Yankee BBQ Worth Eating: Lark’s BBQ

Me and my friend Marv
Me and my friend Marv
I met my friend Marv when I was a sales trainer for Whirlpool out in Seattle. He was some higher up executive, and I was a young trainer in the Western Sales Division. We were both recently divorced, and we hit it off right away. My perky, snarky personality resonated well with his dignified sarcastic humor, and we had many rounds of chatter about life, dating and Whirlpool history. He taught me to parallel park in Chicago. Actually, he motivated me to parallel park. I was trying to park the car in the city, and he got so frustrated with my poor skills that he got out and parked the car for me. I was bound and determined to learn how to do it, and I can whip in a small space now with the best of them.

The old BBQ at the Car Wash. Willie still cooks it this way every day.
The old BBQ at the Car Wash. Willie’s nephew still cooks the meats like this every day.
Marv retired from Whirlpool sometime back, and, of course, I’ve moved on, but we chat every now and then just to catch up. He’s smart, talented, good-looking and has a heart as big as China – especially when it comes to community. He was one of the first people that renovated a loft in downtown Benton Harbor as an investment. He showed it to me when it was under construction, and I got the feeling that this was part of an effort to make Benton Harbor a better place. The town had been on hard times for years, and Whirlpool and some locals were trying to create something different. Ironically, my gay boyfriend Michael stayed in that loft when he came up to work on a temporary assignment for corporate some years back. He said he saw the nipple-baring costume malfunction Super Bowl in that loft. It is one of many lofts in Benton Harbor today, but it’s still really nice.

Marv and Willie
Marv and Willie
When we met for coffee last weekend, he told me that he co-owns a restaurant in town. He and his friend Terry went into business with Willie Lark to create Lark’s BBQ restaurant. Apparently, Willie’s father Napoleon had a BBQ business alongside a hand car wash in Benton Harbor for a long, long time. It was one of those roadside BBQ pits that I remember down south. I had never heard of it, but everyone I asked said they remembered having Whirlpool meetings catered by Lark’s BBQ. They’d drive over and pick it up before the meeting. Even in the days when Whirlpoolees wore suits, they’d drive over to suck on ribs for lunch. It has always been a Benton Harbor tradition.

Lark's is in a remodeled service station.
Lark’s is in a remodeled service station.
When Marv said he wanted me to come try Lark’s BBQ I rolled my eyes.

“I’m from the South, and I lived in Memphis for 7 years,” I said sarcastically. “Why would I want to eat Yankee BBQ?”

He looked at me like I was a moron and assured me I’d love it. “Especially the catfish,” he said. “You have to try the catfish.”

“Catfish?? I don’t know….. ,” I countered. I told him I love catfish, and I’ve eaten it at some of the best places in the South. I really did not think any restaurant that ships their fresh catch in from the South could prepare it to impress me. I mean, I’ve eaten at Middendorf’s. What could be better than that?

Me and Nancy - chowing down
Me and Nancy – chowing down
But I know Marv is a smart, well-traveled guy, and he motivated me to parallel park. I suppose he could motivate me to try some Yankee catfish and BBQ. My friend Nancy arrived, and we headed over to Lark’s. The people of Benton Harbor are so nice. I was a little taken aback for a day or two because I forgot how friendly they are up there. Lark’s was more of the same. They greeted us at the door, and I met Willie and his wife, Marilyn. Marv gave us a tour of the pictures in the front dining room and a history of the place. He and Terry went in with Willie when he expressed that he wanted a real restaurant but didn’t have the know-how or the financing to do it himself. They saw it as a great opportunity to stand together with the African-American community and create something special. Besides, Lark’s BBQ was very profitable, and it looked like a great investment opportunity.

They serve Triple XXX Root Beer, and Marv gave us each one to sip on while we tasted greens, ribs, red beans and rice and fried catfish. I had already eaten lunch so this was round two. I saw a container of banana pudding over there by the counter. I knew I definitely wanted to try that. I can NEVER pass up banana pudding. The ribs were meatier than the ones I’d had in Memphis, and I have to say that they gave Central BBQ a run for my money. The greens were delicious too. But, I have to hand it to Marv… the catfish was the best I’ve ever had. I’m sorry Middendorf’s … you are now in second place. It was lightly – ever so slightly – battered, and it was fried just right to be tender enough to melt in my mouth. I didn’t even need or want tartar sauce. As full as I was from lunch, I ate a pretty good bit, but I couldn’t finish the banana pudding. My friend Nancy said she’d take it home for me, but then she pulled a fast one on me and ate it herself. I’ll just have to go back, but they only have on weekends. And Marv said it sells out fast. Don’t get in front of me in line, ya hear me!!??

Lark’s still has a car wash. So, you can still go and get your car cleaned up nice and pretty while you go to the restaurant and order up some catfish and ribs. I had my car washed today in Baton Rouge, and it was certainly nothing to write home about. I might wash my car a lot more frequently if I could eat some of Lark’s fare while I waited. This blog won’t inform anybody in Benton Harbor or St. Joe about Lark’s. They all know about it. But, if you find yourself driving around Lake Michigan and end up in Benton Harbor, you might want to stop in at Lark’s. If nothing else, get a Triple XXX Root Beer. It is definitely refreshing and worth the experience. Tell them the gal from Midlife Moments sent you. They wouldn’t put my picture on their wall of fame. They need to know it should be there! And, lucky for all of you unskilled folks, you don’t even have to parallel park.

Larks Ribs & Bar-B-Que
440 W. Main Street
Benton Harbor, MI 49022
(269) 926-9833

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