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Same great taste, better location
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  November 29, 2006

We first discovered LJ’s in a storefront on an out-of-the-way corner near Providence College, and it was love at first bite: the pulled pork; the barbecued chicken; traditional sides; the roll of brown paper towels on each table, the better to wipe those sticky fingers; the sweet potato pie. You get the picture.

Last winter, when LJ’s moved to larger, classier digs in a shopping plaza near the East Side (just over the Pawtucket line), we hoped it wouldn’t lose the charm of that first modest eatery. It hasn’t. It’s there in the friendliness of the waitresses and in co-owner Linda Jane Watson’s sense of humor (around Halloween, paper fangs appeared in the yawning “mouths” of the wastebaskets in the bathrooms). It’s also there in the three wooden booths near the kitchen and the photo on a front wall of a pig taking a flying leap into a lake.

But now there’s a full bar with seating, a hostess station at the door, a kitchen crowded with cooks, and grilled pizzas on the menu. The appetizers have been expanded to include grilled shrimp, chicken fingers, and corn dogs (with chipotle mayo); the sandwiches feature a chicken club and grilled chicken with remoulade. There are 13 burgers, plus a veggie Boca burger.

On a recent visit, we tried the grilled BBQ shrimp ($9.95), and they were scrumptious. Co-owner and chef Bernie Watson can be justly proud of these. We also had a grilled pizza with hickory-smoked pulled pork ($10.95), and Bill was duly impressed by the combination of two of his favorite foods into one wedge. The pulled pork, as well as the brisket at LJ’s, spends 14 hours in the custom-built barbecue pit, cooking “low and slow,” in Bernie’s words. 

For my entrée, I chose the BBQ half-chicken plattter ($12.95), which can be ordered with all white meat for an additional $1.50. Dinners come with two “regular” sides or you can upgrade to “premium” sides for 99 cents each. The regulars are coleslaw, macaroni salad, potato salad, corn on the cob, a vegetable of the day, BBQ beans, or creamy cheese grits. The premiums are garlic mashed potatoes, baked mac and cheese, collard greens, candied yams, grilled onions, or sautéed mushrooms. I had to have the greens and the yams. The chicken was tender and smoky; the greens tender, though a bit too sweet, as were the yams.

Bill got a weekend special, a smoked prime rib dinner ($12.95), with the meat nicely smoky from three hours in the pit and redolent of Bernie’s homemade rub of dry mustard, brown sugar, garlic, onion, and other spices. The prime rib came with mashed potatoes and green beans that had a bit of sweet red pepper tossed with them. He was a very happy diner.

Just a couple weeks later, we took family friends to LJ’s to celebrate their daughter’s (our goddaughter’s) “white coat ceremony” at Brown’s med school. Her mom ordered the prime rib special, on our recommendation, and with the addition of a green salad, she was quite pleased. I went with the one-quarter white chicken ($9.95) this time, and sampled the mac and cheese (creamy and rich) with my greens.

The other end of the table ordered barbecued ribs platters in two incarnations — smoked baby back (1/2 rack, $13.45), and the “award-winning” St. Louis-style (1/2 rack, $12.45), both of which spend 24 hours in the dry rub before smoking two-to-four hours and then being finished on the grill with Bernie’s dad’s sauce recipe. Baby backs are meatier than the spare ribs, but each of the four ribs-eaters was notably quiet once their plates arrived, looking up occasionally with smiles on their greasy chins. Portions were so generous that the med student took home part of her dinner while also gathering up leftovers from family members. 

Linda no longer makes the desserts at LJ’s, but both of our enthusiastic waitresses vouched for their quality. The pies vary daily and seasonally, among sweet potato, pecan, apple and peach; there is also usually at least one cake option. Each is $5.50, with ice cream added for an additional $2.25.

Not surprisingly, LJ’s was packed during each of our Saturday visits. Considering the carefully prepared barbecue, the pulled pork sandwiches and the recipes of Bernie’s late grandmother Leola Jean (the second namesake LJ) that define the side dishes, lines should form right out the door.

LJ’S BBQ, 727 East Ave, Pawtucket | Tues-Sun, 11:30 am-10 pm; Sat-Sun brunch, 10 am-2 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | | 401.305.5255

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