MOJO Hogtown Bar-B-Que has done this before. With five highly-reviewed locations in Jacksonville and another in St. Augustine, they are opening their doors to Gainesville today (April 7th) at 12 SE 2nd Avenue (next to Tall Paul’s). This particular location is appropriately named “Mojo Hogtown Bar-B-Que” serving smoked meats out of their custom built smoker (no propane or electricity, just good ol’ wood), a massive collection of whiskey, some very good cocktails, and Florida beers on tap. I was lucky enough to attend their soft opening.
Let me start off by saying the space is beautiful. Built in 1910 as a carriage house and stable for the Baird theater, it would later become a parking garage, then go on to house restaurants like the beloved Sovereign, Ti Amo, Blue Water Bay, the terrible 2nd Street Oyster House, the Cellar 12 events venue, and now Mojo BBQ. While the previous tenants had (rather stupidly) painted over the beautiful wood across the vaulted ceiling, Mojo stripped it all away to reveal the original finish. The original brick walls are still standing, and they even went as far as to purchase bricks from the same quarry to match them when reconstructing the façade. While all that wood can make for a loud dining room, it’s great to see them build around the history instead of bulldozing it like some other restaurateurs in town wanted to do.
In addition to a massive selection of whiskeys, they have a pretty darn good cocktail menu. The Low Country Sangria ($10) is their best selling drink in the St. Augustine location, made with your choice of red or white wine infused with seasonal fruits and Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum. There’s also the Foolish Pleasure ($9 - Myer’s Dark & Bacardi Rum, Galliano, Pineapple & Lime Juice, Guava Nectar, and Angostura Bitters), the Drunken Cucumber ($9 – Jim Beam Bourbon, Lemon and Lime Juice, Cucumber, Ginger Ale) and the Vieux Carre ($10 - Michter’s Single Barrel Rye, Cognac, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura and Peychaud’s Bitters) amongst the highlights. I personally really enjoyed the Kentucky Mule ($10), which was a Moscow Mule but with bourbon replacing the vodka. If you’re not familiar, that’s Buffalo Trace Bourbon, lime juice, ginger-lime syrup, and ginger beer in an ice cold copper mug. It’s glorious.
But you want to hear about the food. All I can say is at last, downtown Gainesville has a proper BBQ restaurant. All the BBQ food groups are represented here; pulled pork, brisket, spare ribs, chicken, and spicy sausage links in addition to sandwiches, platters like Fried Catfish, Fried Chicken, Bourbon-Maple Glazed Salmon, BBQ Shrimp, and Shrimp & Grits. There’s even (cringe) salads for your herbivore friends. I brought a group with me so I could sample across the board, and I thoroughly enjoyed everything.
The spareribs were tender, fall off the bone, smoky goodness, the brisket was tender and flavorful, and the Mojo Smokehouse Chicken (grilled chicken breast with Mojo BBQ sauce, sautéed onions, smoked bacon, Jack and Cheddar cheese) was fantastic. Make sure you try the Fried Green Tomatoes with their Chipotle Ranch sauce as well. And if the sauce is what makes or breaks a BBQ joint for you, then you need not worry. While you’ll find the traditional sauces like vinegar and mustard, it’s all about the Mojo BBQ sauce for me. It’s their own garlic and citrus blend that’s super tasty. The Chipotle sauce is spicy, tangy, sweet goodness and a very good sauce as well.
Then there’s the matter of something called “The Whole Hawg”. For $36, you get a platter of pork, beef, turkey, chicken, ribs, and sausage along with four sides. It’s the type of dish that Ron Swanson would be proud of. While Ron would probably substitute the sides for more meat, a normal person can choose from items like Collard Greens, Cole Slaw, Dirty Rice, Mac & Cheese, BBQ Pit Beans, and Garlic Cheddar Grits. Please, get the Garlic Cheddar Grits.
In a town where good BBQ is surprisingly hard to come by, this is a welcome addition. What’s even more impressive is how much their experience in the industry shows as the service, food, and drinks were all on point, even during the soft opening. Like I said earlier, they’ve done this before. Along with a number of other new restaurants, the Bo Diddley Plaza renovations, and new bars, they are doing their part in the continued revitalization of downtown. Mojo will be open from 11 AM to 11 PM on Sunday through Wednesday, and until 2 AM on Thursdays through Saturdays. They are not to be confused with Mojo Grill from Ocala, who were looking to move into the old Cody’s on Archer Road.