The sign outside of JR’s has been up for a couple of weeks now, and needless to say, for a couple of weeks my intrigue has been building. Southern Style BBQ in Asia? Good luck my friends. However, after a visit to JR’s on Saturday night (their second night open) this new restaurant has potential to be an Itaewon staple for many years to come.
How to get there: JR’s BBQ is probably one of the easiest restaurants to get to. It’s an easy walk from Itaewon station (Line 6). Once you arrive at Itaewon station, depart from Exit 4 and head straight. It is literally 25 meters from the station, right across from the Hamilton Hotel and beside Seoul Pub. The entrance is on your left. You encounter a clothing store when you begin to walk up the stairs. However, don’t fret. The restaurants are on the second and third floor. The second floor is for drinking, but the third floor is for dining.
Atmosphere: When my wife and I arrived before dinner, around 530pm, the place was empty. This was actually pretty nice, because as the evening continued, more and more people started to arrive and it got pretty busy. JR’s windows were open, and there was a nice cross breeze blowing through the restaurant like a crisp autumn evening in the Carolinas. Also, Itaewon people watching made for an entertaining meal. Their kitchen is open, so you can see the magic happen before your very eyes. One aspect I really appreciated was that in the dining area because the music was at an appropriate level. Southern rock, and jazz were playing at a reasonable volume (say this in Milton’s voice from Office Space) created a genuinely, authentic atmosphere which reminded me of the wonderful times I’ve dined and drank south of the Mason Dixie line.
Service: The service was hot and cold. On one hand, you had two very enthusiastic owners/head chef who came out and greeted us, talked about their restaurant and their passion for southern style BBQ. One aspect they emphasized was that they did not “Koreanize” the menu. They are trying to be as authentic as possible. No fucking Kimchi fries, no bulgogi and cheese fries, and finally, no pasta. The owner, Troy, emphasized that pasta will be left off the menu. It goes back to the old adage: If you are going to do one thing, do it well.
Now, for the disappointing part of the service. One thing that drives me fucking mad is when I have to pay for my meal before I even get my food. I have no idea the reasoning behind this. What am I going to do? Jump out of a three story window to avoid paying for my meal? This is a common practice in Itaewon (see Prost behind the Hamilton Hotel). I asked the waitress if we could pay after dinner. She responded hesitantly, that it was the restaurant’s rules. Finally, we came to a compromise. She kept my credit card, and started a tab. One more beef with the service. There is no takeout. I really wanted to take some sliders home, watch the game, and pretend I was back home while I watched the OU/ND game at 4am (Go Irish). However, the server told that no takeout service was available. Whhaat?? Okay, I’m going to be honest. This would be an excellent place to come in, grab some BBQ and take it back home. They really need to change this policy, or they risk losing out of a lot of profit.
Food: My wife and ordered three menu items, however we could have ordered the whole menu. I miss the southern style of BBQ, and was not disappointed when the food arrived. All three food items came at the same time, so we ate family style and shared each others’ dishes. We ordered the ribs and chicken plater (13000), pulled pork and cheese french fries (12000KRW), chicken wings (10000KRW), and some cornbread (1500KRW).
We were talking with the chef, who perfected his trade in Kansas City, and he informed us that the ribs were smoked for 6-7 hours. He also told us that his ribs were dry rub only. Now, in my experiences with ribs, ribs are eaten with a nice, wet BBQ sauce on them with the sauce dripping down my face like a gluttonous fiend. However, although my experiences with dry rub ribs has been mainly positive, I was skeptical about the quality of rub being served 6000 miles from BBQ country. Needless to say, my mind was put at ease when I took my first bite. The rub was a perfect blend of spice, with a hint of smoky flavor. You could taste a dash of salt mixed in as well. The ribs were a little fatty, but nothing to complain about. You probably aren’t going to find a better rub in Korea, at least not a dry rub. The BBQ chicken was cooked well, and came in strips beside the ribs. The sauce for dipping was sweet, with a little bit of a kick, and had a hint of tomato flavor. It wasn’t tangy, like a Carolina gold, which is usually the sauce of choice when it comes to BBQ lovers.
The chicken wings stole the show. The chef told us that the wings were smoked for 2 – 3 hours, and that they don’t touch a frying pan. Thank God! Most wings you find in Korea have been dipped in so much oil that Exxon owns the rights to them. This was such a refreshing, and delicious change. The meat fell off the bone, and the sauce was similar to the chicken dipping sauce, as it was sweet, but with a little more heat than the ribs. Honestly, they were the best chicken wings I’ve had since I’ve been in Asia. No regrets. I would have paid double.
The pulled pork cheese fries lived up the billing. There was a few disappointments, but in general, it was a feast. The portions were very solid. My wife, baby and I finished a plate full, and were about to pop. The pulled pork was slow cooked for 10 hours, and was juicy and tangy. They give you a fair portion of pulled pork, and don’t try to over do it with the sauce. One disappointment was the cheese. It was liquid cheese, and I was expecting grated cheese. It was okay, but they could try to put some grated cheese on the fries for a fresher and tastier experience. Also, the fries were store bought. I’m becoming a bit of a french fry snob, now that we make our own. It is so easy to dice up some potatoes, add some spices to create a unique, and filling side dish. That said, overall, it was a very satisfactory dish.
Drink: There are some nice selections on tap, including Guinness, Indica IPA and Bit Burger. The bottle selection had some gems on there, including Long Board (Hawaii) and Savannah Ale (South Africa). Of course, we have the usual suspects: Budweiser, Stella Artois and the Heine. There was also a nice selection of whiskey and brandy (17 bottles) including Jameson, Crown Royal and Kim Jong Il’s favorite weapon of choice Hennessey. They are available by the glass or by the bottle. They also have rum, vodka, gin and an extensive wine selection. The whiskey ranges from 110,000 – 500,000KRW (Johnnie Walker Blue). If you really want to make it rain, there is a bottle of Dom Perignon for 600,000KRW (ouch).
Value: BBQ chicken and ribs, a generous plate of pulled pork and cheese french fries, cornbread, chicken wings, a Coke, a Budweiser, a Ginger Ale and the bill came to 47500KRW. A fair value, considering you won’t find this type of BBQ often in Seoul. The portions were fair and tasted great. I would go back there for the BBQ, but I doubt I would go there to drink with the boys. It is a little expensive for bottles and there are cheaper options in the Twan.
Who should go JR’s Southern Style BBQ: Missing good, homestyle southern BBQ from home? Check this place out. Also, the location is right in the heart of Itaewon, so if you are a tourist, don’t be afraid, you won’t have to head down some twisting and turning path that might take you to Pyeongyang.
Who should avoid JR’s Southern Style BBQ: Want some takeout? Ya’ll better try somewhere else now. On a budget? Might be a little expensive. Head down to get a cheap kebab and douse it with BBQ sauce.