Mar 23, 2014

A commoner reviews Abe’s Bar-B-Q, Clarksdale, Miss.

Don’t you hate it when “real life” obligations get in the way of something you love to do?  So, I apologize to my narrow band of followers for not blogging much recently and I hope I haven’t lost any of you during the hiatus.  II guess I need to hit the road and seek out some new blog-worthy adventures.  For now, you’ll have to settle for this post about Abe’s Bar-B-Q in Clarkdale, Miss., and why – after all these years of seeking out great barbecue joints – Abe’s still holds the top spot with my taste buds.

The recent inspiration for this post came from a conversation I had with a friend last night who talked about taking a tour’ of all of the famous barbecue joints in the United States.  I immediately started processing the list on the bottom of my blog, and the discussion ultimately turned to Abe’s.  I've been fortunate enough to eat here at least a half-dozen times, and the experience never wavers in quality.  And fortunately, when I ate here last summer with the young Curmudgeon, I finally captured took some notes (mental and visual) of what makes Abe’s stand out to me. 

The first is location.  Abe’s just isn't any restaurant in Clarksdale, Miss., which is ground central for Delta blues music.  Abe’s is situated right off the famous “Crossroads” of where U.S. Highways 61 and 49 used to meet.  It’s the spot where, according to legend, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his amazing guitar skills.    

After the Crossroads, the Abe’s has the second most recognizable sign on the corner.  If the seeing the place doesn't lure you in, the scents of slow-cooked pit barbecue and steaming hot tamales undoubtedly will.

Second, despite its fame, Abe’s is still very unpretentious.  It’s nothing fancy, but you don’t want it to be.   It’s still family owned and operated by always-friendly people. 

The counter takes you back in time, and the menu (except for the prices, of course) looks like it hasn't changed in years. 

And why would you want it to?  All the classics you’d expect from a great barbecue joint are right there.     

That doesn't mean they don’t acknowledge their fame or rightful place in culinary history.  The walls are adorned with photos and articles filled with accolades and celebrity endorsements, as well as blues memorabilia. 

The booths and tables are nothing fancy. Try to get one closest to the counter, where you can peek in on the action, and the smells are delightful.   

And then, of course, there’s the barbecue itself.  It’s hard for me to not order the barbecue rib platter whenever I come here.  With the very first bite, you taste the six-hour, hickory pit-smoked labor of love that goes into these ribs.  The meat is super tender, but still manages to mostly stick to the bone thanks to nice, chewy crust formed on the outside from the rub.  Combine these flavors with Abe’s signature sauce, and every bite is barbecue ecstasy. 

As a side note, it’s usually unfair to say the sauce matters with great barbecue, but Abe’s sauce may be the best I've ever had.  It’s a perfect blend of sweet, tangy and tart.  It’s a little thinner and less sweet than the classic Memphis style sauces you’ll find an hour north from here.  But, wow does it work!  Do yourself a favor when you come here, and buy a bottle to take home with you. 

Back to the food, the sides are perfectly acceptable.  The slaw relies on vinegar and pepper for its flavor – it’s not the best but it complements the flavor of the meat and sauce quite well.  The baked beans are excellent and loaded with shreds of what must be the burnt ends left over from chopping the meat. 

And if you want a second opinion of how good the food is here, just ask the Young Curmudgeon. 

Or, our empty plates can tell you, too.     

By the way, I found the prices at Abe’s last summer still quite affordable, especially when compared to a lot of other well-known barbecue joints that seem to be letting their fame dictate their price.  You definitely won’t leave here feeling cheated. 

If you love barbecue, or if you love the blues, you've probably already been here.  And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?  Put this on your “must do” list if you’re ever in the Clarksdale, Miss., area.  

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