Jones’ Bar-B-Q Diner – An American Classic in Marianna Arkansas

The exterior of Jones BBQ in Marianna Arkansas - a James Beard American ClassicUPDATE:  Jones Bar-B-Q was badly damaged by fire in March 2021, Plans are to rebuilding, but the restaurant is temporarily closed.

When it comes to good barbecue, appearances make a difference. The grungier, the more ramshackle the building, the more remote the destination – the better the barbecue. Those are just the rules.

I knew we had hit pay dirt when we rumbled down a side street in Marianna Arkansas looking for the man locals affectionately call Mr. Harold. Now I loved Mr. Harold right away because the day we met, he was wearing a St. Louis Cardinals shirt.

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Pulled Pork and Cole Slaw – That’s All

A pulled pork sandwich at Jones BBQ in Marianna ArkansasI freaked a bit as we pulled into the pitted-out parking lot. It was only 11:15 a.m. and the CLOSED sign was already tucked in the window. We had been told that Mr. Harold often sells out by 10 a.m. He opens at 7, usually with a line out the door.

But we had called ahead and Mr. Harold had saved just enough of his famous pulled pork for two sandwiches. Of course, there was no need for him to ask us what we wanted for lunch. He ONLY serves pulled pork sandwiches. Your only choice is cole slaw on the sandwich or not.

Two slices of white bread, a bit of sauce and that’s lunch — for the crazy price of $3.50. It’s been just $3.50 forever.

Lunch at Jones BBQ in Marianna Arkansas

The hole in the wall where Mr. Harold serves his pulled pork BBQ sandwiches in Marianna ArkansasThe “decor” is just perfect for a barbecue joint. Two tables with mismatched chairs, oiled table coverings and a refrigerator to keep soft drinks cold. Just reach in a grab one yourself.

Some faded newspaper articles about Mr. Harold’s favorite sports teams hang lopsided from thumb tacks on the wall, along with the requisite health department inspections and business license.

There’s a little hole in the gray cinder block wall where Mr. Harold passes your sandwich wrapped in aluminum foil. That’s it, except for the noisy window air conditioner to keep the Arkansas summer at bay.

Somebody in Mr. Harold’s family has been smoking pork butt in these parts for nearly 150 years, he says, although there is documentation only back to 1910. Things had been moving along pretty well until 2012, a group of serious looking folks came in asking questions.

James Beard Foundation American Classic

Mr. Harold Jones at his BBQ joint in Marianna Arkansas.A few months later he gets a phone call, something about a guy named James Beard, something about an American Classic. Mr. Harold had never heard of the James Beard Foundation and its coveted seal of approval for restaurants and chefs throughout North America.

But he bought himself a suit, a new dress for his wife Betty, and the community pitched in to buy airline tickets to New York. The locals say that as he walked across the stage to accept his award was the first time anyone can remember seeing Mr. Harold without a baseball cap on his head.

Mr. Harold returned to Marianna, hung his James Beard “American Classic” award on an empty nail on the wall and went back to smoking pork butt.

Now that’s classic.

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