Did you know you could find some of Orlando’s best barbecue on International Drive?
The legendary Brother Jimmy’s BBQ started in North Carolina back in the 1980s at ACC football games, before opening up in the heart of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1989. Now, they have brought their North Carolina style Southern BBQ from Manhattan to their 7200 SF location in Orlando at Icon Park on International Drive.
In this exclusive interview, local Orlando owner Mike Daquino shares the restaurant’s origins from its humble beginnings from tailgates to opening their first location in 1989 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and their journey to Orlando.
Read on to learn about the past, present, and future of Brother Jimmy’s BBQ and their flavorful barbecue right here in Orlando.
Tasty Chomps Interview with Mike Daquino of Brother Jimmy’s BBQ
Tasty Chomps: How did Brother Jimmy’s BBQ start out? We heard the whole thing started with like a bbq tailgating experience for the ACC football games?
Mike Daquino (Brother Jimmy’s): So it started in 1989 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The original founder of Brother Jimmy’s, Jimmy Goldman, went to school in Carolina. He went to a year of UNC and a year of Duke.
Although he didn’t finish, he kind of came back to Brooklyn with a nice book of recipes, and at that time in New York, no one knew what, like Southern BBQ Real BBQ.
In New York, “barbecue” was like hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill in your backyard. It wasn’t slow smoking for overnight 16 hours, anything like that.
So Jimmy popped 2 smokers into kind of like a little dive bar on the Upper East Side and then just started pouring BBQ smoke out into the Upper East Side neighborhood and people just didn’t have no clue what it was.
This first Brother Jimmy’s BBQ spot in the Upper east Side was a very trendy place, just like a kind of a enigma in a way, in Manhattan, and was a popular nightlife spot. It was voted like top five in Zagat for a while for as a nightlife spot.
It was kind of the place where if you went to school anywhere in the ACC, you knew to come to Brother Jimmy’s to work and enjoy barbecue like in the Carolinas while in Manhattan.
So a lot of brothers and sisters, cousins, family members of people that work there, knew to come to Brother Jimmy’s when they were coming to Manhattan for like their internship, whether they were gonna be a banker or they were an actress or a singer or whatever they were going to be.
This was a spot they could go to earn money and it was authentic in their Southern cuisine and that made it kind of authentic in the clientele because you would ordering a southern meal from a southern server who ate that meal their whole life. So it was very authentic.
What are some of the most popular items right now on the menu at Brother Jimmy for people who have never been there before, you know? Any specials for the Holidays?
Mike Daquino (Brother Jimmy’s): Our ribs and our brisket – I think of the two best items we do – a great Carolina style pulled pork where it’s pulled, not chopped.
Carolina BBQ uses vinegar sauce so all of our sauces are made with vinegar.
I feel like when you use a vinegar sauce, especially in a pork, it just keeps it so much moisture. The moisture stays in – we don’t really sauce any of the meat. We try to set the sauces on the tables. This way the meat comes out and you’re gonna taste the actual meat.
It’s not all just gonna taste like the same BBQ sauce, so we do our wet ribs with minimal sauce and you can put any extra sauce on the table. We do our brisket and our chicken with no sauce. We do a marbled brisket, which is just really, really good.
For the holidays, we’ll do a smoked Turkey for Thanksgiving. We also do a cranberry glaze for our ribs and we do some candied yams for a side for the holidays. We try to add a few things here and there throughout the year. In the summer, we’ll do a seafood boil like oil and style.
How did you get connected with the Brother Jimmy’s?
Mike Daquino (Brother Jimmy’s): I went to college out in South Hampton, and with my background in nightlife, I opened a few restaurants and bars in the Hamptons. There’s some big summer spots and I’ve worked at most of the big summer spots out there through college.
So a buddy of my brother went to Albany, University of Albany and he’s a good friend of Jimmy’s. They owned a few bars there that he worked for and I was kind of in between in 2008. My brother had said to me, hey, you got to meet my friend John.
So I took a shot at it, went in, met with John. He was great. I like country music – I can get behind the brand. It was a lot of fun and was a lot of good people. The food was great – it was easy to sell the product and you could stand behind it consistently.
How did Brother Jimmy’s expand from its first restaurant in Manhattan?
Mike Daquino (Brother Jimmy’s): So originally Jimmy had three stores and they were just kind of ran independently, kind of dive bars. But you know, basically it became popular and then these two guys, Josh Leibowitz and David Cutrer, two of the bartenders back in 1999, they took the brand really to the kind of the next level. They branded it and put procedures together, they made it a franchise-able commodity and then they opened up five more in Manhattan. They built a central commissary so we would order this food from a central kitchen and Brother Jimmy’s truck would drive around the city every morning and drop it all off – all with the same great consistency.
What makes it special for Brother Jimmy’s BBQ being in Orlando at Icon Park?
Icon Park and Orlando is a special place – people visit from all over the world and there are so many places to go. We love Florida – we love everything about it. I mean, maybe we went back to New York once. Like we’re Florida people now – I’m very happy – we tell people down here, we are just shoveling sunshine. And they’re all gonna be shovel and snow in New York pretty soon – there’s no sun for almost a year. We said we gotta get outta here and I’m an Italian New Yorker.
What are your plans for 2024?
So we are potentially starting January 1st in the Amway Center. We’re gonna take over our food kiosk. It will be cool to get the brand out in front of people more and and be able to do some bounce back stuff.
I didn’t realize that Orlando was the number one NBA team for international groups -it makes sense when I think about how many international groups come here. There’s no football team to go to. There’s no baseball team. There’s no hockey team, so they want to see a professional sport. It’s basketball.
We’re hoping that if you know basketball goes well, then we can slide into doing some concession over at the soccer stadium as well.
Anything else you wanna mention about Brother Jimmy’s that will let people in Orlando know about?
Mike Daquino (Brother Jimmy’s): We are blessed to be at Icon Park, where you can you can park for free.
We try to give back as much as possible, so kids eat free every day with purchase of adult entree. All the time.
It’s not just a monstrous portion; it could be a hot dog, a kids cheeseburger, or a pulled pork slider with fries. It’s enough for a child to sit, eat, and enjoy.
And the quality is excellent; all our food is of high quality. We don’t bring in any preservatives or frozen food. Everything is made from scratch, including our meat, sides, and sauces. From blue cheese to ranch dressing, it’s all crafted in-house. It’s not just generic ranch dressing; everything is made from scratch, ensuring it’s real food.
The regular burger we sell, made with half brisket, is broken into pieces to create a kids’ burger. Everything is of high quality; when you feed your kids, you’re feeding yourself real food.
Brother Jimmy’s at ICON Park seats 200 people inside, 60 on the outdoor patio and can host cocktail events for over 500 guests.
ICON Park is at the center of the new Orlando Entertainment District. With free parking and conveniently located near I-4, Universal Boulevard and the Beachline, this premiere entertainment complex is easy to access for any Central Florida resident or Orlando tourist.
To learn more about Brother Jimmy’s at ICON Park, visit https:/brotherjimmys.com/locations/florida/icon-park/. To learn more about ICON Park, visit https://iconparkorlando.com.
Brother Jimmy’s BBQ at ICON Park
Address: 8441 International Dr #290, Orlando, FL 32819