When you think of Water Valley, Mississippi, and I grant that you may not think of it often, you probably think of Casey Jones, the railroad engineer immortalized in song and story. Jones was coming around a blind curve at high speed when he spotted four boxcars that had been left on the track right in front of him. Jones told his fireman to jump to safety, while Jones himself stayed aboard to slow the train as much as possible before the inevitable impact. Jones saved the lives of his passengers at the expense of his own.
Or you may associate Water Valley with watermelons, and especially with their record-setting watermelon-eating contest this year, the largest ever, Over 20 percent of the town’s population participated, despite the rain. With people like that, it must be a wonderful place to live.
When I think of Water Valley, I henceforth will think of the Rebel Barn. I drove over from Oxford between lunch and David and Taylor’s wedding to try a pork sandwich. Here it was Saturday and I hadn’t had a barbecue sandwich in close to 46 hours. You have to ease off after nine stops in three days on the Great Memphis Barbecue Sandwich Tour, or you may get the bends. So I was off to Water Valley for a snack.
The Rebel Barn is in downtown Water Valley, set in an old — probably historic — storefront on Main Street.
It has one large open room with plenty of space for 12 tables in three rows of four tables each. It is a spare space, largely unadorned with bare walls, wainscotting, a dark stained floor, and a dark-painted ceiling. Atmospheric, really. Things were pretty slow in the mid-afternoon of a hot, humid August day, but the lace was cool and quiet, and the person on duty was friendly.
I was on a mission, so I rushed in and ordered a pork sandwich, slaw on the side, without giving the menu so much as a glance.
That’s some good pork, my friends, smoky, tender, and flavorful. The sauce had a tomatoey flavor. It was a little distracting, but not too sweet, and it didn’t smother the meat flavor. I probably should have asked for some pepper vinegar and sprinkled on a few drops. The sauce has room for improvement, but while you may want to, you don’t need to order it without sauce. I added a little slaw, and that was nice. The slaw was a little sweet, but not overdressed, and it added some texture. It’s good barbecue, a good sandwich. You can see why they made the onlyinyourstate top 10 list for Mississippi (as did Abe’s). I was told that their sandwich is their biggest seller, followed by the dry rub ribs.
I left well satisfied with life. That is, until I saw, plain as day, the words “Hot Tamales.” It’s probably just as well that I rushed by it on the way in. A pork sandwich plus an order of tamales cannot reasonably be considered a between-meals snack.
If you’re near Water Valley, detour to the town. People are updating old Victorians and opening shops. There’s a microbrewery and, of course, the Casey Jones Museum. And there’s the Rebel Barn. Stop by for a sandwich or some dry rub ribs. And, as a favor to me, try their hot tamales and report back. I’d appreciate it.
And while you’re at it, click “follow” on our front page to receive blog posts in your email box. Or bookmark us and check in from time to time. If you’re planning a trip, you can “Search” the name of the city, state, or country for good restaurants (in Europe, usually close to sites, like the Louvre or the Van Gogh Museum, that you’ll want to visit in any event). Comments, questions, and suggestions of places to eat or stories to cover are very welcome. And check out our Instagram page, johntannerbbq.