11814 Frankstown Road, Penn Hills
Two distinctive and tantalizing smells greeted patrons of JT's Rib Shack in Penn Hills on a recent visit: the aroma of barbecue mixed with that of Italian cooking.
Italian cooking? In a place known for ribs?
It may be an unexpected pairing, but at JT's, ingredients like garlic and seafood are as integral to the menu as hot sauce and ribs. The menu offers barbecue favorites with weekly Italian specials by chef Anthony Mosco.
"People get tired of wings and ribs all the time, as good as they may be. ... The reason I did that is that nobody else does it," says owner James Taylor Jr. "We've got to do something different that people will talk about."
Taylor opened the restaurant with his wife, Vicky, and three sons in July 2008, and offers eat-in, take-out and catering.
The menu features his specialty -- barbecued pork ribs that are smoked over cherry wood or charcoal. Order a one-bone teaser, a half- or full-rack, then pick your sauce. Taylor makes three: house mustard, red tomato-based and spicy mustard. Mix either of the mustard sauces with the red sauce, and you get JT's signature "Chunky Chunk" sauce.
But there are no chunks. It's smooth, tangy and sweet, and named after his 10-year-old son, Brandon, whose nickname is "Chunky Chunk." On the first day of business, Taylor was second-guessing himself, when Brandon insisted he try a piece of chicken with his own blend of the spicy mustard and red sauces. And thus Chunky Chunk sauce was born.
"Seven out of 10 repeat customers will be for the Chunky Chunk sauce," Taylor says.
Other menu items include hot sausage, burgers, grilled jumbo chicken wings, and sides, such as greens with smoked turkey, mac and cheese, and baked beans.
The specials also expand the menu. These include the "Sloppy J.T." -- pulled pork, brisket or chopped chicken (or a mix of all three), with coleslaw and mustard sauce on a hoagie bun. Chef Anthony's specials are offered Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday evenings. The Italian side of JT's includes hot banana peppers, filled with sausage or bread stuffing; shrimp Romano; and mushrooms, packed with crabmeat and bread stuffing.
And the good food is complemented by good vibes: Taylor demands that JT's offers superior customer service, and that people are always smiling.
"Everything you get," he explains, "we make with love."