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  • 4 weeks later...

First look: J-Bar-M Barbecue, possibly Houston’s next best BBQ spot, is now open in EaDo



Until now. J-Bar-M Barbecue represents a dramatic reboot of barbecue passions for both the owner and pitmaster of the exceedingly polished new barbecue restaurant that quietly opened in EaDo on Thursday. But J-Bar-M (the name is a take on a traditional Texas branding iron with initials representing John Toomey and his late wife Michelene Guseman Toomey), is poised to make big noise in this barbecue-loving city. The grand, outsize restaurant – built on a parcel of land Toomey’s family acquired in 1900 – is at once a thoroughly modern smoked meat mecca in shape and function while also a classically tethered heir to the city’s barbecue roots when the booming Fifth and Third Wards were known as the “barbecue wards.”

Indeed, a map mural on the expansive patio at J-Bar-M pays tribute to Houston’s barbecue history, pin-dotting beloved joints and mostly long-gone pioneers of Houston barbecue that quietly and efficiently practiced their smoke-kissed trade. Like traditional barbecue joints, the smokers are puffing in the back of J-Bar-M and guests line up in the front before knife-wielding cutters to select their meats set out on paper-lined trays.

But in almost every other way, J-Bar-M represents a fresh, thoughtful, bells-and-whistles laden presentation of the contemporary barbecue business. The building itself rewrites notions of the look and feel of barbecue restaurants. The soaring, pitched-roof structure with its cathedral-like glass-wall facing is a slick, urban buildout with giant, glow-ball orbs hung from the rafters and a chic, spare interior design, complete with working fireplace, that would make Chip and Joanna Gaines envious (the work of Context3 Design). Tables are set with real flowers inside and the patio space, lit by strings of bulb lights, features additional seating, a special events space, a stage for live entertainment, and a majestic view of the downtown skyline. A bar, that straddles to serve both indoor and outdoor customers, is stocked with premium liquor, beer on tap, and bottles of Texas wine. There’s also a private dining room with its own patio space.

The 8,330-square-foot building has indoor seating for 177, and the patio provides an additional 254 seats.

The restaurant, which has been planned for years (and also recently hosted one of the cooking challenges for the upcoming season of “Top Chef Houston”), formed its identity in waves. “It grew organically after each meeting,” said Charles Toomey, John’s grandson who is acting as director of operations.

“Our goal was to be different,” John Toomey said, adding that he wanted to create an upscale or elevated barbecue dining experience with a beer garden aesthetic.

For Villarreal, J-Bar-M is a glorious new playground with a state-of-the-art pit room (he calls it his “office”) tricked out with four, 1,000-gallon, offset barrel smokers built by Moberg Smokers of Dripping Springs, and two direct-heat smokers for whole hog preparation. He even has a nifty fireplace to build coals. When the pit room is going full throttle, Villarreal and his team will be able to smoke 100 briskets at a time.

For the pitmaster, this new endeavor is the opportunity of a lifetime to get back in the barbecue game after Willow’s Texas BBQ closed in a confusion of food truck operations red tape brought by the city at a time Villarreal also was struggling with health issues.

“It felt like such a failure. And it was – it didn’t go right,” he said of his barbecue business that shuttered in March 2019. Timing, however, was on his side: that same month he shook hands with Toomey and was brought onto J-Bar-M team whose opening was delayed by the pandemic.

“I went pretty silent,” he said. “I wondered if people still remembered us.”

Villarreal’s longtime barbecue partner, his fiancée Jasmine Barela, is also on board as the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, ensuring that the foods and flavors that won them allegiance at Willow’s remain intact. Their barbecue menu is familiar and straightforward: Villarreal’s post oak-smoked Prime brisket, pork ribs, turkey, pulled pork, and sausage. The barbecue can be had in meat plates, in stuffed baked potatoes, in barbecue sandwiches, and by the pound. 

Barela’s exquisite sides include charro beans, potato salad, red cabbage slaw, collard greens, cream corn, macaroni and cheese, creamy cauliflower au gratin topped with fried leeks, green beans with bacon, and a bracing marinated tomato salad studded with shallots, basil, and garlic and a pucker of red wine vinegar. She also is responsible for the menu’s sweet endings: banana pudding, indulgent chocolate ganache pie, meringue-topped lemon icebox pie built on a gingersnap cookie crust, and local honey-infused peach cobbler.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Barela said. “I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to continue doing what we love.”
J-Bar-M has been built from scratch in the neighborhood where the Toomey family had rental properties where John Toomey was sent to collect rents as a young man. In decades past, he walked through the East End streets knocking on doors. Today, thanks to his new restaurant, Houston will be knocking on his.

J-Bar-M Barbecue, 2201 Leeland; jbarmbbq.com. Currently open Thursday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Additional days and service hours will be added soon.


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I did get to make it over for lunch today. 

Space is really well done. If you want cocktails/wine then you have to order separately at the bar, but they had a few beer choices that you could grab and check out with. We got there about 10:50 and they had let people star queueing inside.


My wife and I split a brisket sandwich $15 ($12 with other meats), 1/2 lb of turkey ($9), cauliflower au gratin, mac and cheese, and spicy creamed corn ($4 each), plus a banana pudding (also $4 I think. It was good and massive).


Kind of unfair to do a full food review on their third day of soft opening, but the overall rating is "pretty good". I had Pinkerton's a few weeks ago, and their brisket blows this one out of the water. The turkey was really good. Creamed corn 7/10, M&C 8/10, Cauliflower 8/10. I liked that they offered pickles, pickled onion, picked okra, and picked jalapenos. 


They were toasting the bread to order right at the counter with a machine, which was a nice touch. Two sauces available. Their regular sauce had a heavy hit of beer flavor, and their mustard-based sauce was very sweet, almost like honey mustard. 

Again, I'm cautiously very optimistic here. They get a heavy handicap with it being their first weekend. I talked to one of the managers (owners?) and he said they are going to do the Thursday-Sunday 11-sell out for sure until December. 

I think they also really want to lean into the beer garden bit, because the large bar is half inside and half outside and you can access the outdoor area directly without having to go inside. This will let them operate as a bar until late without having the restaurant open. Pretty smart. 

I really want to try all of the sides eventually. I saw people with the red cabbage slaw and the tomatoes and they looked great. Next time I'll get one of the mac or cauliflower and then try some others. 

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On 11/15/2021 at 10:59 AM, samagon said:

that is a massive amount of alcohol for a bbq restaurant, does this transform into a bar at night?

Yes, but not right now. It is designed to allow people to access the bar and the large patio without going into the restaurant. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Got around to trying this place for lunch today. I'd mostly echo what @wilcal said - perfectly happy with the food, but also not blown away. The space is BEAUTIFUL (especially outside) and I think there's a ton of potential here. The brisket and sausage were both solid; I thought the pork ribs were a lot less tender than they could have been, but the flavor was there. Overall I'd say a good 7/10, and I'm excited to see where they take this place. What it lacks in not being Pinkerton's, it makes up in being way closer than Pinkerton's, lol.

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  • 4 months later...
53 minutes ago, Andrew Ewert said:

That's really too bad. I really like J-Bar-M and think it is very underrated compared to Truth. I also was a big fan of Night Shift. These two examples show how risky it is to have a concept revolving around a few specific people. Same thing happened with Degust, Pax Americana, etc.

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