Comfort Food

I only thought I’d had good barbecue until my freshman year of college. 

My friend Jimmy kept telling me we had to go eat at this hole-in-the-wall place he’d found in a not-so-great part of town.  A barbecue dump right across the street from St. Vincent de Paul’s thrift store. 

I’ll never forget the first time I ate at Harold’s barbecue.  Jimmy and I went in there after the lunch crowd had died down and we had the place all to ourselves.  That was before they expanded, so there was only a couple of picnic tables and a booth.    

We sat in the booth, right by the front window that hadn’t been washed in decades.  

Right under the swamp cooler. 

And before we could finish our sandwiches, Harold had brought out a plate of ribs for us to sample, on the house.  

I was hooked. 

Since that day I’ve stood in lines that stretched clear out the door and around the building to get a taste of what I experienced that first time.

While you’re in line you can look at pictures of customers at the Great Wall, in front of the Eiffel Tower, from all over the world, holding jars of Harold’s Barbecue Sauce.  Or you can watch whatever soap opera’s on the television during the noon hour. 

Since 1979 I’ve eaten some of my favorite meals in that place.  

Like the time Mike Lewis spilled a whole plate in his lap and proceeded to pick the meat up off the floor and eat it anyway. 

Or the time Harold came out in the dining room and sang “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.” 

I’ll be sad at the end of this month when Harold’s closes.  I’ll miss that taste.  I’ll miss chicken Fridays. 

This past weekend Harold’s catered a retreat we hosted and I got to share that taste with some of the dearest people I know.  

Brisket, beans, potato salad. 

Damn hot sauce that will set your mouth afire.  

Sweet tea and strawberry cobbler.

It’s funny how meals connect us with each other – how the taste of something can trigger memories – how relationships are fed over the simplest of meals.  

No wonder they call it comfort food.  

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21 Comments Add yours

  1. Matt says:

    He’s closing?!? I’m so saddened to see this.

    Mmmm, the hot water cornbread. Loved those!

    1. sallygary says:

      Alas, it’s true. Closed up. Gone. And I’m rationing the quart of sauce in my fridge….

  2. Alyssa says:

    The kids and I are coming home tomorrow. Must eat at Harold’s one last time. Thanks for letting me know!!!

    1. sallygary says:

      YAY! Have a great time – would love to see you!

  3. Kelvin says:

    I am really sad to hear about Harolds. I don’t think that I will be able to get out to Abilene before the end of the month, but I will hold dear the memories from there. I think you were the first person who ever took me there to eat and of course you had to share with me the story of the megaphone from the Trent Gorillas you once thought about buying at St. Vincent de Pauls. I remember when the hot-water cornbread was being made by Harold’s mother. She would reach down into the batter and squeeze it with her hand. Each piece of cornbread was shaped by the impression of the inside of the ridges of her fingers. Of course of the pictures on the wall, my favorite was the picture entitled “The Only White Guy whoever Worked Here.” The last time I ate there was when I brought Tomas there to see ACU and you took us there for lunch. Now he has graduated. I guess everybody has to move on in life and so does Harold.

    1. sallygary says:

      Sweet memories, aren’t they? I don’t think I ever knew that about the hot water cornbread – no wonder it tasted so good.

  4. incapearl says:

    I was thinking about this very thing Sunday morning…not BBQ, but about eating together and the Lord’s Supper. We talked a bit about communion in Bible class and I got to thinking about what it’s about Jesus wanted us eating together.

    We, as a tradition, get really caught up in the technicalities and forget what Jesus was really after. He wanted us spending time together, eating, remembering, making relationships.

    There’s something about eating together that moves relationships along…spending that time helps us know each other and come to love each other.

    1. sallygary says:

      So right. Spending time around the table, eating together, sharing conversation and each other’s lives – that’s what it’s all about. I think Jesus knew how important it was to stay connected to each other in that way – that it’s one of the most powerful ways I stay connected to him. I’ll never forget one particular sermon that Mike Cope preached quite awhile ago on hospitality – about how we get all caught up in what we’re going to eat and what the house looks like, good ol’ Marthas that we are, and forget the importance of just spending time together around the table. What I liked most about that lesson was how Mike advocated just putting a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter on the table and enjoying each other’s company. We used to do that a lot more when I was a kid – go to people’s homes and just fix sandwiches, eat leftovers. Those were the homes that felt most like my own – and some of my fondest memories. Maybe we ought to bring that back.

      1. Summer says:

        Someone who’ll eat your leftovers with you is a good, good friend, for sure 🙂

  5. Lisa says:

    NO!! That makes me sad. I have such great memories of eating, laughing and singing at Harold’s. Time marches on… Boo!

    1. sallygary says:

      Had lots of good times there, didn’t we? But if anyone can rival Harold’s barbecue, it’s your dad! Or my cousin, Andy….

  6. Zack Smith says:

    Harold’s is moving from a hole in the wall to a hole in our hearts….

  7. Alyssa says:

    So sad….LOVE Harold’s BBQ!!

    1. sallygary says:

      Might be worth a trip home before the end of July?!

  8. Charles Mattis says:

    Great piece Sally…my thoughts exactly. I was hooked in the fall of ’77. Harold and Druscilla built an Abilene institution and we will all miss their great food!

    1. sallygary says:

      Thanks, Charles – remembering a good lunch with you at Harold’s, too!

  9. PeggyCorder says:

    I only ate at Harold’s once and it was good. Guess that will be my only time since I don’t see me getting to Abilene before he closes. Time’s changing and these types of change are hard! You are so right how food shared connects us. Love you, girl.

    1. sallygary says:

      And I remember some sweet meals with you and Tollie. You know, Willie Ray’s in Beaumont might just run Harold’s a close second….

  10. Ed Allred says:

    Well, I can’t replicate the BarBQ, but you can order the strawberry cobbler from Ben E. Keith Foods….Harold and his daddy are legends in this neck of the woods. We’ll miss Harold’s.

    1. sallygary says:

      Thanks for the tip on the cobbler, Ed – don’t let me forget that!

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