MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Fort Gibson

September 13, 2012

New barbecue restaurant a hit

— By Travis Sloat

Times Correspondent

As you pull into the parking lot of Abner’s Barbecue, the first thing you notice is the smell of a hardwood smoker.

Abner Miller, the owner and operator, said he makes sure every meat item on his menu touches that smoker for some amount of time before serving it to his customers.

“It’s all hickory wood,” Miller said. “I know a lot of people use a pecan/hickory mixture because it’s cheaper, but I just don’t think it tastes as good.”

Abner’s Barbecue is located at 700 N. Lee St. in Fort Gibson, and residents might remember it as the former Badlands Barbecue.

The little red building sits just across from the railroad tracks, and offers patrons home-cooked barbecue from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Brenda Nichols said she’s been to Abner’s three times in the three weeks they’ve been open.

“I’ve known Abner for 30 years,” Nichols said. “He’s a great guy, and evidently he can cook too. The food has a great flavor, and the meat is always nice and juicy. I’ll keep coming back.”

Miller is serious about his barbecue… even if he’s never cooked it before. A former softball coach for Connors State College, he openly admits that his cooking experience is limited, and that this is his first stint in the restaurant business.

“It was kind of a shot in the dark,” Miller said. “When this place came up for sale I decided I wanted to open up a barbecue joint. I can cook just about anything, but barbecue has to be especially good for people to enjoy it.”

The menu is simple, and gives customers a good portion for the money. The chopped beef is made by hand, instead of being ground up in a machine.

All of your standard barbecue fare is available, from ribs to brisket, and even Abner’s homemade pickles.

Miller is quick to hold his five employees in high regard, and gives them much of the credit for the business being successful in the opening weeks.

“I have a heck of a staff,” Miller said. “They work as a team.”

Stevie Cooper, a waitress at Abner’s, said this is the best waitressing gig she’s ever had.

“The town is a big part of it,” Cooper said. “But I feel like we offer exceptionally good service as well. If a customer isn’t happy, we go above and beyond to make them happy. In a small town, word of mouth travels quickly, and I think business will keep growing.”

Miller moves from table to table inside the restaurant, engaging his customers, joking with them, and making sure their food is the best they’ve ever had. He also does any job he asks his staff to do, whether it’s clearing tables or refilling drinks for customers.

“People are coming from Muskogee, Wagoner, and Tahlequah, sometimes eating two or three times a week,” Miller said.

When asked if he had a specialty, he leaned in close, grinned, and whispered an admission.

“People say the pulled pork is incredible,” Miller said. “But I’d never cooked it before opening this place.”

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