Every Wednesday and Saturday, the Brooks’ Place BBQ parking is packed with people with a penchant for wood-cooked swine.
“We cook only the porkiest pigs with wood that’s been marinated with our secret family barbecue sauce,” said owner/operator Albert Brooks. “Even the ashes taste good.”
A fixture in Greene County since 1978, Brooks’ Place has earned a reputation as one of the top barbecue restaurants in the United States. Hundreds of dignitaries, entertainers and professional athletes have dined on the wooden picnic tables in the Brook’s Place dining room over the years.
“Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. came in here a few years ago,” said Brooks’ Place Table Maintenance Administrator Max Gail. “I wasn’t a fan of either of them politically, but they were decent tippers. Bush kept talking about the time his son tried to barbecue a pop tart; Clinton just kept asking all the waitresses if they were familiar with the erotic properties of coleslaw.”
Brooks says their famous customers are great for business, but the restaurant’s success comes down to the loyalty of their regular customers.
“We have the best customers in the world,” Brooks said. “Back in ‘82 when things got tight and we had to switch from pig to yak for a few months, our regulars kept us going. The steam of celebrities dried up during that time, but you couldn’t keep our regulars away.”
The most celebrated Brooks’ Place regular — Danny Arnold — passed away in 2013 at the age of 92.
“Danny would’ve eaten a hammer if you dipped it in Brooks’ barbecue sauce,” Gail said. “He ate breakfast and lunch here every day for nearly 30 years. After a while the barbecue got so good to him he started ordering it for breakfast. We tried to steer him into more traditional breakfast fare such as grits or brains and eggs, but he wanted ribs. Since he was such a good customer, Albert started setting a little bit of barbecue aside for him every Wednesday and Saturday. After a while we figured out how to stretch out through the week.”
When Danny Arnold passed away, Brooks’ Place served ribs for breakfast all week in his honor.
“It took a while to get used to not seeing Danny sitting at his favorite table, stirring his coffee with a rib,” Brooks said. “By the time we all got used to the idea of him not being here, strange things started happening.”
Brooks stressed that he’s never believed in the paranormal.
“I’ve never paid any attention to this talk of boogers, haints and woogie-boogies,” Brooks said. “But I’ve seen some stuff over the last few months that cannot be explained. I haven’t had a drink since I woke up on a tractor in the middle of Times Square in 1980, and I stopped freebasing peanut butter a year after that. What I saw was as real as the Donna Fargo tattoo on my mama’s shoulder.”
Brooks says on more than one occasion, what he describes as a “ghostly presence” has intervened while his famous sauce is being made.
“Last November I was alone in the kitchen mixing up the sauce, and just as I’m putting the lid on the pot, the white pepper slid across the table into my hand,” Brooks said. “I thought maybe the table was uneven so I put the pepper back, but then the lid flew off the pot and the pepper lifted off the table and started shaking over the sauce pot as if someone was trying to tell me it needed more pepper — which is something Danny said to me nearly every day for 30 years.”
According to Gail, this type of activity is now a weekly occurrence.
“If somebody comes in and doesn’t take their hat off to eat there’s a good chance they’ll leave with the imprint of a napkin holder on their fard,” Gail said. “Danny couldn’t stand it when somebody kept their hat on to eat. I truly believe he’s poppin’ people in the gourd from beyond the grave.”
Although the ghostly activities were initially met with trepidation and ruined work pants, Brooks says his staff and customers have grown to enjoy their periodic visits from Danny Arnold’s ghost.
“It’s good to know Danny’s spirit is still here,” said longtime Brooks’ Place waitress Lois Mulholland. “Maybe some time up there with the big guy will make him a better tipper.”
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