The latest venture from acclaimed chef Mike Randolph and his wife and business partner, Liz Randolph, is now open. Original J's Tex-Mex & Barbecue debuted on Nov. 25 in University City, Missouri featuring central Texas-style barbecue alongside Mexican-inspired starters and sides.
As reported by Feast in August, the casual counter-service concept takes nods from Randolph's popular Latin American-inspired restaurant, Público, which closed last year following the closure of his weekends-only concept, Privado. The Randolphs also currently own two locations of brunch-based Half & Half.
“We took a trip to Texas and I was just blown away by the simplicity of Texas-style barbecue, and at the end of the day, I wasn’t done with the flavor profiles that we had built up at Público,” Mike says. “It was kind of like an epiphany moment when we decided let’s do a continuation of Público with barbecue but wrapped up in a package that’s super fun and hopefully familiar.”
When asked about the origin of the concept’s name, Elizabeth responds: “We sort of wanted to play around a little bit with who ‘J’ is. You’ll be hearing more about J. It’s a little bit of a mystery.”
That playfulness is also translated into the restaurant’s interior, designed by the Randolphs themselves, which is decidedly reminiscent of Texas. Original J's fills a space previously occupied by Fortel’s Pizza Den, with seats for around 50 guests. Slices of Americana embellish the wood-paneled dining areas, including framed vintage art, blue checkered tablecloths, booth seating, antique light fixtures and amusements including a Ms. Pac-Man arcade cocktail table.
“If somebody said this place was quirky, I’d say great, that’s kind of what we’re going for,” Mike says. “This concept isn’t trying to be on trend. We wanted to build something that immediately makes people feel comfortable and gives them a sense of nostalgia.”
Randolph’s menu begins with Tex-Mex options including smoked wings with lime, agave and arbol pepper; pulled pork nachos with queso, sour cream, Esther’s beans, black olives, green onion and pork; and J’s Famous chili con queso – a warm cheese dip made up of chorizo and roasted tomato salsa, served with tortilla chips.
Eight kinds of tacos are currently available, including Tacos Norteno made up of a corn tortilla, brisket, cheese, roasted tomato salsa and cabbage. In the kitchen, Randolph barbecues with post oak, seasoning simply with salt and pepper. Barbecued meats are also available as plates served with tortillas and two sides such as maduro plantains, cheesy hominy or dressed kale with cotija. Additional platter options include carnitas with salsa verde, smoked jalapeño, beans and rice.
A set of drink offerings will roll out soon, including frozen Margaritas and five or six beers by the can and bottle. For dessert, choose from options such as fried ice cream and a root beer float.
“We wanted to have a comprehensive concept where the menu felt like the space and all of it felt familiar,” Mike says. “We want to be the neighborhood barbecue and Tex-Mex joint that is friendly, comfortable and good for families.”
Original J's is open daily from 11am to 3pm. It will tentatively be open for dinner service next week, serving dinner until 8pm.
Original J's Tex-Mex & Barbecue, 7359 Forsyth Blvd., University City, Missouri, 314.202.8335, originaljs.com