Ever since the American forces withdrew from Subic, it has struggled to find its place under the sun. It can’t be a place for swimming because of jellyfish. It no longer has the monopoly of duty free shops, with the proliferation of tiangge and imported member-only stores in Metro Manila. The once-mighty Ocean Adventure is only a shadow of its former tourist draw with the steady growth of the Manila Ocean Park. The few things we truly appreciate of Subic remain to be the traffic discipline within its premises, something that MUST be replicated everywhere in the Philippines, and the restaurants.
Bring us to Subic and we’ll go to one restaurant by default — Meat Plus. This time around, we asked a dear friend, Dr. Karen Romero, to wow us with a new restaurant recommendation. No pressure, of course. Doc Karen didn’t blink, in the same way that she didn’t blink in volunteering for the Typhoon Yolanda quick response, and suggested Texas Joe’s. TJ, as she fondly calls it, is the only restaurant at the Subic Freeport Zone which caters Tex-Mex cuisine.
We would have asked Doc Karen to write this post, but chose not to because she only ordered chicken. Not that she has anything against the steaks and the baby back ribs. So far, she said, she has tried the hickory smoked ribs, traditional baby back ribs, beef brisket (which melts in your mouth, she had to gleefully emphasize), dirty rice, corn bread, baked potatoes, quesadillas, baked beans, guacamole and her favorite — smoked chicken, of course.
For our part, we have three new favorites.
First favorite, the Corn Bread. Texas Joe’s corn bread is like Kenny Roger’s original muffin on steroids. If there’s a single reason why we come back to Kenny Roger’s, muffin would be it (and we know, dear Kenny, that you have not been consistent on how your original muffin tastes and feels like… we’ll be watching you).
Finding out that Texas Joe’s serves something that closely resembles the muffin — and in huge servings — is the closest we get in winning the lottery. We’re not kidding. Really, a few things come close to the feeling of rough mixture that massages your tongue and palates, close to how micro-beads of beauty products are supposed to relax the sensitive facial skin, and highlighted by the endless pop of tiny corn germs, or whatever those tiny golden beads are called. Remember the joy of popping bubble wraps? The happiness comes close.
Second favorite, the baby back ribs. We got the half back Baby Back Ribs of Texas Joe’s.
If you look closely, the longer name of this restaurant is Texas Joe’s House of Ribs. So it’s only right to expect so much from this restaurant’s baby back ribs. The menu, in fact, says that Texas Joe’s is the “Original Real American Smokehouse in the Philippines,” with the mean smoked with real hickory wood. Slapping “real” with “original” must mean something and that, ladies and gentlemen, cannot be understood unless you’ve actually tasted the baby back ribs.
The ribs are smoked to perfection, Doc Karen chimed in, with an obvious hint of disappointment of not being able to go against the strict orders of her cardiologist. The hickory smoked ribs has always been her favorite (and we thought it’s the chicken, Doc?).
Some restaurants say that the meat in their ribs easily falls off from the bone. We like that, too. What we absolutely love, however, is a chunk of ribs with meat that gives a little fight before coming off the bones. Imagine Corregidor and Mt. Samat simply giving up without a fight. Too soft, just like some baby back ribs that made a come back a few years back, and it doesn’t look and feel authentic. Same problem with that chicken inasal which was acquired by our favorite Pinoy fastfood company– feels like it has been boiled before being grilled. The authentic Bacolod chicken inasal goes straight to the grill and slowly cooked to inasal perfection.
Going back to the baby back ribs, in the words of Doc Karen, the meat comes off the bones quite easy — she doesn’t appreciate fighting with her food and she’s sure nobody wants that to (but, Doc, we want a teeny bit of fight with the ribs before the meat comes off). Texas Joe’s is smoked and grilled just the way we want it. Smoky, firm and feisty.
Third favorite, the horsie ride. It’s the next best thing to a real cowboy on a real horse. It’s for the kids, yes, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see adults trying out that horsie ride. Really, it’s what the wooden horse represents. Texas and cowboys. The restaurant’s facade appears to be patterned after that of The Alamo. What does the ambiance represent? Good old Western style ribs, for one.
Doc Karen has another take on the ambiance — we came in fresh, we came out fresh. That’s the problem with other restaurants which offer barbecue on their menu — once you step out of the resto, you’d smell like the food you ordered.
Plus, the crayons for kids (and yes, adults, too) really helped maintain peace and order in every table. There’s also a book shelf wherein you can take any book you want as long as you leave one as a replacement. Interesting (we didn’t notice that one).
The TJ’s burger is sometimes too dry, Doc Karen said. A good burger should be grilled in charcoal but still has juice; otherwise, if it’s not juicy enough, it’s not worth eating.
Most of the meals Doc Karen tried at TJ’s came with mixed vegetables. They don’t use the frozen ones. They serve sliced carrots and string beans sautéed in butter with a dash of salt and pepper. The mashed potato is not instant. The baked potato is not dry and is served with butter and sour cream.
And, to sum it all up, what’s the most important asset of a restaurant? We agree with a doctor on this one — the bathroom. Rest room. The John. Whatever it’s called in your side of the world, the bathroom must be spanking clean, just like in TJ’s. Doc Karen said it best: if they’re meticulous enough with the bathroom, imagine how clean the food will be. A cowboy is naturally meticulous with his baby back ribs. He’s also meticulous with the bathroom. Yeehaa!