Tuesday, September 6, 2016
TJ's Bar-B-Q & Fish (Nashville, TN)
I've had TJ's Bar-B-Q & Fish on my lunchtime to-do list for a while now, although I can't seem to remember why. It isn't exactly in the ritziest of Nashville's neighborhoods, but it is relatively close to my office. Best I can tell, they operate out of the attached garage to a converted house, while a crummy tattoo parlor and a "doctor" occupy the main living quarters. What can I say, I guess I'm just a sucker for hole-in-the-wall barbecue shacks.
My initial plan was to dine-in, but on closer observation I'm not really sure that TJ's is a dine-in type of establishment. Their cash-only drive-thru line appears to be the only option, although they do allow walk-ups before dark. Just as well, all of the barred windows didn't really lend much to the ambiance, and I'd have felt a lot more comfortable with my Kimber locked and loaded on my hip anyway.
When a place has its two signature dishes right in the name, you'd be a fool not to try them both. I ordered up some pulled pork on cornbread and a whiting fish sandwich, with a side order of potato salad to round things out. The food took a little longer than expected, but I hoped that just meant they were busy frying my fish fresh.
The potato salad was mostly ok, but there wasn't a ton of flavor to be had aside from its mustard base. My hunch is that it came from the grocery store.
I made sure to ask for the pulled pork without sauce in order to get a true sense of their smoking prowess. The cornbread was nice and buttery, though dense and pretty dry. My bottom piece was hard as a rock. The pork itself looked lifeless and gray, but I suppose looks can be deceiving, at least somewhat. Although it, like the cornbread, was fairly dry, the pork did pack a ton of smoke and seasoning. It was sort of lukewarm, and while I hate to cast unsubstantiated aspersions on a place, I think that their pork had simply been reheated from another day.
According to the menu, TJ's has been rated "#1 Fish" by The Tennessean newspaper. As far as when that rating was made or in what context, I really have no idea. Their whiting fish sandwich comes standard with mustard, pickles, onions and hot sauce, and I saw no reason to mix things up. TJ's fresh, flaky white fish was fried perfectly golden. The batter and the spice level on my gigantic fillets was excellent! Their hot sauce was just enough to add intermittent pops of flavor, and the pickles provided a pleasant crunchy texture. I'm not sure the mustard added a lot to the equation, but I suppose it did contribute to the overall combined taste if nothing else.
Were I to rate TJ's Bar-B-Q & Fish on the whiting sandwich alone, this would have been a glowing review. Sadly, there's more to the story than just seafood. TJ's would really have something special if they served their pulled pork as fresh as they do the fish. Until then, it will exist as a great fish house and a mediocre barbecue joint.
TJ's Bar-B-Q & Fish
1104 Ed Temple Blvd
Nashville, TN 37209