A little roundish brick building outside city hall isn’t the first place you’d look for a barbecue restaurant, but if you’re in Jeffersonville, that’s the first place you should look.
That’s where Big Ben’s D&M Restaurant at the Depot — or Big Ben’s D&M Family Bar-B-Cue, if you go by the sign outside — is located, a family business that has been going at it in this odd spot for five years and has been in business for even longer. (The “depot” designation comes from the fact it’s housed in the Jeffersonville Quartermaster Depot.)
Armed with several banners touting first-place finishes in the annual Taste of Jeffersonville event, the quirky space features red-checkered tablecloths and wall art featuring a rundown of African-American history in the city.
The menu is on a wall behind the counter where you order.
And a rotating menu features daily specials that range anywhere from grilled meatloaf to grilled spaghetti. Sometimes it’s grilled salmon, sometimes it’s $1 brats. The day I was there, one of the specials was a bone-in chicken breast and a side for a measly $5.99.
The main menu features a lot of what you’d expect from a barbecue place: brisket, ribs and rib tips, shredded chicken or pork, even fried catfish. Big Ben’s is a family-run business, so dinner names include family member names, from Leoda’s Feisty Chicken Breast to Johnnie’s Smoking Ribs.
You want collard greens or potato salad to go with that? You’ll find it on the Jackie’s Sassy Sides menu.
Best of all, the food is good. I went in figuring on getting a couple of lunch orders, one to eat there and one to save for dinner later. I went for the chicken breast with green beans, and also got a sliced brisket sandwich with macaroni and cheese. Add a soft drink, and my total was about $16.
I sat down at one of the handful of tables, and it took maybe five minutes for the friendly woman who took my order to walk over with my brisket sandwich and mac, packed in a Styrofoam box (Big Ben’s is mostly designed for carryout orders).
I popped it open and dug in, first taking in bite after bite of the thick, gooey macaroni. The rich cheese flavor told me this was the real deal — no Velveeta involved. Just add a little pepper and you’re off and running.
The brisket sandwich was topped with a tangy, lightly spicy house sauce. I’d rather apply it myself (there’s a bottle of it on the table), but the sauce is quite tasty, so no complaints.
And the brisket was thick, juicy and nicely fatty, with plenty of beef flavor. The only downside is that trying to eat it as a sandwich is borderline foolish, but I’m not opposed to getting a little messy when eating barbecue. A solid lunch choice, for sure.
As I ate, my other order came out, also packed up. I didn’t look at it at first, but when I got mostly through my first order, I decided to take a couple of bites of the chicken and green beans just to see what I was getting into. I opened the top and found that I’d been served rib tips instead of chicken. About that time, the cook came out of the kitchen and asked me if everything was OK.
When I mentioned the food was good but my order wasn’t right, several minutes of confusion commenced between the cook and the order-taker. I sat there, not touching the food before me, because I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a switch-out or not.
Finally, a few minutes later, the order-taker brought over another full order with my chicken and another order of beans. She told me to go ahead and keep the rib tips, so when I left, I dropped some extra green into the tip jar.
But both the tips and the chicken were rubbed with a dry spice with great flavor and a bit of a kick. Both were plenty smoky.
The chicken breast, frankly, was huge, and the charred skin locked in plenty of juiciness. Uncommonly good and, especially for the price point, quite a deal.
The green beans were not especially spiced, nor were they the country-style beans with lots of meat and/or fat mixed in — they were simply perfectly cooked and bursting with fresh green bean flavor. I gobbled up one order and saved the other for later.
The rib tips were just a tad on the dry side, but I added some of that tasty sauce, and that balanced them pretty well. And it was a healthy portion of ribs, too, so I ended up with a lot of food to take home.
I was born in Jeffersonville, spent my first 11 years of life there and still have family living nearby, so I’m on that side of the river pretty regularly. How I never knew Big Ben’s D&M was there is a mystery to me. I guess some of the good word-of-mouth doesn’t make it over the bridge, which is a shame. But at least now I know.
Big Ben’s D&M Restaurant at the Depot, located at 600 Quartermaster Court, is open Monday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.