Lonnie Ray’s BBQ

Lonnie Ray’s is a lot like Sutton’s in Columbia, just with an all-white clientele in place of the all-black crowd. A sociology grad student could delve into the deeper meaning of this, examining contemporary race relations through the prism of two fabulous bbq joints. But I am not that person. I’m just here for the ‘cue.

Inside Lonnie Ray’s, chrome-sided tables and blue chairs look freshly plucked from a 50s diner. Old photos on the wall tell a history of Harrisburg (pop. 184). And, just like at Sutton’s, a tv in the corner carries Paul Pepper’s creepy, geriatric show. Every adult in the place had an “I voted” sticker on their chest and the crowd is (elitist alert) surprisingly cosmopolitan; one brave guy is in shirt and tie and there’s only one trucker hat is in sight. A man in the kitchen seems to know everyone in the place and yells goodbyes to departing customers.

I sat down and ordered the combo plate, which comes with ribs, pulled pork and brisket as well as three sides (coleslaw, “charro’s” and green beans in my case…no tamales today). All are excellent, with the brisket being my personal favorite. After eating, the owner tells me his Texas-style rub pleased a Lone Star native just last week. I believe it. It’s a perfect balance of fat and dry with a good bark and remarkable smoke ring. Maybe the best brisket I’ve ever had. Flavorful rib meat falls off the bones and the pulled pork is tender and lightly smoky. It’s all fantastic. Charro’s – Lonnie Ray’s spicy side of beans – is fiery hot and great. Coleslaw and green beans are fine. Their signature sauce is served on the side and is different than any other I’ve had. It’s thick and rich and has something in it I couldn’t quite place. I guessed chocolate and the server laughed and shook his head. They aren’t talking.

The owner, Mike, is talking, however. A natural salesman with a buzz cut and a thick build (really, would you trust the barbeque of a skinny guy?), Mike tells me after I eat (and in less than three minutes):

  • He buys his meats at Sam’s
  • Gas prices are a pain
  • They sponsor a car show across the street every third Saturday from 11-3
  • By-the-pound prices for take-out meat (with tax)
  • They’ve been open a little over five years
  • He’s going to have a booth at the Roots ‘n Blues ‘n BBQ festival (but isn’t competing)
  • He burned a lot of brisket before finally “getting it right”
  • They cater
  • There’s a $30 delivery charge for catering (see “gas prices,” “pain”)
  • He hates it when he goes through all the work of making tamales and then no one orders them
  • He keeps a list of customer phone numbers on hand and calls them when he has tamales (scribbling my number on an order pad)

It was a dizzying, exhilarating conversation and the food – half of which now sits in the fridge – was outstanding. He is a passionate bbq-warrior and must be made to stay in business. On the whole, I rate Lonnie Ray’s just ahead of Sutton’s, primarily on speed and the (slightly) superior meats. Charro’s don’t hurt either. If they had collards/turnip greens in Harrisburg I’d really be in trouble.

So get thee to Harrisburg soon. Just don’t try it on Sunday or Monday.

Lonnie Ray’s Cafe
81 E. Sexton Street
Harrisburg, MO 65256
(573) 874-0020

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Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

8 thoughts

  1. Hi S,

    I just came across your blog today, and after reading your posts it seemed to me that you were a trustworthy source, so I also decided to head up to Lonnie Ray’s BBQ since I work in northern CoMo near Hwy 63, and it was just a short drive away.

    I have to say that you were right on. This is the best BBQ by far in mid-Mo–I’d say beating out Sutton’s hands down, and that says something.

    The charros, pulled pork, and ribs were really amazing, and that they make their own sauce is impressive too.

    Also of interest is that there is some special ingredient in the sauce that makes it slightly different than others that I’ve tasted. I thought it was chocolate–more like cocoa powder–but they denied it. Anyone have any other ideas?

    Anyway, the owner also promised to let me know when the tamales would be back “in stock,” and I’m looking forward to it!

    Best,

    Alan

  2. OK, I told you, I told you, I told you! Fabulously good, wasn’t it? We’ve been going to Lonnie Ray’s for about 3 years now, and I’m just afraid that the word is out and the place will be busting at the seams, but that’s all right because Mike and his compatriot deserve the business. I’m going to have to get my name on that tamale list, too! I could kick myself for not ordering one when they had them on the chalkboard once when I was there a few months ago. BTW, their sandwiches are killer, too! The Gee Willikers is fried bologna with an onion ring on top (don’t knock fried bologna unless you’ve had it – this is the thick-cut kind, probably from down the street at the market). The Brother Loves Brisket sandwich is recommended if you love their brisket (as I do), and their Fowl Mouth Philly is their version of a Philly sandwich, except made with chicken. Heck, even their hamburgers (called Harrisburgers!) are outstanding. Wow, my mouth is starting to water! And their charro beans are excellent, but of course, I love hot, spicy food! Lonnie Ray’s rocks!

    As far as the sociological experiment, I’ll say it’s because Harrisburg and those rural environs are primarily white residents, and the immediate neighborhood surrounding Sutton’s is primarily black. Unfortunately, the twain never meets sometimes….

  3. I work with alot of guys that love tameles. lonnie rays needs to put up a tamele shack so we can just go pick them up and go. There fowl mouth philly is awesome. I love there ribs also. and the charros are great. I think everything there is very delicious. I recommend going there. I went there yesterday and they told me that they were going to make more tameles tommorrow which is today. so i will go up there in the next couple days and get my tamele kick on. Let the Big Tameles ROLL!!!

  4. Glad you enjoyed it, Alan. It’s a real treat and not terribly far away. I hope more Columbians will make the trek, though according to Mike many already do.

    I also thought I tasted chocolate, but the waiter only smiled and said “there are lots of things in there.” I guess it’s a secret for now.

    And I’m eagerly awaiting the tamale call.

  5. Harrisburg loves Lonnie Ray’s and Lonnie Ray’s loves Harrisburg. I know this because it’s a fine friendly town …full of the small town characters that make America a great country. Throw that type of community a little hole in the wall BBQ restaraunt…and you have a match made in heaven. The Cue is outstanding…but don’t stop there…if yoou like steak…there steak sandwhich is to die for…as is the pork tenderloin…Now let’s talk bang for your buck. You’ll have leftovers to take home, folks… cause the price is right!!! And don’t forget…you can get ALL the barbq sandwhiches on a smaller scale for the kids….and don’t forget the fries!!! Yum. Guess I’ll go get my fill tomrrow…seems I’m getting hungry!!!

  6. Just went there today based on your recommendation. Ordered everything you did (combo plate w/ green beans, charros (HOT!), and cole slaw). Also got a slice of apple cinnamon pie (AWESOME).

    I lived in Texas for a few years and his brisket will give anybody’s a run for their money. My favorite was the ribs though. The ribs were good, nice flavor, and the sauce was very different–not sweet but had a little kick. My wife liked it a lot too. Good value for the money too. I will be back again…

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