A welded steel pig — painted pink and named Lucille — is the mascot for Uncle Buddy’s Smokehouse N Grill. Did I mention that Lucille has wings?
When Brian Jennings first suggested to his mother, Johni Jennings, that they open a restaurant, she laughed and said: “When pigs fly.”
Well, Lucille sits today on a counter at Uncle Buddy’s. She watches over guests as they enjoy brisket, pulled pork, tri-tip, chicken, turkey, ribs or sausage that’s been slow cooked — Texas-style — in wood-fired barrel smokers.
Lucille is a fun feature at family-friendly Uncle Buddy’s, which opened on Pollasky Avenue in Old Town in September 2015.
Brian said it’s “a big deal” to him that Uncle Buddy’s be affordable for families.
So, the restaurant has a family special. For $69, guests get a deal worth $90 that feeds four to six people.
It’s four pounds of meat (one or more of all the meats except ribs) plus two quarts of side dishes. Choices are garlic mashed potatoes, coleslaw, baked beans, fries, seasonal vegetables, rice pilaf, fried okra, potato salad and macaroni and cheese.
Bread — garlic and/or cornbread — also is included. The cornbread is a family recipe, passed down from Johni’s grandmother, Ida Bass, who came to Fresno from Oklahoma during the great Dust Bowl migration.
Made with butter and topped with honey butter, the cornbread is light and like cake with icing. “Some people come in just for the cornbread,” Johni said.
The restaurant’s menu also features salads, sandwiches and burgers.
Buddy’s BBQ Salad ($9.99) has tomatoes, avocado, house-made bacon, cheddar cheese and choice of beef brisket, pulled pork, grilled chicken or crispy chicken.
Sandwich choices are tri-tip, grilled chicken and barbecue chicken ($9.99 each), turkey ($10.49), pulled pork ($10.99) or brisket ($11.99).
The Buddy’s Build Your Own Burger comes with a single patty ($9.49) or double patty ($12.99). Guests customize by choosing from lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onion (raw or grilled), onion rings, jalapeños, grilled mushrooms, avocado, house-made bacon, jalapeño bacon and a variety of cheeses.
Some burgers rise to 10 inches with all the fixings.
Dinner plates come with one meat ($11.99), two meats ($13.99) or three meats ($15.99).
St. Louis Style Spare Ribs (pork) are $14.99 for a half slab and $22.99 for a full slab.
The St. Louis spare ribs come from a fattier part of the animal, which gives them extraordinary flavor as the fat cooks away.
“A lot of people come in saying they want baby back ribs and we convince them to try the St. Louis ribs, and they stick with them forever,” Brian said. “We also get people from Texas who tell us they like our food more than the food back home. It’s a compliment. I’ll take it.”
Brian was 13 when he started grilling tri-tip with his dad, Jim. “Cooking was always a good time,” Brian said.
When he got older, Brian got his first job washing dishes at BJ’s Kountry Kitchen in Clovis. He later worked as a line cook at The Cheesecake Factory in Fresno.
Brian and his wife, Anna, are both 1998 graduates of Clovis High School. She also helps run Uncle Buddy’s.
Johni previously owned a catering business and was inspired to start it by a less-than-satisfactory experience with a caterer when her daughter got married.
“People should be able to get better food for a better price than what I had to spend,” Johni said.
The family wanted to build the same principles — good food, reasonable prices, consistent quality — into Uncle Buddy’s. So Brian works in the kitchen to ensure that consistency.
The name of the restaurant comes from a Jennings’ family story. Brian’s niece couldn’t pronounce his name when she was a little girl. So she called him “Uncle Buddy” instead.
The restaurant already has established a fun tradition. It’s the Wings Challenge. The wings are hot — really hot. Guests taking the challenge have five minutes to eat 12 wings, and then they must sit still for another five minutes without eating or drinking anything.
“There’s a lot of fidgeting in that last five minutes,” Brian said.
Many have tried, but only four have succeeded. Their reward is a T-shirt, a free drink, no charge for the wings ($14.99) and their photo on the restaurant’s wall. Those who don’t succeed also get their photos on the wall — “the wrong side of the wall,” Brian jokes.
One recent afternoon, Andrew McPhail and Seth Reed, both of Clovis, ate at Uncle Buddy’s for the first time. They were impressed.
McPhail had a brisket sandwich, which is nicknamed “The McCoy.” That’s Johni’s maiden name. McPhail said it was so good that it should be renamed “The Real McCoy.”
Reed had a two-meat dinner plate. He chose brisket and tri-tip, along with garlic mashed potatoes and mac and cheese as his sides.
“It was like a good dream,” Reed said of the meal.
Nearly a year into running Uncle Buddy’s, Brian said he’s happy: “I have a passion for barbecue. I always have had. I haven’t woken up yet and not wanted to come here. I guess that’s a good sign.”
Uncle Buddy’s Smokehouse N Grill is at 836 Pollasky Ave. The phone number is (559) 299-3200. Takeout is available and the restaurant does catering. Uncle Buddy’s is on Facebook. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday.