Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Abe's Bar-B-Q in Clarksdale, MS

After finishing the judging school, I headed south to Clarksdale, MS, home of the Delta Blues and Abe’s Bar-B-Q.

I had wanted to do a Delta Blues tour as part of my 3 week barbecue excursion, but Hurricane Ike pushed my travels farther north and the trip was postponed until now. In researching the Delta, I kept coming across a place called Abe’s Bar-B-Q. It got rave reviews time and again, so I was really looking forward to this little stop.

I pulled into town and drove straight up to the restaurant. From the outside, Abe’s has absolutely everything a legendary barbecue place should have, and then some.

History- Check. Abe’s has been open since 1924

Cool location- Check. Abe’s has character inside and out

Loyal following- Check. People love this place

Cool story- Check and check mate. Abe’s sits at the crossroads of highways 61 and 49, which is the famous intersection where blues legend Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil in order to play the blues. It simply doesn’t get much cooler than that.

I walked into the front door of Abe’s and happily took a seat at a booth. Articles from magazines and newspapers featuring Abe’s covered the walls. One in particular caught my attention, as it explained that the sauce was so good that then Governor Bilbo named it “comeback sauce” because he always kept coming back for it.

After the waitress brought me sweet tea and took my order for a rib plate, I decided to walk around the place and look at the articles and pictures on the wall. I could not have been more excited to eat. There was blues music playing in the background. Smoke from the pit lingered faintly in the air. I almost needed a drool bib.

And then I heard it. The unmistakable, unforgiveable sound of a microwave door opening in a barbecue restaurant. My head snapped towards the counter just in time to see the door close back.

A few seconds later, the waitress brought over my food and confirmed my worst barbecue fear. When I went to try the ribs, my fingers were met with the scalding heat that can only come from something that’s been nuked.

Microwaved. Are you kidding me? Why in the world would you spend hours smoking something only to ruin it by heating it up in the antithesis of a slow cooker? You might as well put a frickin’ McRib on my plate.

The ribs were so bad that I had couldn’t finish them. Not only were they rubbery, but they didn’t taste smokey at all. If I didn’t know better, I would say they were par-boiled as well.

I wanted to give Abe’s the benefit of the doubt, so I ordered a pork sandwich, praying to God that it didn’t get warmed up in the microwave as well. Fortunately I watched them prepare it by putting the meat on the flat grill as they toasted the bun. Not a slow heat, but better than a microwave. The sandwich came with slaw and their famous Comeback sauce.

I really wish I could say that I enjoyed the sandwich, but the meat really didn’t have much flavor on its own. The Comeback sauce tasted almost exactly like Arby’s sauce, which isn’t a bad thing...it’s just not really what most people think of for a barbecue sauce. When you put everything together, the slaw, sauce and pork actually had a pretty good flavor...just not what I’d consider a traditional barbecue flavor.

Now I will be the first to say that regional differences account for a lot of the intrigue and passion behind barbecue, and that it’s unfair to make blanket generalizations about a place based on one meal. Everybody has a bad day, and maybe I caught them on one. I’m sure the Clarksdale’s residents and Abe’s loyalists would shout from their rooftops in defense of Abe’s. After all, it’s been around since 1924, so they’re obviously doing something right.

But there’s no excuse for microwaving barbecue. Ever. Even at home. That’s just plain silly.


  1. Agreed... I spend alot of time visiting Clarksdale... but until last week... Had never taken the time to visit Abes... So after a hard night of listening to the blues... we figured we would do lunch there... the place was packed... It was a "all school.. high school reunion" this big weekend...
    My friend and i took up a 6 chaired table since we had friends arriving soon... it was later more than sooner .. so we ordered...
    Pork BarBQ plate... the meat was tasteless.. I make better.. and it sure didnt seem slow cooked... the Beans were really great though.. and I was hungry... I dont understand why the place is on the history channel.. Sorry... No wonder my friends hadnt insisted that we eat there before... it wasnt bad... Just not GREAT.

  2. Sorry ... I meant the Food network.. i think that blonde guy that does the Diners show did a spot on it...

  3. Another case of a place that is famous for something it doesn't do well anymore. We had the microwaved ribs there too a few years ago. waht a disappointment.