Texas barbeque is all about the beef. Beef brisket or beef ribs, it doesn’t matter: your beef is grilled with the sauce on the side, because the beef is the focus of your meal. An outstanding barbequed brisket can be so tender, a plastic spoon could cut through it. While the brisket at Joey’s is not quite so tender or so robust in smoky flavor that sauce is unnecessary, it still shines at the quartet of Inland Empire barbeque joints, which serve up some genuine Texas barbeque—although sadly there is no pitmaster named Joey who tends to the flames with the touch Rodin brought to his sculptors. Joey’s was founded 25 years ago by Ray and Luria Moors, a couple who left Texas so Ray could work in Hollywood studios. But with so few options for authentic barbeque in the region, these Texans had brisket withdrawal and decided to take matters in their own hands by opening the original Joey’s in Chino.
The Joey’s on Foothill Boulevard in Upland is very civilized, far from the honky-tonk western atmosphere of its rival across the parking lot, The Buffalo Inn. The interior is very homey, with furniture in the wooden craftsman style with plenty of country music blaring to make you feel like you are in Amarillo. Each table features flags that diners can raise to catch the waiter’s attention, an excellent touch to avoid yelling across the room for another napkin. The signature beef barbeque may not win contests but is still outstanding, served with a sauce on the side that is more smoky than the usual sweet and tangy. Brisket works wonderfully in a sandwich and the real highlight of the evening was the beef ribs, near grilling perfection with a gentle slather of sauce added for another dimension of succulence. Of course, pork ribs, pulled pork, sausages, turkey, and ham are available for those who are more from the Memphis or St. Louis schools of barbeque. The barbequed chicken is a standout, a rarity in a world where chicken is often forgotten on the grill, rendering the bird often dreadfully dry. Not here: Joey’s lends a gentle touch to the chicken to achieve the perfect moistness and smokiness that are the signs of quality barbeque. Prices for the meat seem relatively high at first, until the plates arrive and diners realize that each meal will feed them for another day or two afterwards. Of the various combo deals, the one to go for is the $13.95 brisket, beef rib, and chicken option with two sides, covering the highlights of Joey’s. Those not so barbeque-inclined can enjoy a chef’s salad with a whole tub full of ham, turkey, avocado, and cheese, a genuine chuckwagon chili, or meatloaf wrapped in bacon, because everything tastes better with bacon. The most unique and peculiar menu item is the spicy barbeque beef pasta, creating a link between Texas and Emilia Romagna.
As important as the meat is, the sides often make or break barbeque destinations. Unfortunately, most of the supporting cast at Joey’s stumbles. Yam fries are a solid choice, as are the mandatory baked beans, rich with hunks of beef interspersed in the broth. Joey’s makes its own potato chips and offers an unappealing potato salad that tasted straight out of a supermarket container. The corn on the cob was too watery, creating a miniature pool with each bite. Usually barbeque is filling enough on its own so there is no need for appetizers, but my collegiate friends insisted on getting a combination of fried foods that reads as a greatest hits roster of late night “Snacks” at the various 5C dining halls. The parade of onion rings, chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks, fried zucchini, Cajun chicken wings (quite good actually), and hush puppies (essentially fried cornbread) should come with a side of Lipitor. Dessert options are limited, but the bread pudding at Joey’s is truly special, a textbook rendition of the New Orleans classic that made one of my dining partners re-think their previous disdain for the dessert.
Service is very friendly— my friend, celebrating a birthday, even received the entire meal free—though a little too fast paced at times, not allowing enough time to finish appetizers or peruse the menu. A cocktail one night was strangely lacking of any alcohol and its replacement was still not memorable. The Texan Shiner Bock on draft is a better partner for the brisket and baked beans.
Barbeque is one of the most simple forms of cooking but also one of the most satisfying, if done with a masterful touch. Joey’s may not make the meanest beef ribs in Texas, but it does offer us Californians a most enjoyable Texas barbeque experience.