This Detroit Barbecue Joint Has Been Frill-Free Since 1964

Parks Old Style Bar-B-Q’s meat-centric menu still hits the spot
detroit barbecue
Owner Rod Parks Jr. grills the meat of the day in one of Parks Old Style Bar-B-Q’s wood and charcoal pits.

Parks Old Style Bar-b-Q sits away from a main throughway on a quaint lot on Beaubien Street, but anyone destined to eat its ribs will find their way to it. At first glance, the interior looks more like a pawn shop than any place to buy food; the service counter concealed behind bulletproof glass; orders dispensed from a rotating platter encased in plexiglass; menu printed on a bright orange backdrop yet barely legible between the multitude of warning signs obscuring it — “Limited Delivery Available,” “No Cash Refunds,” “Exchange Only With Receipt.” An eating area is accessible only by being buzzed in through a dividing door. Still, Parks Old Style customers file in every 15 minutes at the Detroit barbecue joint.

Here, time feels suspended in 1964, the year that Edward and Verna Parks first established the joint. It’s been shuffled through the care of their children over the years, and is now in the hands of their son, Rod Parks, and his son, Rod Parks Jr., and nephew Christopher Parks who is also chief pit master. Tall, with a scruffy white beard, glasses, and newsboy hat, Rod himself looks like a relic of years past. “We’ve tried to keep everything as close to the original restaurant my parents established,” he says.

That’s something of note considering how many business Rod has otherwise started and sold. The list includes a detective agency, a non-emergency medical vehicle transportation service, and a guard service that he says, once, was Michigan’s largest provider of uniformed guards. And it is exactly what is so striking about Rod and the restaurant.

detroit barbecue

Much like Parks Old Style, which has maintained the integrity of structure, Rod maintains a similarly steadfast demeanor. Though he does mention plans of a remodel in the coming months, his motivation does not seem to align with keeping up with the ever-changing developments in nearby downtown Detroit. “You either like my product, or you don’t,” he says coolly, “I don’t have competition.”

The concept reads as simplistic, maybe even a bit antiquated, at a moment when other barbecue restaurants are sporting fancy rotisseries and industrial-scale smokers. But Parks Old Style is solely focused on barbecue.

The meat menu is spartan: pork or beef ribs, a half chicken, and wings. However, there are nine sides including potato salad, green beans, and mac and cheese — all cooked on a hot plate because there is no stove in the facility — and options of white and wheat bread from Dearborn’s Aunt Millie’s Bakery. The meat is grilled in a wood and charcoal pit, not smoked, which would lend to a different flavor profile, and served atop mild, sweet, or hot sauce. “You come here for the meat,” Rod says, “so I want you to taste the meat.”

When the attention gravitates to all that is new — as it does — Parks Old Style Bar-B-Q is a necessary counterweight to the movement. Not just because it’s important to remember what is original, but because what is original has a particular significance to Americana, and it is perhaps no better characterized by a single food than barbecued meat. That’s one thing that’s maybe better left alone.

Parks Old Style Bar-B-Q, 7444 Beaubien St., Detroit; 313-873-7444; L & D Tues.-Sun. Closed Mon.