname, "Bobby." Johnnie Smith, who works as a warden's assistant in the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, joins her husband in the restaurant four nights a week.
"We used to have huge picnics and feed everybody barbecue," Johnnie Smith says. "Our friends loved it and encouraged us to open a restaurant."
John Lewis, retired IBM employee who lives in Patterson, N.Y., drives to Brewster to have Smith's barbecue.
"I've traveled all over this country," says Lewis, who now has a consulting business, Specialty Foods International. "I've had barbecue in Memphis, and in Texas, where they're famous for it. Those places have nothing on JB's. Plus the Smith's prices are fantastic and they're really nice people. "
The Smiths also offer catering services. In September, they'll cater a dinner for members of Danbury's fire and police departments. The event is sponsored by Friends of Local Heroes.
Keith Gailliard, a retired New York City police officer who lives in Danbury and is helping to organize the event, says, "We do this in appreciation for what the police and fire departments do for our city. We've been doing it every year since 9-11.
The firefighters and police officers get to choose the caterer, Gailliard says. "They always choose JBs. They love the barbecue." The dinner will be served in the New Street Firehouse in Danbury on Sept. 28.
For this July 4, Smith will be cooking pulled pork, barbecued ribs, chopped barbecue, barbecued chicken and beef brisket. "We'll serve any dish we offer in the restaurant," he says.
They'll be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for pick-ups of food." Then he, Johnny and Melanie will head home to spend the rest of the holiday with their family.
And their menu will include barbecue, of course.
Note: To order JB's foods, call the restaurant at (845) 278-3600 or Robert Smith's cell phone at (203) 240-5684. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 11:30 to 9 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. It's closed Monday.
JB's Banana Pudding
3-4 golden yellow bananas 8-ounce package instant vanilla pudding mix 2 cups milk 1/2 box Keebler's vanilla wafers 8-ounce container Kool Whip/Whipped Cream 1. Prepare pudding according to box directions and pour into a large bowl. 2. Once pudding begins to set, add the CoolWhip/Whipped Cream, stirring until the combination is thoroughly mixed. 3. Coat bottom of a 9-inch square pan with a thin layer of pudding. 4. Place wafers on top of pudding with bottoms facing upward. 5. Place a layer of sliced bananas atop the wafers. Repeat until desired layering is complete. 6. Cover the top layer with remaining pudding. 7. Place a few wafers in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin to make crumbs. Sprinkle crumbs over pudding. 8. Cool in refrigerator at least an hour. Slice and serve. Makes 6 to 8 servings. JB's Barbecue Sauce From the Cupboard
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
Pinch black pepper
1. Mix all ingredients together and store in a glass jar.
2. Makes 2-1/2 cups sauce or enough for four servings of barbecued meat.