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JT's Rib Shack put tasty meat, sauces on the menu

| Thursday, May 13, 2010

After 20 years in corporate life, James Taylor turned his life-long love of cooking into a new career nearly two years ago by opening JT's Rib Shack in Penn Hills. Now it's thriving, thanks to the special qualities of his ribs and sauces, and a supplementary menu of Italian dishes.

JT's Rib Shack is a very clean and unpretentious place for dining and also does a brisk takeout business. Taylor and his wife, Vicki, are joined by three to five extra workers when the action gets crazy-busy, such as for Steelers or Penguins games.

A pending corporate transfer precipitated Taylor's change of career. After working for AT&T and Lucent Technologies, he decided he didn't want to move to the West Coast, because it's too far from home. Now, he works five minutes from where his parents live, and regularly sends them lunch and dinner.

Taylor's parents taught him to cook. The volume of his business helps him keep everything fresh.

"I go through so much food I don't freeze anything," he says. "I do my homework and know who has what."

His ribs are never steamed or boiled. He smokes them with cherry wood or charcoal. When he removes them from the outdoor smoker, he covers them to retain moisture while they continue to cook from the bones out.

"The equipment I have allows everything to be flavorful and tender, and you don't have to worry about burning anything," he says.

JT's offers four sauces for the ribs: the house favorite mustard sauce, his red barbecue sauce and a spicy mustard sauce. But he says Chunky Chunk is becoming his customers' favorite. It is a combination of condiments, no chunks actually, that his 11-year-old son Brandon mixed together on the day the restaurant opened, July 2, 2008.

A whole rack of ribs costs $22, a half-rack is $12 and a one-bone teaser is $2. Combo meals range from a full rack family meal with two large sides ($27.50) to a four-bone BBQ dinner with two sides ($10.50).

Side dishes include greens with smoked turkey, green beans, mac and cheese, yams, baked beans and salads, $4.50 for a large serving, $2.50 for small.

JT's also offers grilled chicken wings and sandwiches. He says the most popular sandwich is OinkMooPeep, a combination of pork, beef and chicken with mac and cheese on a garlic toasted roll ($9.99).

While adding Italian cuisine to a menu dominated by ribs was an improbable move, Taylor seized the opportunity to work with chef Anthony Mosco, who has 15 years experience with Italian restaurants in Penn Hills.

"I did it because nobody else was. The food is good. My name is on it, as is chef Anthony's," Taylor says.

Mosco's dishes include shrimp scampi ($9.95, $11.95 with pasta); broiled tilapia with crabmeat or bread stuffing and one small side ($12.95); chicken or shrimp Alfredo ($12.50) and chicken or shrimp Romano ($9.95).

Taylor says two other restaurants failed in his location, but "the Penn Hills community has been so supportive of me, it's like I owe it to them to serve the best food I can."

Additional Information:

JT's Rib Shack

Location: 11884 Frankstown Road, Penn Hills

Hours: Noon to 8 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays; noon to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays

Details: 412-793-6264

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