Bill's Smokin' ‘Que co-owner Tonya Quinn sits at a table, face in her hands, laughing. Five years ago to the day she and her husband Bill Quinn opened the intown restaurant, and a customer took it upon herself to wish her happy anniversary --- in song. A young girl in a leotard and tap shoes joins in the fun, and patrons holding strong at tables here and there, despite the odd late lunch hour, are completely unfazed. That's just the sort of place it is.
Bill's began as a matter of destiny, folks wiser than their years say, since Bill's initials spell out BBQ.
Billy Bruce Quinn kick-started his obsession 13 years ago, a combination of home experimentation, family recipes, and a long tenure at a barbeque restaurant in Griffin all came together to put the plan in motion.
I've eaten at Bill's so many times in the last five years they know when I'm going to eat there and what I'm going to eat before I do. Calling this anything other than magic would be cruel.
I've eaten my share of barbeque. Relatives all over the southeast have helped me belly up to dive and chain restaurant tables alike. I've eaten their pork, beef, chicken, and turkey. I've gorged on their baby-back, spare, and short ribs. I've even sampled folksy oddities here and there --- pig ear sandwiches, stewed and sauced pig and ox tails.
Some of these meals were great, some good, some memorable, and some were plain awful. Bill's barbeque is as good and, in most cases, better than anything I've had anywhere else. Bill sheepishly speaks of his barbeque as "world class," and I prefer not to argue with him.
My favorite ways to enjoy Bill's barbeque are either with a "sloppy ‘que" sandwich, or rib plate. The "sloppy ‘que" takes a basic pork sandwich and slops on a heap of coleslaw. You can order a regular sized "sloppy ‘que," but you'll only want more once it's gone. Go for a large, and order it on Texas toast. Thank me later.
Bill's ribs are a perfection of smoke and spice, with the sort of fall-off-the-bone tenderness most can rarely fulfill. Their sauce is great, but they're good without it, which is always the tried-and-true measure of excellent barbeque.
Instead of expanding the restaurant, Bill expanded the menu. Two notable items are the Bill's Big Burger and fried catfish.
The burger is a half-pound of beef served on a toasted egg bun, along with the usual trimmings: Lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle. If you haven't eaten in a week, feel free to add cheese and bacon. The big burger is a two-handed, oozing, dripping affair I've ended up wearing for the remainder of the day every time I've had one.
Catfish comes to the menu once the clock strikes four p.m. It's golden fried, crunchy on the outside, succulent on the inside. Add coleslaw, fries, and hush puppies and you've got a great meal. Bill fries whole fillets, which lends it a rustic, home-made quality.
Expanding menus tend to frighten me. I worry restaurants begin to lose their focus from what made them worth coming to as soon as their owners get bored and start adding items that have nothing to do with their original vision. But not only do all of Bill's additions make sense, they also are extremely well executed, and taste pretty darn great, too.
The verdict? Bill's has successfully widened its appeal. It's barbeque is still "world class," the staff is quick, fun, and professional, and you may even get serenaded while you eat.
Bill's Smokin' 'Que is located at 215 South Mulberry Street in downtown Jackson, and is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Visa and Mastercard are accepted. For more information, call 770-775-1950.
[Eating Around is an occasional restaurant review feature focusing on local eateries.]