It was always so mirage-like, it just had to vanish
one day. Ribs so good they'd draw serious respect
in...well, Mississippi; smoked in a ramshackle
no-running-water shack on an abandoned lot in South
Jamaica near JFK. Like a dream...a wonderful dream.
I'd been playing jazz nearby in Club Tamara. In that
nabe, there's always some elderly jazz fan in an
expensive hat at the bar who likes to hang with the
musicians--to tell them stories and buy them drinks.
The fellow that night was pretty well-lubricated and
his stories kept digressing and dissolving into dead
ends. But I politely listened as he told me about his
stateside assignment in World War II, and of the time
he once heard Roy Eldridge play. At one point he
mentioned a local rib place, but quickly changed the
subject. I could not get him to return to the topic,
and he was gulping cognac and growing increasingly
incoherent. Finally, before he passed out on the bar,
I looked at him beseechingly and asked, with the
greatest of urgency, where the rib place was. All he
could tell me was "look for the green light".
For hours the next afternoon I drove in expanding
circles from Club Tamara until I discovered the
Mississippi BBQ Shack. It was so unlikely, I'd never
have noticed the place, except it did indeed have a
green spotlight on the roof, next to a shingle painted
with the name. Smoke rose from the back yard and steam
wafted from beat-up plastic windows. Their ribs were
perfect. Angels sang while I blissfully imbibed them.
I was as happy as I'd ever been in my life. Even the
sides and banana pudding were revelatory.
I first wrote about the place in NY Press, one of my
first reviews. All the other media subsequently
covered it (Eric Asimov kindly credited me), and to
this day I'm most often remembered for this discovery.
The Shack's business skyrocketed, and soon it was a
two hour wait for takeout. Hungry 'cue pilrims queued
on the street, waiting their turn. Some had driven
from very very far away. None were disappointed. I
once spotted Robert Pearson from Pearson's BBQ (then
Stick To Your Ribs) darting in nervously.
They opened a second location--a charmless glaring
storefront with bulletproof glass, and opened the
shack only in good weather. Eventually the shack
closed (I know the story, but won't tell). The sides,
banana pudding, and chopped pork bbq had by then
declined, but the ribs stayed true. Then even they
grew slightly iffy.
Tonight, I drove by and there was a laundromat where
once had been the best ribs I've ever had north of the
Mason Dixon Line. The shack, last time I checked, had
been stripped of its shingle. The green light has been
gone for years..
From now on, when Southerners smirk and tell me that
this city has no serious barbecue, all I can do is
smile wanly and nod in agreement.