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Friday, January 31, 2014

These little piggies went to Mark's Feed Store in Louisville, Ky.

Mark's Shelbyville Road location

Thomas Wolfe in 1940 famously wrote that “you can’t go home again.” For many years, Louisville, Ky., had been a familiar place for our family.

As Louisville native Hunter S. Thompson once duly noted, this city is known as “The Gateway to the South.” For many years, Louisville also has been the gateway to good barbecue.

A recent trip to visit old haunts there produced mixed results for us from a dining standpoint. Thankfully, one of our favorite barbecue restaurants – Mark’s Feed Store – remains one of its best.

In 1988, Mark Erwin opened his first location on Shelbyville Road in Middletown, in a former livestock feed store. Today, signs advertising sheep dip and other products still adorn the walls. Over the years, we’ve also eaten at its locations on Bardstown Road and across the Ohio River in New Albany, Ind.

Ribs, potato and fried corn on the cob
One thing that sets Mark’s apart is its array of its own sauces, which today include its original sauce, its “red” sauce and a hot version. According to a 1995 Louisville magazine article, Erwin knew that before he could open his joint that he needed his own signature sauces. The original sauce is a tangy mixture of red tomatoes, black pepper and yellow turmeric.

But no good sauce can ever rescue overcooked or poor cuts of meat. On its menu, Mark’s claims that it uses the finest USDA meats, which it smokes over hickory wood for about half a day. Their style of cooking reportedly was handed down from a third generation barbecue master from Eastern Kentucky.

We agree with Louisville magazine’s discerning readers, who have voted Mark’s as the “Best of Louisville” nearly 10 times. We’ve never had a bad meal here and hopefully never will.

When we arrived at about 6 p.m. on a Saturday night, there was a crowd waiting for tables, but the actual wait was under 20 minutes.

Our server quickly took our drink orders and offered her preferences about sides. The potato salad, she said, would be the best we’ll ever have in a restaurant. My wife, a critic of both cole slaws and potato salad, didn’t disagree.

Another thing that sets Mark’s apart is another signature side, its sweet “fried” corn on the cob. Erwin is said to have came across fried corn at small barbecue shacks away from the city. Ears of corn are dropped into a deep fryer for about three and a half minutes and then delivered hot to the table.

It’s that simple – and delicious. According to a 2002 article in Saveur magazine, Erwin only buys a certain variety of corn and he didn’t divulge the details.

The rack of baby back ribs we shared was equality succulent – and properly sauced.

For those who don’t want ribs, chicken or even beef, Mark’s also serves Honeywings and some great desserts.

Apparently Erwin and his employees aren’t content to rest on their laurels. Our waitress assumed that this was our first trip and asked us to fill out a questionnaire (as she did at the table next to us), in return for a free piece of buttermilk pie and a bottle of sauce to take home.

Hopefully, this article provides an even better evaluation. As a favorite professor of mine often said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Location we visited:
11422 Shelbyville Road
Louisville, KY

Mark's Feed Store on Urbanspoon

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