JT Ribbs is perhaps a misnomer. A rib house this is not.
But if you seek an affordable, friendly restaurant with more emphasis on generally good food than decor and soft lighting, JT Ribbs is a pleasant discovery -- and a welcome alternative to the proliferation of fast-food franchises in this neighborhood.
This is a big, open restaurant, with high ceilings, good tunes, lots of elbow room and enough American-style bric-a-brac to decorate the shelves of a whole neighborhood of colonial ramblers.
In keeping with the homey atmosphere, off the main foyer is a rec-room-outfitted saloon, looking more like a living room den than a bar. Lounge chairs surround a big color TV to one side, while islands of bar stools, arranged to encourage chumminess, fill up the rest of the room. A big popcorn machine allows customers to help themselves as they quaff beer or perhaps one of the evening drink specials.
Given such a setting, you'd expect a typically American spread of burgers and salads, with a few seafood and meat entrees for variety. And you'd be right. But in keeping with the trend at a number of Washington restaurants, JT Ribbs also offers a dose of home-style cooking -- nightly specials, priced at $6.50, of beef pot roast (Monday), Southern style pan-fried chicken (Tuesday), roast loin of pork (Wednesday) and baked Virginia ham (Thursday). On Fridays, there's fresh flounder, pan-fried or broiled.
Sometimes that familiar food is served by overly familiar staff.
On two recent visits we were the unwilling patrons of a waitress who took it upon herself to entertain us with feigned bossiness. She chastised us for not cleaning our plates, and said "no" to our request for water. By and large, however, the staff appears to be a youthful, amiable group, a bit inexperienced but certainly competent and eager to please.
Fried cheese, potato skins and chicken wings have become almost cliches as appetizers, and at JT Ribbs' these starters break no new ground in taste or presentation. Yet I'd order the potato skins again just for the excellent, chunky guacamole that accompanied them. And the delicate, thin, beer-batter onion rings, served by the loaf or half-loaf, are unusually good, if a bit greasy.
The barbecued entrees of baby back ribs, chicken and a combination of the two -- all sauced in a sweetish glaze -- are upstaged by the basket of freshly made, full-flavored corn muffins and homey biscuits that precedes their arrival (and those of a number of entrees).
If the barbecue is lackluster, the prime rib, which comes in two cuts, regular ($6.95) and large ($9.95), is a winner: a good-sized slab of lean, juicy, perfectly cooked meat is teamed with an undistinguished lettuce salad, good creamed corn and beverage for one of the menu's best bargains.
Seafood entrees include a basket of fried shrimp (a bit dry recently, and not at all complimented by the accompanying sweet, wet coleslaw) and a plate of crab cakes. The crab cakes were smallish, but respectably meaty and fresh tasting, accompanied by waffle-like homemade potato chips with the skin on. Those chips were slightly soggy, but still a tasty, rather imaginative accompaniment.
Desserts change daily, but might include fresh berries and whipped cream, a variety of cheesecakes and perhaps a fruit pie or two.
It's not mom's cooking, but you're certain to feel at home -- sometimes right down to a bossy waitress who makes you clean your plate before dessert.