“I wanted to change my life,” he says.
He and his wife Mimi bought a former candy store on Grand Street in Jersey City and turned it into a coffee shop known as Legal Grounds. Then they bought a space on Garden Street in Hoboken; that became Legal Beans Cafe.They then opened BBQ at Legal Beans on Division Street in Jersey City.
It’s a funky-looking joint in a neighborhood of car repair shops, with a green awning and “BBQ” painted in red on the side. There’s no seating inside, but there is a barbecue pit. That’s where whole pigs “Cebu style” — Mimi Escudero is Filipino — are cooked. Whole pigs are available on 48-hour notice, and are also available on weekends by the pound.
Escudero and staff also do a brisk catering business, with 95 percent of their clientele pharmaceutical reps and firms.
You may know where I stand on good barbecue in North Jersey; it’s practically nonexistent. BBQ at Legal Beans stands out for its charming lack of atmosphere — “hole-in-the-wall” doesn’t quite do it justice — and the espresso dry rub.
That’s right, espresso. Escudero roasts his own beans, and an espresso rub seemed a “logical ingredient.”
It’s an intriguing blend of smoky and roasty; if it packed a bit of spice and heat, it would be great barbecue.
Portions are ample. The brisket ($15, with choice of side) is surprisingly good, juicy and terrifically tender. Easily the best item of those sampled.
The pulled pork sandwich ($8) manages to be drippy without being sodden and soppy, like most pulled pork sandwiches I’ve encountered.
If you blanch at the sight of charred or burned meat — I don’t — you may look away when the smoked chicken arrives ($10 for a half chicken with one side, $15 for a whole chicken with one side). But it’s still tasty and mildly spicy.
Good ribs, too, although the meat tasted as if it either had been sitting around for a while or re-heated. Ribs are $15 for a half rack with side, $22 for a whole rack with side.
I didn’t pick up any spice in the spicy/sweet mashed potatoes ($4), but they’re an enjoyable, creamy-smooth confection.
Other sides include baked mac and cheese, buttermilk cornbread, baked beans, coleslaw and yellow rice.
Hurricane Sandy damaged both Legal Beans Cafe and Legal Grounds; the latter recently opened, while the former should be open by the new year.
Escudero is thinking of franchising in the future, but had a quick answer when asked if he could see himself owning a fourth store.
“Never, ever, ever,” he said with a laugh.