BY EMMA SLONINA, Staff Columnist

Some restaurants are all about the experience, others are all about the food. While I think J’s Smokehouse is meant to fall more into the latter category, my visit was anything but ordinary. Monroe isn’t the most exciting city, but somehow this little springtime date turned into something reminiscent of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet…

My boyfriend raved about the food and gorgeous river view for months before we actually made the trip one humid spring evening. We drove to a small parking lot on the bank of the River Raisin, crossing the footbridge while eyeing the darkening sky. The old Fox’s nightclub loomed over us. No doors on the ground floor; the only entrance was three stories up.

At this point, I’m excited. We climbed the fire escape stairs and ventured in. Charlie led me up another flight of stairs to the restaurant, but we were greeted by an overturned table and chair, and a locked door. No sign indicated if they had closed or moved.

We crept back down the stairs, wondering if we were even allowed to be there. Out of the shadows, someone asked us what we were looking for. Somewhere else in the building, dishes were crashing and people were talking.

We wandered towards the disembodied voice, finding an older man sitting in a small bedroom. Charlie, ever valiant, stepped in front of me and told him we were looking for J’s. As the man explained they had moved, I examined the room. A black pipe cleaner spiderweb hung on the wall over the bed like a crucifix. I couldn’t get out of there quickly enough.

We laughed all the way back to the car, rushing to get out of the rain that had started falling. Undeterred, we drove across town to their new location in the torrential downpour.

J’s had moved to a small, homogenous strip mall. The space was clearly designed for offices, but J’s had made its home there. Not nearly as exciting as a questionable old building full of spider-worshippers, but the food was absolutely amazing. They hadn’t lost that, apparently.

We settled in to a beef brisket sandwich for me and grilled chicken breast for Charlie. Well, grilled chicken breast for me, too. I finished my sandwich and half of Charlie’s meal as well. The melt-in-your-mouth-tender beef was perfect. Smoky, sweet, wonderfully juicy. I got a side of sweet potato fries, seasoned with brown sugar, cinnamon, and black pepper. If not for the pepper, they’d have been way too sweet, but they definitely needed some salt.

I had been a little snobbish about Charlie’s chicken breast at first. Who orders grilled chicken breast at a smokehouse? I gave in and tried a bite, which progressed into a dozen. I’d never before had a chicken breast outside of my own kitchen that didn’t taste like shoe leather. Even his pineapple coleslaw was delicious. Not too sweet, surprisingly, but far more interesting than your standard coleslaw.

It was sad to see the place so quiet. Charlie had said it used to always be busy, but the move had probably slowed down the traffic. Especially with no indication at the old restaurant that they had moved (unless you count an overturned table as being indication enough). It certainly isn’t as unique as before, location or décor-wise, but the food is still phenomenal, and if they can keep their clientele coming back, they’ll be just fine.

Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday. Contact (734) 497-5667 or visit their website for more information.

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