Jethro’s Barbecue – Johnston, Iowa

Jethro’s Barbecue recently opened a new branch restaurant in Johnston, on NW 86th street.  This is a well-known and respected BBQ outfit around town, and based on the crowds present on a Saturday night, this new location is going to continue to increase the customer base.  The Johnston location is the fifth Des Moines area location. I had heard that each Jethro’s has, in addition to the well-loved smoked and pulled meat standards, a specialty menu focus.  Although this Jethro’s features Pork Chops, with several delectable-sounding preparations, we will have to try them on a return visit as we were only in the mood for quick sandwiches.

We must have been “living right” on this particular night, as we found a parking spot right near the front door, after driving past cars parked in the outlots and on nearby streets.  We were turning away to leave upon hearing there would be a 30 minute wait for a table, when the hostess told us we could take the two seats at the bar.  Done!  We didn’t feel too guilty breezing past the large family groups languishing in the lobby and hanging out the front door.

Jethro's Dining Room

The restaurant calls itself a sports bar, and true to that form there are at least twenty silenced TVs showing a bunch of different games. The bar is well-stocked and there is a specialty drinks menu, plus some regional craft brews on tap.  Service at the bar was excellent, and the servers were keeping both drinks- and food-ordering customers happy.

The food menu is fairly extensive, with all permutations of smoked meat and appropriate sides in various arrangements.  We ordered some of the plain old smoked meats sandwiches, each coming with one side.  It was all we needed to more than adequately fill us up.  I had the smoked brisket—fork tender, just-right juicy, layered in a big pile on a buttered-toasted bun.  The side of smashed sweet potatoes was just right, not too sweet or gloppy.  My dining partner had the pulled pork sandwich with a side of mac and cheese—again, just right smoked and tender and shredded.  The mac and cheese was made with a white cheese and had a nice mild flavor. The meats come naked,  meaning you get to add whatever BBQ sauce you want from the selection of several different varieties provided.  The portions of meat are huge, more than I could eat, so I boxed it up to save for another sandwich.  The smoke is evident in the meat without being overbearing.

pulled pork

The buzz and vibe of the place on a Saturday night was high—loud, happy, family, friends—-all gathering for great food in a comfortable, easy atmosphere.  There were even a couple of guys with a whole passel of kids lined up on bar stools. It must have been girls’ night out.

The dining room is huge, seating a couple hundred people, I would guess.  And still those poor huddled groups of people waited and waited.  When we left, several people jockeyed for our seats at the bar; we noticed even more people piling up waiting for tables, but no arguments were breaking out.  I guess that’s just part of the deal of dining out on Saturday night, after a long hard winter, at a new place with a great reputation, when you want to eat at a place that the whole 3-generation family can enjoy.

jethros bar

Good job to Jethro’s—Johnston needed a place like this.  Obviously, I’m not the only one who thought so, I mused as we passed newly gathering groups of people in the front lobby on the way to our car parked just steps from the front door.

Is it the best BBQ joint in the Des Moines area? Smokey D’s BBQ makes some mean BBQ, as does Cactus Bob’s, also in Johnston. But for a large family-friendly place with lots of room to maneuver and excellent food, anyone would have to be really picky to not put it among the top tier. It just depends on what you are looking for.  I was surprised to learn that the owners of Jethro’s apparently also own Splash Seafood. Somehow those two restaurant lines don’t seem like they would have much overlap.


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