A taste of the South in Lititz
Jeff Harless grew up in the mountains of North Carolina, where barbecue competitions, homebrewing and distilling are an important part of the culture.
After retiring from a career in the military and moving north to begin his occupation as a corporate VP, he met his wife, Maria, a New Holland native. Their blooming courtship involved a shared love of barbecue and homebrewing. In 2009, after spending several years entering and winning barbecue and brewing competitions as a hobby, Jeff and Maria opened JoBoy’s Brew Pub in Manheim.
On July 4 of this year, JoBoy’s moved its authentic Southern-style barbecue and hand-crafted beers to a larger location in Lititz.
“I’m looking forward to having you eat here, I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished and I enjoy sharing it with people,” says Jeff, who spoke to me on the phone before I visited his restaurant.
“It had always been my dream to bring some of the Southern flavor that I grew up with up north.”
Southern-style barbecue has a character and charm all its own, and is not found in many eateries north of the Mason-Dixon Line. JoBoy’s has established a loyal following of local customers, along with tourist traffic drawn to Lititz, which was voted the “Coolest Small Town In America” in 2013.
JoBoy’s is now located in the renovated Rudy Hall – a keystone of the downtown Lititz community and a commercial hub since the early 1900s. This larger building affords more seating for patrons and space to expand their kitchen and brewery capacities.
“We’ve always had great customers,” says Jeff. “They seem thrilled about this new location.”
Walking past the bustling shops along East Main Street, I realize I’m in the right place when I see a row of impressive brewery tanks filling a storefront window. I walk in to find a softly lit, classy-yet-comfortable modern restaurant with friendly greeters and an elaborate, well-stocked bar.
“It’s a blues barbecue sort of style,” says Jeff. “We wanted to evoke the atmosphere of a Prohibition speakeasy – the sort of place you might find Al Capone enjoying beer and barbecue.”
There’s seating for 124, including a row of booths, some tables and seating at the bar. Hardwood floors and custom brickwork on the walls frame silhouetted portraits of jazz musicians banging pianos and blowing horns. Wire sculpture art – recreating the charmingly cartoonish portraits Jeff would draw of himself and Maria – are displayed around the restaurant and stamped upon the bar. He plans to have a blues trio performing live music on Thursday evenings in the dining room beginning in the fall.
The restaurant is moderately full on this Sunday afternoon, with some bar-goers taking in football on the TVs above the bar and families enjoying late lunches and early dinners. I could see myself enjoying some quality time in this cozy atmosphere.
If you plan on going to the bar at JoBoy’s, go thirsty. My friend and I end up eating at the bar and enjoying sample-sized portions (5 ounces for $2) of the 13 different beers on tap. I choose the Manheim Red amber ale and Raz Ass Ale, a blonde ale with a subtle hint of raspberry.
Those with a taste for hops should be sure to try the Smash IPA and Hoptitude American IPA, the latter of which can be enjoyed poured from an English-style cask tap system or regular draught. JoBoy’s also sells and refills growlers if you want to take some home with you.
Our friendly bartender, Justin, also provides samples of the home-brewed sweet tea stored in custom glass decanters on the bar. It tastes just as fresh and top-notch as the liquid gold flowing from the shiny metal brewing tanks.
Our food arrives as we’re enjoying our beer sampling, starting with an appetizer of smoked cabbage that serves two (Justin’s recommendation).
“Trust me, you’re not going to find anything like it anywhere else,” he tells us.
The cabbage is presented like a wedge salad, smoked to a nice soft texture and topped with bacon and a smoky-sweet barbecue sauce with a hot kick. It’s tasty and unique for an appetizer, but diners also can choose from more traditional fare including smoked and stuffed jalapeños, chili cheese fries, smoked pork belly, mussels and chicken wings to start their meal.
JoBoy’s is best known for its selection of slow-smoked, barbecued meats, including brisket, chicken, pulled pork and St. Louis rib racks. Friday and Saturday evenings after 4 p.m., they also offer a smoked prime rib. The meats are smoked for 16 hours each day over authentic pecan logs imported from the hills of North Carolina.
It takes some time to figure out what to order from the menu because everything looks like a home run on paper. I opt for the brisket-stuffed soft tacos served with fresh salsa and a side of decadently creamy mac and cheese topped with breadcrumbs.
The brisket is melt-in-your-mouth tender and sweetly smoked. My friend goes whole hog (no pun intended) and enjoys an assortment of pulled pork, chicken and brisket sandwiches, fried okra bites with tangy horseradish dipping sauce, and a side of warm, crunchy handmade potato chips. We both leave pleasantly full and happy to find a new go-to brewpub in the Lancaster area.
Chef Dwayne Spencer runs the kitchen at JoBoy’s with an emphasis on using seasonal fresh ingredients, with all dishes made to order from scratch.
“Much of what we serve comes from our personal recipes or even our families’ recipes, and Dwayne will play around with those and add his own twists,” says Maria.
JoBoy’s menu contains much more than smoked meats. Diners in the mood for seafood can choose from lump meat crab cakes, blackened farm-raised catfish and mussels, or herb pappardelle pasta and salads.
I’m looking forward to getting back there soon to sample more.
• 27-31 East Main Street, Lititz; 568-8330
• Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.