A few years ago, I learned of Ernestine Van Duvall, a barbecue and soul food artist who had strong ties to Nicodemus, Kansas–the oldest black settlement west of the Mississippi River. I thought it would be a great story for my forthcoming book on African American barbecue culture, so I reached out to Angela Bates, the current owner of Ernestine’s BBQ in Nicodemus. She apprenticed under Ms. Van Duvall, and is doing a lot to uphold her legacy. Every year, on the last weekend of July, Nicodemus hosts a “Homecoming Celebration.” At this gathering, people from across the country–many with ties to the community–travel to Nicodemus. The town’s population swells from 20 to 200-plus people. What better time to chase this barbecue story?
I made the four hour drive from Denver, arriving during a torrential rainstorm, but I made it to Ernestine’s BBQ.
Ernestine’s BBQ is a charming place with a lot of tributes to Ms. Van Duvall. I found Angela Bates dutifully preparing plates of BBQ for her customers. I have so much more to tell, but I’m saving it for my book!
It’s the kind of place where every thing is made from scratch: the bbq, the side dishes and the dessert. I got the rib and brisket combo, baked beans, potato salad (very good), lemonade and a transcendent sweet potato pie a la mode.
That sweet potato pie tho . . . .
The best part was hanging out in the restaurant and listening to the memories that people had of this historic place. Friends, relatives and strangers all got into the mix! Five and a half hours later, I called it an evening and headed to my hotel.
I took a self-guided walking tour of the town, and basked in all of the fascinating history of this place. then I joined the community pancake breakfast.
After the breakfast was the annual parade featuring community leaders, community elders from near and far, local politicians and candidates, Civil War and Buffalo Soldier re-enactors. As they drove or rode by, they threw candy out to the kids.
After the parade, it was like being at a combination of a family reunion and a community fair. There were family research organizations on hand, free health screenings, vendors, a group working on Black Homesteaders, and a DJ. Of course, I was most interested in the food: bbq sliders, cheeseburgers, chicken wings, hot links, shaved ice, smoked turkey legs, pies and lemonade were some of the delicacies available.
I was really intrigued by this “Spicy Roast Beef Nachos” dish invented by this particular vendor:
I headed back to Denver with a much coveted slice of rum cake that was a raffle prize.
This was an incredibly fun weekend, and I wished that I could have stayed for the final day of church services and a community dinner.
I highly encourage you to visit Nicodemus, Kansas and Ernestine’s BBQ!
108 1st Street
Nicodemus, KS 67625