Tasty Thursday: Jones Barbecue Diner in Marianna

If you’re not hungry, surely you will be before you finish reading today’s blog. My friends are tired of me talking about barbecue…but I don’t care! I’ll find new friends!

In March, Jones Barbecue Diner in my hometown of Marianna was bestowed with quite an honor…the restaurant was named an America’s Classic by the James Beard Foundation. The organization defines America’s Classics as “restaurants with timeless appeal and that are beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.” It was one of five restaurants throughout America to receive the honor this year. To be chosen and designated as an America’s Classic, the restaurant must be locally owned and in existence for at least 10 years. Jones Barbecue Diner is Arkansas’s first restaurant to receive the prestigious designation.

Jones Barbecue has been a part of the food culture in the Arkansas Delta for more than a century. The Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization “dedicated to the documentation and celebration of the diverse food cultures of the American South,” believes Jones Barbecue to be the oldest African-American owned restaurants in the South and possibly the nation. James Harold Jones, the current owner and pitmaster, says it started with his grandfather’s Uncle Joe. His grandfather and father followed Uncle Joe into the smoking business, selling barbecue out of their homes. It was Jones’s father Hubert that started the diner in 1964. Jones started working in the restaurant when he was 14. He told me the only time his father would let him skip school “was when I was working in the diner.”

At Jones Barbecue Diner, the menu is simple and straightforward. You can get sandwiches, on white bread, with or without the homemade slaw or you can buy the meat by the pound. That’s pretty much it. You can buy a cold canned drink and a bag of chips to complete your meal, but you won’t find beans or fries or any other food. It’s usually a one-man operation at the diner, and Jones said it’s best to just keep it simple.

At the diner, it’s all about barbecue. The barbecue, the slaw or the sauce has not changed in over a century…the preparation and the recipes remain the same. The popular barbecue joint is located at 219 W. Louisiana St., off Ark. 1B in Marianna. The diner is normally open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. until about 2 p.m. The hours vary, especially when Jones sells all the barbecue he has on hand. Since the news broke about the restaurant receiving the James Beard Foundation designation, barbecue lovers from throughout the South have been showing up in Marianna.

If you want to try the award-winning barbecue, come early! It’s best to call and check before traveling to visit. The telephone number is 870-295-3807. But as a life-long Jones barbecue eater, I can tell you, it’s worth the trip!

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