Dive, hole in the wall, hidden gem. Located on the historic east side of downtown Jefferson City, JQ’s on High could be described as all three. Upon entering, you are immediately greeted with a full view of the grill and a friendly smile.
“I always say that Q [Quinten Rice, co-owner] had the vision with no building and I had the building with no vision, and here we are now, five years later,” says co-owner John Johnson.
Before approaching John, Q, a regular at The Mission, had passed by the building often. “This is an awesome little spot — you know food, hospitality, and entertainment can usually fix some things, and so I thought this could be a great addition to the neighborhood and really complement The Mission.”
The duo bonded over a love of food, cars, and music, something you can see translated throughout the restaurant. John took the reins on the décor: From the custom shadow boxes containing B.B. King’s and Alice Cooper’s guitars to the refurbished green tailgate that doubles as a table, to the Kiss memorabilia, everything was carefully thought out.
“The concept of this place is food truck meets brick and mortar,” says Q. “We have a small menu. We try to just do a few things and really knock it out of the park.”
When John and Q first opened JQ’s, they spent an entire night in the kitchen perfecting their burger. The patty, blended with in-house ground beef and sirloin, won the pair the title of best burger through the News Tribune shortly after.
While JQ’s may be best known for their burgers smothered in cheese and JJJ sauce, a homemade favorite, the dive offers patrons a variety of other options sure to satisfy their grill fix.
John used to do competition barbecuing, and as a result, he places a major emphasis on the importance of fresh product. The pulled pork is smoked fresh each day and is used for a variety of menu items. The “spudmageddon,” a giant spud filled to the brim with tender pulled pork, melted cheese, bacon, fresh chives, BBQ sauce, and sour cream, is a favorite.
While Q favors the pulled pork for its versatility, John’s preference is the pork belly. But if you aren’t in the mood for barbecue, the pair agrees that the fish tacos are a customer favorite.
In traditional John form, JQ’s sides are mostly homemade, including his famous baked beans, a hearty take on the classic side. The Amish broccoli salad is a unique option — a creamy mix of broccoli, bacon, and cheese.
Even the sauces are made from scratch, the standout being the JJJ sauce, named for John’s son, as he acquired the recipe for John. The sauce contains a sweet and tangy, top secret blend of 10 ingredients; Q doesn’t even have the recipe, only John knows its contents. JQ’s also makes their tartar sauce, buffalo sauce, habanero mango wing sauce, and blue cheese.
For the items they can’t make in house, John and Q were careful in their selection of products. JQ’s is only one of two retailers in Missouri to offer D.a.T sauce and ketchup. The sauce is shipped in from Louisiana, chosen because it offers flavor and kick in a mild form so that every customer can enjoy it.
“We want to be different, we don’t want to do the same old thing,” says John. One of the ways they continue to do this is by including the team managers in the menu decisions.
“We want our employees to be able to play around,” says Q. John adds that most of the additions to the menu are usually variations of existing items. “We keep it simple and do it right,” he says.