Tiny Bar-B-Q restaurant wins big food award

(CBS News) The James Beard Awards, considered the "Oscars of Food," recognize top chefs from New York to San Francisco. Monday night in New York, an award in its "American Classics" category went to a tiny, two-table restaurant. Now, Marianna, Ark., a community of 4,100 people scraping by in the Arkansas Delta, is home to what may be America's best barbecue - the Jones Bar-B-Q Diner.

James Jones, both owner and pitmaster, is a one-man whirlwind in the restaurant. It restaurant dates back to at least 1910. It may be the oldest black family-owned restaurant in the South.

Jones opens at 6 a.m., six days a week, and closes when he runs out. The 67-year-old sleeps upstairs. Betty Jones is his wife of 40 years. "This is his second wife," she said of the restaurant. "I had to get used to it."

Out back, a man named Sylvester runs the smoke house. Oak and hickory logs burn 24/7. Pork shoulders smoke in a cinder block barbecue pit for 12 hours.

"The key to the whole deal is the smell," said Mark Smith, who has eaten at the restaurant for 40 years. "When you make the turn coming here, you can smell the aroma."

Smith, a local insurance agent, showed CBS News the ropes at the restaurant - a task that wasn't hard. The restaurant serves pork sandwiches, drenched in a vinegary barbecue sauce, are topped with home-made cole slaw, and served on wonder bread. The sandwiches are $3.00 each and the barbecue is $6 a pound. The barbecue is the only thing on the menu.

"Oh, it's good. It's just the best meal we have here," Smith said. "Food pulls people together. You share a meal together with friends. No matter white, black, yellow, green, any age, everybody loves barbecue here. In the South that's part of what we do and eat. And this is as good as it gets. It's better than any other barbecue I have ever had."

Jones follows the same family recipes as his grandfather, who sold meat from a washtub back when locals called the restaurant "The Hole in the Ground." The recipe for his sauce and his slaw are top secret. Jones' wife doesn't even know it. "You give that up," James Jones said, "you out of business."

Then one day they got a phone call - something about an award. It was the first time James and Betty Jones had heard of the James Beard Award. The couple was told that they should sit down for a talk. "My heart started going 100 miles per hour," Betty Jones said.

They know what the Beard Award means now. 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.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.

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