April 19, 2016 – In 1954 Jay Prethro was managing a convenience store in Baton Rouge. He wanted more. He wanted his own business.
He took over a small hot dog stand on Government Street and started serving barbeque to his neighbors. 62 years later Baton Rouge residents are still lining up for Jay’s legendary barbeque.
When Jay decided he was ready to retire, he sold the Government Street location to his employee of 30 years, Floyd LeBlanc. Jay’s daughter and son-in-law, Connie and Rick Newton with their son Rich, own and operate a second Jay’s on Sherwood Forest, using the same recipes as the Government Street location.
The Government Street Jay’s was where I was having lunch. Floyd LeBlanc’s son, Milton, took it over after his father passed away. Milton has retired and his daughter, Jessica Mills, is now in charge. Jessica is an affable lady who moves through the kitchen like a whirlwind but still takes time to flash a smile and greet her customers. Through three generations the recipes and the quality haven’t changed.
My cousin, Genelle Parker Hughen, and I were meeting my longtime friend and former Baton Rouge neighbor, Selma Ruth, at Jay’s. It was Selma’s idea. She likes their chopped beef sandwich.
Genelle and I arrived first. We ordered some popcorn shrimp and fried mushrooms to hold us until Selma arrived. Both were satisfying. Nicely browned. Juicy. Tasty.
When Selma arrived we got down to the serious business of eating barbeque. Genelle followed Selma’s lead and ordered the chopped beef sandwich. I wanted to try pork. I asked for the pork dinner. My plate came piled with thin slices of smoked pork accompanied by potato salad and beans.
It also came with a small container of barbeque sauce. Not just any barbeque sauce. It was wonderful! Most of the barbeque world tends toward tomato-molasses based sauces. Jay’s makes its own Carolina-style vinegar based sauce.
I go light on the tomato-molasses based sauces. They tend to overpower the smokiness of the meat. Jay’s sauce is thin, slightly sweet and very appetizing. Just as a vinegar based sauce should be. It compliments the meat rather than overwhelming it. It might be the best barbeque sauce I’ve ever had.
The next time I’m in Baton Rouge, I hope Selma wants to go back to Jay’s. I’ll go back for the sauce and a loaf of bread.
And maybe some more smoked pork.
Or chopped beef.
But the sauce. Definitely the sauce.