TJ Billies: Here Come the Meat Sweats
Noble Savage (he said):
Ah, America! Land of the free. Home of the brave. Sure, they haven’t always shown the best of judgement (think Watergate, Vietnam, and Trump), but one area where they do know what they’re doing, in Barbeque.
Now first off, BBQ is not Braai. One is not inherently better than the other; they’re just different. A braai is normally ‘n bunch of people around a fire, having a few drinks, while the meat sizzles on the fire. Southern BBQ is a bit different; it’s all on “low and slow” – the meat cooking slowly over a low heat, with a decent amount of smoke flavouring the meat. And that is exactly what TJ Billies offers.
If you’re a regular at the Hazel Food market in Pretoria, the name might seem familiar to you. That’s because TJ Billies was a regular feature at the market. Since then, Chef Jules and Paul has expanded to a lovely restaurant in Northcliff. As you walk in, you are greeted by Big Bertha, their original offset smoker. Since then, they have moved on to a MUCH larger, cabinet smoker for all the smoky, meaty goodness.
First things first, a starter platter. This one was made up of chicken wings (what else?!), corn dogs, pork empanadas, and jalapeno poppers. Word to the wise: the poppers are not for faint hearted. Or the delicate of constitution. But as Chef Jules explained, it’s difficult to judge the hotness, as the batches of chillies differ wildly. Once my taste buds recovered, I thoroughly enjoyed all the starters. The corn dog was a particular highlight.
On to the mains. AKA “This is where things got the fck out of hand.” First up was the fried chicken (why can’t we just call it frickin?), a sloppy joe, served with mac ‘n cheese, and bacon cheese fries.
As my heart palpitated, a platter of ribs, brisket, and pulled pork served with cornbread was put down. At this stage, my doctor phoned and told me I have too much to live for. Bah! What do they know?! Holier-than-thou medical professionals!
I’ll start with the sides. In a word: Incredible! South Africans have been missing so much by not having mac ‘n cheese with our braais! Let’s just say this will be a feature at my future braais. The fries were pretty awesome, and the smoked bacon made all the difference. The sloppy joe was a nice touch, and the frickin was better than the Colonel can dream of making. Seriously, give the drive-through a skip next time.
Both the pulled pork and the brisket was melt-in-your-mouth tender. On it’s own it was pretty good, but I can imagine on a sandwich it would be sublime. And then the ribs. Oh LAWD it’s a FAHR! This is without a doubt the best ribs I’ve ever had.
And please don’t think this is anywhere close to the basted-to-death ribs offered pretty much everywhere. These ribs are dry-rubbed, and cooked/smoked over low heat for a few hours in the smoking cabinet. At the very end, it’s basted with a homemade BBQ sauce. It’s absolute perfection. And then came the meat sweats…
Since visiting TJ Billies, we learnt that they would be closing end June ‘18. I’m astounded that places like Spur keep flogging an “American dining experience”, where authentic joints like TJ Billies have to scrape along to make a living. Here’s hoping that South Africans in general realise that real quality can very rarely be franchised, and that you don’t always have to go to restaurants with a play area.
Boozy Foodie (she said):
There’s not much about the food that I can add – as you could figure out, we absolutely loved it! A real Southern Style FEAST!
I thought it would be a good idea to give you more some insight as to why we found TJ Billies so utterly charming. Chef Jules’ passion and love for what she does is totally contagious. Such a warm and welcoming personality with a passion to spread the word about the magic of authentic smokehouse grub! And a real passion for superheroes.
Yes, glorious isn’t it?? As fellow geeks we made sure that we took the seat right next to this impressive display. This is just part of this lil’ restaurant’s charm.
TJ Billies marrries the love for Jozi (TJ used the be the vehicle registration number for “Johannesburg” several decades ago) and the real American smokehouse food (this is where the ‘Billies’ connection comes in of course).
The drinks are sourced locally as well – I really enjoyed the “Jozi Blonde” (from Agar’s Brewery in Kya Sands) – beer goes SO well with smoked grub!
Chef Jules also showed us their smoker, and boy, the warm and smoky flavours follows you where ever you go. Smoking meat is definitely a form of art. That is why she spent a good couple of months in the USA to learn more and to work in various BBQ-style restaurants.
Just look at this impressive set-up! *CRAVINGS!*
I was really saddened to hear that TJ Billies will be closing its doors soon. I’ve been telling everybody I know that they serve the most divine cornbread and southern fried chicken around. Seriously. Do yourself a favour and visit this little gem before it disappears from the scene. Although, on second thought, I very much doubt that you can dampen Chef Jules and Paul’s passion and enthusiasm. If they decide to start the ‘food truck’ vibe again, I will follow them from market to market! All for the love of corndogs. And New York baked cheesecake.
Thank you so much for your warmth and hospitality, it was unreal! See you within the next week or two!