What’s more American than images of our men and women in uniform? Perhaps a heaping plate of barbecue?

 

The people behind one Westside eatery are making it their mission to honor both under one roof.

Starting in the parking lot, it’s easy to see things are different at Mission BBQ from other fast-casual barbecue chains that have taken root in Northeast Florida. Start with the veteran-reserved parking, then continue by the “BAM BAM” (Barbecue Assault Machine) smoker truck up front that delivers big catering orders with flair.

Head inside, and you’ll find a dining room dressed floor to ceiling in honor of military and law enforcement personnel. Patriotic credos, service branch flags, icons of Americana (think Craftsman toolbox as condiment station) and bench seating studded with military uniform patches — contributed by its patrons, according to general manager Steve DiMaggio — complete the scene.

Every day at noon, there’s a salute to the flag with a singing of the National Anthem.

Founded in 2011 in Baltimore by executives from Outback Steakhouse and Under Armour, Mission brings together a tradition of reverence and honor for America’s heroes with some of its best regional barbecue traditions. The Westside location, on Blanding Boulevard at the Interstate 295 West Beltway next to Carrabba’s, is one of 41 company-owned locations that hug the East Coast and Midwest. It opened in November 2015.

The fast-casual formula here is a familiar one: order at the counter and provide your name. When your name is called, head up to claim your tray.

The relatively slim menu is full of standards, from classic meat plates and rib racks to sandwiches, salads and homemade sides. Seasonal Black Plate Specials rotate every two months or so (such as the salmon, just in time for Lent). You’ll also find 10 signature sauces to mix and match, with plenty of sweet, spicy, tangy and smoky offerings from Maryland to Memphis and beyond.

My family headed to Mission last Sunday night for dinner. Since there aren’t traditional appetizers to speak of, we got rolling with entrees.

My choice, the Turkey plate ($7.49), came with a generous portion of neatly sliced, lean white meat and golden cornbread. Upgrade to an XL combo for $3 more and you get one side and a fountain drink. For a $4 upcharge, I chose XXL with two sides, green beans with bacon and seasonal cheesy potatoes. The short-cut beans came in a bacon-basted broth with diced onions and were homemade Grandma-quality all the way. The cheesy, finely diced potato casserole was moist and starchy and less creamy.

My wife was thrilled to find Mission’s dedicated gluten-free menu and ordered the Pulled Pork plate without delay ($6.79 gluten-free without cornbread; $7.29 on the regular menu). Even sauceless, the pork was a robust, smoky dream. Her side of baked beans was thick and dark with a great balance of sweet and smoky, including big chunks of brisket throughout.

Kids get three downsized options — mac and cheese, a slider or junior ribs ($3.99 to $5.99), each with a side and drink. My daughter got the mac and cheese, a bubbling cauldron of elbows in a delectable cheddar cream, for which my sampling elicited a “mine!” response from across the table. She left not a trace of it after my unfortunate overreach.

While desserts aren’t prolific at Mission — you’ll find individually wrapped brownies in a bin at each cashier station — we sampled the seasonal blueberry cobbler as an individual side to my daughter’s meal. The extra-sweet, crumbly affair was one step removed from bread pudding and a petite treat.

For adult-size refreshment, choose from a small assortment of bottled and canned beer. Otherwise, go for a classic (RC, anyone?) bottled soda in the ice chest, kettle-brewed sweet or unsweet tea, lemonade or fountain drink (Pepsi products).

Mission is far from “one and done” in Northeast Florida with the Westside location. A second eatery is being discussed with an eye toward St. Johns Town Center, according to DiMaggio.

For right now, there’s plenty to love about this particular patriotic outpost.

For more of Jay’s dining experiences, visit his blog at www.jaymagee.com.