Mississippi Barbecue Shack
Originally published in NY Press in 1993
172-14 Baisley Blvd
There's a deserted stretch of road in south Jamaica, undistinguished except for the presence of a ramshackle little hut, a true honest-to-goodness southern barbecue place, steam wafting from inside, clouds of smoke billowing from the meat cooking outside by the door. The handpainted shingle reads "Mississippi Barbecue". You've just died and gone to heaven. You are about to experience the real thing, and Jamaica is a whole lot closer to home than Mississippi.
They're open Thursday through Saturday, 6:30p.m.-11p.m. and they serve only takeout (it makes for great car chow, anyway). Bulletproof glass separates you from physical contact with anything but a thin mean strip of linoleum. It doesn't matter. The folks here can touch you intimately in all sorts of ways with the sheer depth of their cooking.
Let's dig right into the ribs. Big and brown and falling off the bone, these aren't merely the best ribs in town. These are far better than you've ever imagined ribs could be. You take a bite into the crusty juicy things expecting mere greatness, and you're blown away by a huge, masterfully complex smokey crunchy taste volcano. Eyes roll back in sockets, head tilts skyward and all of space and time converge on the interface of mouth and rib. You mumble giddily, incoherently, trying to come up with adjectives, but it's inexpressible and you drift back once again into silent ecstatic reverie. Omigod, omigod. These ribs are...words fail.
String beans, macaroni and cheese and yams are all absolutely top-notch. Man, EVERYTHING is totally great. Corn muffins taste like they were just baked by your grandma in Alabama. Chicken is the stuff of genius, cooked lovingly, evenly, to just the right point, skin as evenly brown and unblemished as a fine Cuban cigar. Complete dinners--meat and two side dishes and a muffin--run about six bucks.
Some things rate just an A-minus. For example, their chopped barbecue isn't as good as the Skylark's. The meat itself is very tasty--at least as good as Singletons--but the sauce doesn't quite meld. Collards, though perfect, would be better if served in their own container, so that they could be doused with more of their tasty, healthy juice ("pot likker"). The peach cobbler was merely delicious.
No flaws at all were found in the banana pudding. It's pretty hard to dislike banana pudding even when poorly-made; how can you go wrong with chunks of bananas, yellow pudding, broken-up soggy Nilla Wafers and meringue topping all stirred together? This place makes a far, far better (and denser-- a small container weighs about a pound) version than you'll ever find anywhere else. The bananas are at exactly the optimal point of slight overripeness; waiting even a single day more would have put them past the point of perfection. The subtle hand that blends the ingredients achieves a balance of dazzling, profound heights. It can't be analyzed, it can't be described; all one can do is to swoon back in one's chair and be overwhelmed.
Look, I know the place is far away, and there's no subway nearby. But if you do make the pilgrimage, it's a sure bet that at meal's end you'll find yourself eagerly planning your next trip back--tomorrow, perhaps? Here are some transportation suggestions: you could take the E train to the last stop and then the #85 bus to Baisley and 172 Street. Or a Carey bus from midtown to nearby JFK and then a taxi. Rent a car. Beg a friend with wheels. Do SOMETHING for crying out loud, and just get there. If you procrastinate, one day you'll wake up and the mirage will have disappeared; there will be no more Mississippi Barbecue and you'll curse yourself for never having gone, for never having paid homage to the only truly great southern road house food this side of Chapel Hill.
See this Slog posting for an anecdote about this place.