Back in the day, myriad roadside stands and other vendors dotted the highways and byways of Florida, selling everything from boiled peanuts and barbecue to smoked mullet.
If you hanker for a peek at the past, you can find it at Bean’s Pillar of Smoke BBQ just south of Crystal River on U.S. 19, where the proprietors are making what’s old new again.
Owners Arnette and Keith Garrison offer a true taste of slow-smoked barbecue meats, poultry and sides and soon will introduce smoked mullet for those passionate about the Florida signature fish.
Arnette was born in Bronson in Levy County and later lived in Jacksonville. She held a variety of jobs including food service director for a retirement community. Keith is a St. Louis, Missouri, native and worked in state forestry among other occupations.
Arnette said she fondly recalls smoked mullet stands and will use her own “old-fashioned recipe for mullet spread” when the specialty is offered this fall.
“We will have a smoker dedicated only to seafood,” she said, and the mullet will be sourced from fishermen in the Cedar Key area. “I’m excited because I just love smoked mullet.”
The Garrisons said they keep busy year-round and expect an uptick in business over the coming long Labor Day weekend.
Chopped brisket is now on the menu at Bean’s, along with whole and half slabs of ribs, pulled and chopped pork, rib ends, chicken by the whole or half size, smoked sausage and sandwiches from all of the these.
Especially popular at the eatery are the collard greens. Former employee Donna Travis, nicknamed “The Collards Queen,” retired recently, but her recipe stayed with the stand.
Keith handles most of the smoking and Arnette is in charge of the sides, including potato salad, macaroni and cheese, green beans with pork, coleslaw and barbecue beans, all made fresh daily.
New to the crew is grandson Christian Garrison, 16, all-around helper at the site.
Arnette said the beans, dubbed “Disciple Beans” are one of the sides most in demand and always sell out daily.
It must be noted that you should not ask for Mr. or Mrs. Bean when you visit Bean’s Pillar of Smoke BBQ. There is no one there by that name.
“We named it Bean’s because Big John (former owner, the late John Barrow), always called me ‘bean head’ after I gave him the recipe for the smoky barbecue beans that always sell out,” Arnette said.
“We call them Disciple Beans because folks can’t help walking around talking about them. I first met John while doing Bible study one day and I knew I had to share the recipe with him,” she said.
The pillars of smoke rising from the smokers waft the scent of barbecue over the spacious field where Bean’s is located along U.S. 19, luring locals and tourists to the site.
You can carry out the food or settle down at the umbrella-shaded picnic tables to dive into the delicious Dixie-style food.
Dining either at or away from Bean’s is a pleasant experience in Southern hospitality and don’t be surprised if you receive a “God bless” before you leave the premises.
“We don’t claim to be competitive barbecue people, or try to imitate (regional) barbecue styles, we just want to offer good food to good people,” Arnette emphasized.
And they are very, very good at what they do.
The aroma of barbecue punctuates the air even before you leave your vehicle and it’s hard to wait for the large, meaty, dry-rub ribs, pulled pork and brisket served with a choice of honey, mustard/vinegar and Cajun-style sauces.
The half slab of ribs is $12 and easily enough for a hearty meal or two, and a full slab is $22.
There is also pulled and slow-cooked pulled pork, a half pound for $7.50 and one pound for $13. Brisket is a half pound for $8.50 and full pound for $16. A half chicken is $7.50 and a whole bird is $13.
Special orders include dinner combos from $10 to $14; family orders from $22 to $31; a meal for four for $19 and an “Everything Platter” with a full sampling for $41. A $62 Bean’s Party Pack serves eight to 10 folks.
Soft drinks, lemonade, freshly brewed ice tea and bottled water complete the menu, and for free you will always get smiles and friendly service.
Bean’s Pillar of Smoke BBQ is open Thursday through Saturday on U.S. 19 south of Crystal River between Love Honda and Love Motorsports. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. or until sold out.
To order ahead of arrival or to reserve your favorites, call 352-277-2677 (all prices include tax). Cash and major credit cards are accepted.