Auburndale: Smokin’ Jim’s House of Bar-B-Q

We were in Auburndale recently and I thought it would be interesting to look up a little history on Auburndale. The U.S. Census estimated Auburndale’s population at 11,032 in 2000 and 13,507 in 2010. That’s a 22.4% increase during a period when Florida was hit pretty hard by the 2008 recession. The town was founded in 1880 by Frank Fuller who, like so many in Florida, came from the northern states seeking warmer weather. When a railroad came through a few years later, settlers who had come from Auburndale, Massachusetts, succeeded in renaming the town Auburndale.

Smokin' Jim's House of Bar-B-Q restaurant exterior in Auburndale, Florida
Smokin’ Jim’s parking lot – Havendale Boulevard is straight ahead, and the restaurant is the second building on the left

In fairness, I can’t say that was much on our minds when we had lunch at Smokin’ Jim’s House of Bar-B-Q. One nice thing about Polk County is that we have no shortage of barbecue restaurants, and we’re always happy to visit another one. Smokin’ Jim’s was founded in 2005 by Jim Rabe, a native of nearby Winter Haven. You can easily pass it zooming by on Havendale Boulevard, but it’s worth watching for. The restaurant entrance doesn’t face the road, but it’s easily spotted once you’ve pulled into the parking lot.

Smokin' Jim's House of Bar-B-Q restaurant interior in Auburndale, FloridaThe interior is classic barbecue restaurant, with lots of wood and basic furniture. Paper towel rolls and sauce are at the table. There are some columns where many previous customers have left their mark. The restaurant seems to do a lot of take-out and catering, but we were there to dine-in. The menu is traditional, with sandwiches, lunch plates, and dinner plates, plus potatoes, salads, several specials, and a kid’s menu. Pork, beef, chicken, and turkey are all represented. Service was brisk but friendly during our lunch. We each had iced tea to drink and then eagerly anticipated our lunch.

Rib lunch plate with mac and cheese, baked beans, and garlic bread at Smokin' Jim's House of Bar-B-Q restaurant in Auburndale, FloridaMy wife ordered the rib lunch plate, four spare ribs with two sides (she had baked beans and mac and cheese) with garlic bread. The ribs were prepared with a dry rub with black pepper as the primary ingredient. The meat was very tender and perhaps a bit fatty, as ribs tend to be.  The ribs were good-sized and four of them with two sides were plenty for lunch (she brought home leftovers). The baked beans had meat (probably pork) mixed in with them – on our way out we spotted the “secret” that these were actually Bush’s Baked Beans, but they were prepared so well we didn’t care. The mac and cheese was the only disappointment – more on that shortly.

Pulled pork lunch plate with green beans, mac and cheese, and garlic bread at Smokin' Jim's House of Bar-B-Q restaurant in Auburndale, Florida

I ordered the “Best Butt in Town” lunch plate, shredded pork with two sides (green beans and mac and cheese) plus garlic bread. I especially liked the green beans – they were so tender they had obviously been cooked a long time. There was a little vinegar flavor that was a nice complement to the beans. Another plus, these were roma-style green beans, wider and flatter than green beans I’ve had in most restaurants. The shredded pork was some of the best barbecue I’ve had in Polk County – a little mustard flavor in the sauce, very flavorful and tender without being too hot or spicy. Again, the mac and cheese was the only thing lacking – the cheese seemed like Velveeta or something similar. They didn’t taste bad, they just had no real flavor. I didn’t have leftovers, but it was still a generous amount of food for lunch.

So the mac and cheese could use some work, but everything else was outstanding. With tip our total was about $34. That was some excellent barbecue and we look forward to returning. Smokin’ Jim’s House of Bar-B-Q is on Havendale Boulevard in Auburndale, south of U.S. 92 and near the Jersey Road intersection. Enjoy!

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