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Caterer has brought his barbecue to a sit-down restaurant

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CLAYTON — For many diners, the opening of J-Top’s BBQ Shop on Jan. 4 was both new and familiar.

Familiar because the storefront at 8948 Cleveland Road was the longtime home of Charlie’s BBQ & Grille, whose owner, retired state trooper Charlie Carden, was on hand for the J-Top’s opening.

New, of course, because the barbecue eatery has a new name and new owner, John Thompson, though he was hardly a stranger to Charlie’s or its owner.

“I had been eating at Charlie’s for about 10 years and got to know him pretty well,” Thompson said of Carden. “I told him whenever he got ready to retire to let me know. That day finally came, and it was case of me being in the right place at the right time.”

Thompson, who said his love of barbecue was born in childhood, had strictly been a caterer before deciding to launch J-Top’s. “After a decade of mastering my passion of barbecue, I decided, with the encouragement of family and friends, it was time to spread the barbecue traditions I appreciate to others,” he says on the J-Top’s website.

The J-Top’s menu includes entrées of pulled pork, barbecued chicken, smoked sausage, baby back ribs, beef brisket, catfish and flounder. On the sandwich side are pulled pork, brisket and a burger, among others. The restaurant also offers a variety of sides, including baked beans, mac and cheese, Brunswick stew, barbecued potatoes and hand-cut fries.

Thompson said he doesn’t have a signature dish. But his specialty is chopped barbecue, and he predicted that two of his biggest sellers would be the $8.99 Old Charlie’s Brisket Sandwich, named for Carden, and the $5.99 Kim’s Homemade Chicken Salad, named for Carden’s wife.

At the grand opening, Corey Cook was treating his fiancee, Kristi Thornton, to lunch on her birthday.

“A-plus for sure; it was delicious,” Thornton said of her lunch of smoked sausage with onions and mustard, macaroni and cheese and barbecued potatoes. “This was a very good birthday present.”

Cook chose a combination plate of beef brisket, pulled pork, barbecued potatoes and green beans. “It was all good, but I especially liked the brisket,” he said. “We will be back, that is for sure.”

Thornton and Cook ate in a dining room that looked much like Carden left it, though Thompson has added a few signs, including one that says “Just a Short Run Down the Road from Anywhere” and another that says “Smoking at the speed of ’cue.”

Another change: J-Top’s is open for lunch on Sundays.

“Also, Charlie only had one sauce on the tables, and it was good one, so we will be keeping that one plus adding a couple of new ones,” Thompson said. “I think we will able to hit all the barbecue taste buds from this area.”

Otherwise, J-Top’s will differ little from Charlie’s, and that includes retaining the 10 employees of Charlie’s.

“We plan to continue serving the people in the community like Charlie did,” Thompson said. “He has been a pillar in the community and has even helped out by providing part-time jobs at the restaurant for 72 area high school students.”

To learn more about J-Top’s, including bulk orders and catering, go to jtopsbbqshop.com.

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