Houston's newest BBQ Joint
Ambitious new Houston BBQ joint fires up EaDo with smoked meats and massive patio
Barbecue created by a pitmaster who was once hailed as "destination worthy" has arrived in EaDo. J-Bar-M Barbecue quietly opened for service this week (2201 Leeland St).
Led by pitmaster Willow Villarreal and his fiancee, chef de cuisine Jasmine Barela, J-Bar-M builds on the success the duo had at Willow's Texas Barbecue, a pop-up-turned-food truck that earned praise from Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn and other smoked meat experts. Although the truck closed, Villarreal and Barela have been presented with a grand new restaurant to showcase their talents.
Named for its owners, real estate developer John Toomey and his wife, Michelene Guseman Toomey, J-Bar-M takes its cooks out of the truck and into a massive, no expense spared, 350-seat, brick and mortar restaurant that features a full bar and an expansive outdoor patio. The over 8,000-square-foot building and its corresponding patio and parking lot occupy almost an entire city block of land that's been in the Toomey family for over 100 years, according to a release.
Four, 1,000-gallon, barrel-style offset smokers made by acclaimed Texas pitmaker Moburg Smokers testify to the restaurant's ambitions. In addition, the pit room contains two hog cookers powered by a dedicated fireplace for burning coals.
"To have great barbecue, you must start with high-quality meats and then pay attention to all the small details," Villarreal said in a statement. "We don’t necessarily have some secret method that is different from all the others. It’s just that Jasmine and I obsess over doing every, single thing the best we possibly can."
For now, the restaurant is open for lunch Thursday through Sunday with a straightforward menu of Texas barbecue that includes brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, turkey, and two kinds of sausage (pepper and jalapeno-cheese). In time, plans call for the menu to expand with more proteins such as chicken, pork steak, prime rib, and rack of lamb. The kitchen also includes a wood-burning grill that will play a role in the upcoming dinner service to serve steaks and other dishes.
Barela has created an extensive menu of sides the run the gamut from traditional favorites like mac and cheese, potato salad, and creamed corn to more creative options such as marinated tomatoes, cauliflower au gratin, and Tex-Mex style charro beans. Chocolate pie and banana pudding are among the dessert choices at opening, but they will also grow to include a giant cinnamon roll, peach cobbler, and more.
“Truthfully, sides have always been my favorite part of a meal,” Barela said. “I usually look for balance, innovation, freshness and texture. I can always appreciate a meal if it was prepared with love and care.”
Those dishes can be paired with a range of beverages that includes sodas, beer, wine, and cocktails. A two-sided bar serving both the dining room and the patio helps ensure speedy service.
The restaurant sees itself as continuing the traditions of Houston's "barbecue wards," and it is situated between the Third to the south and the Fifth to the north. A mural on the patio pays homage to many of those pioneering barbecue joints along with a few other landmarks like the nearby University of Houston campus.
A small group of carefully vetted experts are helping Villarreal and Barela make the transition from #trucklife to restaurant service. They include the restaurant's culinary director, chef Mark Mason (Pappas Restaurants), front of house expert Jessica DeSham Timmons (Redneck Country Club, Cherry Block), and Houston Chronicle barbecue columnist J.C. Chris Reid. Cafe Rabelais owner Christophe Paul contributed his expertise to the restaurant's wine list.
Fresh off the heels of Texas Monthly's most recent list of the state's top 50 barbecue joints, J-Bar-M certainly possesses the culinary talent and ambition necessary to be a contender for the next list in 2025. Whether it achieves those heights remains to be seen, of course, but it's certainly an intriguing addition to a neighborhood that's rapidly emerging as Houston's next great eating and drinking destination.