Brooks' House of BBQ earns prestigious honor

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarRyan Brooks, owner of Brooks’ House of BBQ, talks with employee Jeff Coffin as Coffin bastes chicken in the barbecue pit at the restaurant in Oneonta on Wednesday.

Brooks’ House of BBQ is a classic.

That’s according to the James Beard Foundation, which announced Tuesday that the Oneonta restaurant is among five recipients of its 2016 America’s Classics Award.

“We were taken aback by it,” said Ryan Brooks, an owner and third-generation member of the restaurant’s founding family.

The award is given to restaurants that have timeless appeal and are cherished for quality food that reflects the character of their communities, presenters said. Recipients will receive a medallion and certificate at the 26th annual James Beard Foundation Awards program at the Lyric Opera in Chicago on May 2.

The four other restaurants honored with the America’s Classics Award were Al Ameer Restaurant, a Lebanese restaurant in Dearborn, Michigan; Matt’s Place Drive-In in Butte, Montana; Bully’s Restaurant in Jackson, Mississippi; and Rancho de Chimayó Restaurante in Chimayó, New Mexico.

“James Beard would have loved these restaurants —they represent how America eats,” Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, said in a media release. “Each has played a role in bringing their communities together, representing the heart and soul of our national culinary landscape — we’re proud to honor them as classics!”

Brooks’ House of BBQ is at 5560 State Highway 7 and is owned by Ryan and Beth Brooks.

Oneonta Town Supervisor Robert Wood said Brooks’ restaurant is a long-time, well-established business in the town.

“It’s nice to see them recognized for that,” Wood said Wednesday. “They certainly are one of the things that make Oneonta famous.”

Brooks’ restaurant “is a memory-making place for families,” according to the James Beard Foundation.

The business started with the McClelland chicken farm in Stamford in 1912 and grew with a catering operation that started in 1951. In 1961, the restaurant opened with seating for 80 guests and a staff of about 15 employees.

Today, the restaurant has about 95 employees, Ryan Brooks said, and the affiliated bottling plant has about 15 workers.

In honoring Brooks’ restaurant, the foundation described the restaurant:

“The rust-and-toffee interior features rooster-print wallpaper, a scalloped lunch counter, and state-themed paper place-mats that detail the entirety of the `Brooks’ BBQ Campus.’ The complex includes a banquet center, gift store, children’s park, picnic area, and a sauce bottling plant.”

And, of course, the featured fare is described:

“Cooked on a 38-foot indoor charcoal pit, the barbecue chicken emerges with blistered skin and backyard flavor that goes bone-deep. A spiced apple ring, dyed deep garnet, tops each bird.”

To qualify for the America’s Classics Award, restaurants must have existed at least 10 years and be locally owned, the release said.

Honorees are selected by the James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant & Chef Awards subcommittee, a group of restaurant critics, writers, editors and other experts. The selection process begins each fall with a public call for entries, allowing anyone the opportunity to suggest candidates.

In New York state, Moosewood in Ithaca was honored in 2000, according to presenters, and other New York recipients were in New York City or Buffalo.

Brooks said he didn’t know if anyone from the foundation ate at the restaurant.

According to Brooks, words couldn’t be found to describe being among award recipients. However, the award “shows the passion we’ve had for 65 years,” he said, and reflects the commitment of family and staff to doing the job every day to exceed customers’ expectations and make them feel at home.

“Our true award is our customers coming in every day,” Brooks said.

The 2016 eatery honorees join the ranks of nearly 100 restaurants that have received the award since the category was introduced in 1998. 

A cookbook author and teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge about food, the late James Beard was a champion of American cuisine, according to the release. Established in 1990, the James Beard Awards recognize culinary professionals for excellence and achievement.

During the May 2 event, which is open to the public, awards in the restaurant, chef, and restaurant design categories will be presented, among other honors.

Brooks said the family and business will be represented at the awards program, which he said perhaps will be the time he more-fully grasps the impact of the honor. He first heard about the award a month ago, he said, through a telephone message that he had to replay three or four times.

“I just really was in disbelief,” he said. 

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