Before you even walk in the door at JD's Q & Brew you can tell -- make that smell -- that good things await inside. An enticing sweet and smokey aroma surrounds the casual barbecue joint, and if I could take a picture of it, I imagine the aura encircling the Rand Road eatery would resemble the clouds hovering around Venus. Once you pull into the parking lot you cannot escape the gravitational pull, nor would you want to.
JD's Q & Brew opened earlier this year with Fremd High School graduate Peter Veremis at the helm and his cousin, Thanos "Tom" Grigoriou, manning the pit. The pit, by the way, is tucked behind a brick partition in the dining room because it is too big to fit in the kitchen.
JD's Q and Brew286 W. Rand Road, Arlington Heights; (847) 670-0100, jdsqandbrew.com
Cuisine: Memphis-style barbecue and craft beers
Setting: Comfortable counter-service eatery with wood accents
Entrees: $8.50 to $21.95
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
The rest of the dining room at this clean and comfortable counter-service spot is set up with booths and wood-topped tables. Bluesy rock tunes fill the room, and a few flatscreens give you something to watch while waiting for your number to be called, but they're not the centers of attention.
The meat, from beef to chicken, pork and turkey, gets smoked over hickory and apple wood for eight to 14 hours, depending on the cut. All the rubs and sauces are original recipes.
JD's serves barbecue up Memphis-style, which is to say the house sauce is more sticky sweet than tangy and spicy. That sauce certainly hit the right notes with me and my crew, and we enjoyed it equally smothered on perfectly fork-tender beef brisket, a hearty pulled pork sandwich and the fall-off-the-bone ribs, which were tasty even cold the next day. Given Grigoriou's 30 years of barbecue experience I shouldn't have expected anything less.
For those wanting to shake things up a bit, a smoky, mildly fiery chipotle sauce and a lighter, vinegar-based Carolina-style sauce also are available.
Everything on the menu is made from scratch except the desserts. Entrees and sandwiches come a la carte, but platters come with coleslaw (not the overdone mayo stuff, but a nicely dressed blend of cabbage and carrots), a dinner roll and a choice of side. For a bit of an upcharge you can swap the dinner roll out for a piece of not-too-sweet, not-too-crumbly cornbread.
The macaroni and cheese had my crew divided. I thought the noodles were overcooked and the cheese too sticky, but my son gobbled it up and even plopped a spoonful slaw-style on top of his pulled pork sandwich.
The sweet potato fries were also a hit: nice and crisp, not too thick or overly greasy. Veremis says he sells as many sweet potato fries as he does traditional french fries. Other sides include baked potato, baked sweet potato, baked beans and corn on the cob.
For those who aren't keen on 'cue, JD's offers, among other things, tuna salad sandwiches, chicken wings, grilled tilapia and hot-dog stand staples like Italian beef and gyros. A handful of salads also are available; Veremis says the Santa Fe with chicken and black beans and JD's Garbage Salad, chock full of hard boiled eggs, heart of palm and artichoke, do well with the lunch crowd.
Of course you need something to wash down all that good food, and if you thought the food side of the menu was impressive, take a look at the beverage menu. Pepsi products are served here, as are a handful of wines by the glass.
But let's get to the "brew" in Q & Brew. Veremis ignored a consultant's suggestion to keep the beer list tight and went gonzo, bringing in 100 different beers with a heavy emphasis on bottled craft brews. It's not just anywhere that you can find Grand Teton Sweet Grass or Lagunita's Little Sumpin', and you won't find The Q Brew anyplace else. Two Brother's Brewing Co. in Warrenville brewed the hoppy (but not too much so) American pale ale specifically to pair with Veremis' barbecue specialties. JD's Q & Brew plans to host a few beer-pairing dinners this fall after its Goose Island dinner in August went well. (Details will be at jdsqandbrew.com when available.)
The only thing that didn't impress me at JD's was dessert. On our visit, a couple of chocolate-covered cakes supplied by a local bakery were displayed by the register, so we ordered a slice of something called Atomic Cake. This cheesecake-chocolate cake mashup was moist, but tasted oddly alcohol-infused and was too heavy to follow such a meaty dinner. Veremis said he's working out a homemade peach cobbler, and if he does as good a job with the cobbler as he does with the barbecue, he should ditch the prepared cakes all together.
Since this is a fast-casual spot, there's not much to say about service except that the food was prepared in a timely fashion and came out hot. I like that take-home containers are on the counter for packing up leftovers, though they lose points for not having eco-friendly boxes. Beyond that, all JD's needs is some wet-naps. Paper towels are on the tables, but a moist towelette would be a plus for cleaning sauce-covered faces and fingers -- and you will wind up with sauce somewhere.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.