Big Anthony's BBQ
8151 E. 21st St.
Wed-Sat, 11:30am-8pm, Sun, 11am-5pm
Food **** Atmosphere *** Service *****
They say never trust a skinny chef, but Big Anthony Fobbs puts the lie to that statement. The former TU basketball star looks as thin as he did in his halcyon days, but that doesn't stop him from cooking some hellaciously good barbecue at Big Anthony's BBQ -- 8151 E. 21st St. When everything from the cornbread to barbecue sauce is homemade by Big Anthony and his wife, you know that the food is going to go down just right.
Well, let me tell you. The food was fantastic. Big Anthony has had some experience in cooking good barbecue. "We had a smokehouse all my life," he said, adding that the first one he used was an old refrigerator that his father and grandfather had refurbished for him. He was about 10 years old.
Now at 47, Big Anthony has been cooking barbecue for even longer than he's played basketball.
I initially ordered a brisket. Big Anthony's daughter -- an OSU junior who helps out on school breaks -- brought me my lunch in short order. It presented well -- it wasn't drowned in sauce. In fact, the sauce comes on the side. Big Anthony cooks the meat only with his special rub.
The meat was so tender I didn't need my knife. It fell so easily I almost couldn't use my fork. It's no wonder that Big Anthony has placed in several local competitions for his barbecue.
There were two sauces available. The mild sauce was sweet, just a little bit spicier than ketchup. I tend to like only a little barbecue sauce on my meat, but I went back for second helpings of this sauce.
The spicy sauce isn't that spicy. It's mild when it first enters your mouth and only becomes hot after you swallow. Big Anthony intends for it to be that way; he doesn't want his sauces to be a contest for how spicy you can make it.
"The body can't put down what it used to," he said, referring to his older customers who like spicy food but can't do super-hot sauce anymore. "I want to keep your system intact."
Big Anthony is especially proud of his ribs. "I'm confident to go up against anyone who pulls in my parking lot with a rig and beat 'em," he said. He has cause for that confidence.
He gave me a sample of ribs after I finished my brisket. I'm not a huge fan of ribs and this didn't alter my opinion entirely, but boy did I like the rub he put on it. (I also went back for more of the sweet barbecue sauce.)
I liked his cornbread, though my momma's cornbread has ruined me to anyone else's. But he said that he has won competitions for both his cornbread and his potato salad.
I went to Big Anthony's right as it opened on a Wednesday. No one was there except for me, Big Anthony, and his two kids. He has a part-time employee, but she only comes in when it's particularly busy. For the most part Big Anthony runs his own place.
I was glad that I went when I did because it meant that Anthony and I could get acquainted. Over the course of the next hour, Big Anthony and I talked like old friends. He told me about his business, his church, his friends, his kids, just about everything under the sun.
Divine Spices. Big Anthony Fobbs brings a spiritual mind to his barbecue business, and it shows in all of his cooking.
He was emphatic about the spiritual basis for his restaurant. "A lot of it I leave up to God ... I pray before I open and I pray before I close," he said.
"It's a high. It's like a drug for me," he said of making his customers happy. He said word of mouth has brought him customers from out-of-state. Hunters, for example, stop in for lunch on their way to rural Oklahoma then tell their friends to come by on their next hunting trip.
A fair amount of Big Anthony's business comes from catering. He said he's gotten calls from friends who were unhappy with barbecue they got from other places and try him instead. He said that when they eat his barbecue, "all that bitchin' and gripin' goes out the door."
He's open for any catering experience someone might need. "Schools, picnics, divorces, marriages," he said, laughing. "We want to meet you for that celebration."
Big Anthony's is simply decorated, mostly with TU memorabilia and pictures of his basketball glory days. The bathroom is meticulously clean.
It's also very informal. Plastic forks and knives are the rule here. It's a place to relax and enjoy your food.
Big Anthony's is a big-hearted establishment. "I deal with a lot of the homeless in this area," Big Anthony said. He said he frequently gives food away to homeless people who can't afford to pay. Sometimes, when he has extra food at the end of the day, he gives it to the residents of a nearby, low-income apartment complex. The only thing he asks is that people don't lie to him about their need. "Pay it forward, it comes back," he said.
Big Anthony's is definitely a place I will return to. Not only is the food good, but I bought it from a good man. Although it's only been open a year, I wish Big Anthony all the success in the world. As he put it, "Staying humble will steadily open doors."
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