Cafe Society

Jim ´N Nick’s Bar-B-Q

Laura was downstairs watching TV. "There's that Indian place by the thing -- that place with the fish," she yelled.

I was upstairs in front of the computer. "No."

"What about the Japanese restaurant?"

"No."

"Seriously?"

"Yeah, no. Not this time."

Quiet for a moment.

"I don't want Italian."

"Neither do I."

"Chinese?"

"No."

We were trying to figure out dinner, but I'd already made up my mind. There is an art to this in my house, to getting my way -- a game of careful serves and volleys. I would wait until all other reasonable options were exhausted, then make my smash play. In the meantime, I looked at the website, read the menu. I almost wanted to reach out and touch the screen, stroke my fingers across the phosphenes and static charge and lick them.

"No Indian, though?"

"No. No Indian."

I love Indian food, but I wasn't in the mood for Indian food. I knew what I wanted.

"Okay, what about burgers? Sandwiches?"

I made no response.

"Don't you need to get to that place in Highland?"

"We said no Italian."

"Yeah..."

It was the first seriously hot day of the year, maybe the second. Outside, the whole world smelled like cherry blossoms and living earth. I had the speakers on the computer turned down low and Tom Waits was singing "You Can Never Hold Back Spring." It was that kind of day, his voice like glue and sand, singing ugly about pretty things, but I barely heard the husk of his words. I had my own lyrics running: picnickin' and politickin', a pig in the potato patch. Funny names for serious business, all talking about barbecue.

"Come on, Jay! I'm hungry. Make a decision here."

I smiled to myself, maybe a little evilly. We've been married almost six years, Laura and I. I'm just now starting to figure some shit out.

"Barbecue," I yelled down the stairs. "We're gonna go get some barbecue."

Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q opened last fall in the Southlands development on the outskirts of Aurora. In the restaurant's office, the managers still count the days -- two hundred and ninety-some. They still look at it like just getting by, one day at a time.

One really busy day at a time. Laura was cursing when we pulled in. Not into the parking lot, because that was full. We couldn't even park along one of the twisting access roads, because those were full, too. We ended up darting into a special holding area for people waiting on takeout or catering orders, rolling the car up against a cement parking block that sported a sign with a picture of a cowboy riding a bucking pig.

"That would make an excellent tattoo," I said, pointing at the sign.

"That would not make an excellent tattoo."

"I could get it on my shoulder. Totally badass."

"Run inside and see if there's a wait," she replied.

There was a wait. An hour, hour and a half. People were stacked up in the lobby, in the bar, along the sidewalk out front. The noise level was extraordinary. The smell of the place -- the scents of hungry, overheated diners, hickory smoke and char, laboring air conditioners and hundreds of pigs being made into barbecue on the premises -- followed me back to the car.

"There's a wait," I told Laura.

"Of course there is. What do we do now?"

Jim 'N Nick's is a chain. Sorta. Down south, in Alabama, Tennessee, parts of Georgia, it's known as a family business that just happens to have a lot of addresses. Jim and Nick are real guys: Jim and Nick Pihakis, father and son, who ran the business together until Jim died not long ago. Nick is now in charge, and he's been overseeing the expansion into other barbecue-loving parts of America. A Jim 'N Nick's opened on Hilton Head recently. We got ours at the insistence of one of the company's investors who has a house in Colorado and wanted some barbecue very, very badly. The local owner is Todd Koone, who came to Colorado by way of Birmingham. The local GM is Lisa Quinn, who had no idea what barbecue was before the company took her on a tour of the South -- and she discovered sweet tea and fried green tomatoes and real, honest, long-smoked barbecue along the way.

"I thought fried green tomatoes were a movie," Quinn told me one day. "I had no idea. And then I tasted one, and I was like, 'Why have you been hiding this from us?'"

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan