by Max Brantley
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, owned by James and Betty Jones, will be one of five restaurants honored for their "timeless appeal" and the quality of food "that reflects the character of their community."
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner (219 W. Louisiana St., Marianna, AR, Owners: James and Betty Jones)
Some incarnation of Jones Bar-B-Q Diner has been open since at least the 1910s. Walter Jones was the founder and first pitmaster. He lived in a dogtrot house, perched nearby. From the back porch, he served barbecue on Fridays and Saturdays.
Hubert Jones, the son of Walter Jones, and father of present-day-proprietor James Jones, recalled the family’s initial
barbecue set-up as “a hole in the ground, some iron pipes and a piece of fence wire, and two pieces of tin.”
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, one of the oldest African-American—owned restaurants in America, remains true to those roots. James Jones, the grandson of Walter Jones, tends the pits. His cooking apparatus is still elemental. And the pork shoulder, hacked into savory bits and served on white bread with a spritz of vinegary sauce, is as smoky as ever.
In the Delta town of Marianna, not far from the Mississippi River, Jones Bar-B-Q Diner is a beacon of community pride and continuity.
Typically, the American Classics are featured in videos. You can see some from last year here.
A friend who's eaten there says:
Great pits, they're old cinder block made and low to the ground. Usually out of food by early in the day, and when he's out he's out. Served on white bread, and very discrete flavors. I once heard it described as a bbq fan's bbq. Most tender pulled pork I've ever had.
John T Edge told me this was one of the more difficult oral history projects ever, for some reason Jones was reluctant to talk at first.
Mr. Jones will be on hand for the Beard awards in May, wearing a tux, my friend says. The diner has been featured in Saveur, a great foodie mag. The article was by Edge, the Southern Foodways savant from Mississippi. Also in the Oxford American.