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Baby J's Barbecue: Your Next Excuse for a Really Looooong Lunch Break

So, did you say you were planning a trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras? And wanted to take back roads? Figured. It can be a really beautiful drive. Weaving in and out of the tall pine trees on nearly desolate soft rolling two-lane highways. Ahh ... take a deep breath.

And good news: I found a great barbecue stop along the way. Go east on I-20/I-30 and pick up 175 South, then work your way southeast to Palestine, where you'll find Baby J's Bar-B-Que just off of Hwy 287.

It sits alone on the outskirts of Palestine, with icicle Christmas lights still hanging from the front deck. Maybe they're permanent decorations. A little pizzazz. Next to the restaurant are two large smokers that even if you weren't looking for barbeque might cause you to tap your brakes as you speed past.

Jeremiah McKenzie is the baby of eight children, hence Baby J. He's run this family restaurant for just over four years and has already, unbeknownst to me until I stopped in, made "best of" lists around the state.

In addition to barbecue staples like ribs, brisket and sausage, as well as sides like beans and potato salad, they also serve fish, fried okra and turnip greens. Barbecue with a side of soul food.

The pace inside isn't hurried. A sweet little lady takes orders, runs plates to tables and continuously checks on diners.

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Baby J said his secret to good barbecue is "time" -- said loudly, emphatically and stretched out over two, maybe three syllables. He learned to cook from his dad and brother-in-law: "I just figured it might come in handy one day."

My sliced brisket sandwich (in photo above) was tender and juicy, with a great balance between heat and sweet.

My plan was to eat while driving -- not recommended. You need both hands. The small pool of grease mixed with a little sauce that gathered at the bottom of the white paper cradling it might have been a minus for some, but the fat wasn't overwhelming and, well, it just is what is: great, sloppy finger-lickin'-good grub.

Take note: They're closed on Sundays and Mondays.

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