Dr. Boozman's Check-up

“James Jones got the award in ‘America's Classics’ category Monday night in New York, after their first trip ever on a plane, and his first vacation since graduating high school in 1963. He was recognized as one of America's top chefs for making one distinctly American dish, and making it perfectly.”

That is how CBS News concludes their story on the honor bestowed on a tiny, two-table restaurant in Marianna, Arkansas.   On Monday night James Jones, proprietor of the Jones Bar-B-Q, was in New York City to receive an "American Classics" award from the James Beard Foundation.  The Foundation’s honors have become known as the "Oscars of Food."

To coincide with awards ceremony, I inserted the following statement into yesterday’s volume of the Congressional Record:

Mr. BOOZMAN: Mr. President, I rise today to recognize the owners of one of the oldest African-American-owned restaurants in America—the Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna, Arkansas—which has been honored by the James Beard Foundation Awards.  

The Foundation recognized Jones Bar-B-Q as one of five restaurants from across the country in the “America’s Classics” category at the 2012 annual awards ceremony taking place today at the Lincoln Center in New York City.    

Foodies will tell you this honor is a big one.  Arkansas writer Rex Nelson calls the Beard award the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Certainly high praise for a small operation that began on a back porch, but this is no ordinary run-of-the-mill barbecue.     

This honor is a long time in the making.  Jones Bar-B-Q Diner has been in operation, in some form, since at least the 1910’s.  Walter Jones—the founder and first pitmaster—lived in a bare wood dogtrot house and first served barbecue from the screened-in back porch on Fridays and Saturdays.  The family recalls that original cooking setup as a “hole in the ground, some iron pipes, a piece of fence wire and two pieces of tin.” 

Eventually, Walter moved from selling the meat on the back porch to a small place in town called the “Hole in the Wall.” It was literally a window in a wall from which he would sell meat from a washtub.  The modern incarnation, the Jones Bar-B-Q Diner, opened in 1964.

The business today remains true to its small town, family roots.  Hubert Jones, Walter’s son, is the present day proprietor and his son, James, tends the pits.  The pork shoulder is still smoked with a simple set-up over the pit.  They still serve a very limited menu that centers around smoked pork, hacked into bits, and served on white bread with the Jones’ vinegary sauce.        

The James Beard Foundation—which is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to celebrating, preserving, and nurturing America’s culinary heritage—only awards its “America Classics” distinction to restaurants with “timeless appeal…that are beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.” 

To qualify for the “America’s Classics” award, establishments must have been in existence at ten years and they must be locally owned.  The honorees are selected each year by the James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant Committee, which is comprised of 17 people throughout the country, many of whom are notable food critics and culinary writers.  The Foundation is acutely aware of how special Jones Bar-B-Q Diner is to Marianna, the state of Arkansas and southern cuisine.  

I’ll leave you with one piece of advice.  If you want some of Jones’ famous smoke pork, it’s best to arrive early.  The diner usually opens around 7:30 am Monday through Saturday, and then closes by early afternoons when all the meat runs out.  So get there early, bring your appetite and be sure to congratulate the Jones family for being recognized by the James Beard Foundation.  Their restaurant is definitely an integral part of the community and of Arkansas’s culture.  I am proud of Jones family’s contribution to the Natural State’s heritage and commend them for receiving this honor.  The Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna truly is an American Classic.