Mount Dora’s Sugarboo’s Serves Up Barbecue from Heaven

For the past 15 years, Sugarboo’s has been serving BBQ an angel could love

Sugarboo’s
1305 Grandview St., Mount Dora
Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

A few years back I was having lunch in Orlando with some of my media company’s New York executives when one of them asked me if I’d heard of place in Lake County named Sugarboos.

He said he was trying to eat in all of the best barbecue joints in the country–something interesting to do on the side when traveling for business. He’d read about Sugarboo’s on an online message board of barbecue aficiandos, and was planning to break away one afternoon to drive up to Lake County and check it out.

Well yes, I said, I think I do know the place. It’s about three blocks from my house.

What I didn’t tell him is that I’d never eaten there. Funny it took a guy from New York to get me, after fifteen years, to finally order from the joint around the corner.  But my wife and I have been fans ever since.

Sugarboo’s Husband and wife team of J.T. and Tina Williams
Sugarboo’s Husband and wife team of J.T. and Tina Williams

Located at the corner of Grandview and Lincoln Avenue in Mount Dora, Suagarboo’s husband and wife team of James “JT” and Tina Williams, are now celebrating 15 years of barbecue heaven. Three days a week, they serve up mouth-watering barbecue beef, pork and chicken, with all the sides to make things right.

Although supplies are ordered in several times a day, Sugarboo’s usually sells out before closing time. (It’s always a good idea to order ahead.) The store has walk-up and drive-through windows and customers can have orders shipped by mail.

This is the Williams’ first brick-and-mortar eatery. “Before that we took our stuff on the road and entered a lot of competitions,” Tina says, adding, “We won just about everything.”

“Then In 2001 we went to Bike Week, and everyone asked us where our store was. So we said, well, let’s give it a try.”

The couple looked around Eustis and Mount Dora and settled on their current location. Tina thinks the building had been a rib joint since the ’60s, with numerous owners over the years.

The oven in the kitchen is a two-pit brick affair, built old-style for all-day cooking. Each pit has bars for hanging chicken and ribs as they cook.

“They just don’t make barbecue ovens like that any more,” Tina says.

Sugarboo’s signature entrée is a slab of Kansas City-cut pork spare ribs which are hand-rubbed with a special blend of spices, hooked and then slow-cooked and basted in the oven for six hours. They also serve baby back ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket and chicken.

J.T. bastes slabs of ribs as they slow-cook toward perfection
J.T. bastes slabs of ribs as they slow-cook toward perfection

 

Asked how they got so good at barbecue, Tina says, “J.T. worked on it for years with friends. It’s something J.T’.s always been good at. He’s kind of an artist.”

And while the cooking isn’t really a family secret, the sauce comes pretty close. “People ask us, are you North Carolina style? Or Texas style? But we’re neither, we really do our own Southern style.”

“We use the best quality meat we can get,” Tina says. “There are lots of grades, but we go for the best. J.T. does all the trimming himself.”

Sugarboo’s is especially busy around local, state and national sporting events—just about always. On the day I spoke with them,  NFL playoff games were being broadcast. High school games keep them busy.

“We have, in fact, a big Gator following,” Tina says. “When they have home games, we offer Gator Bait Bucket, a small cooler stacked with ribs. A lot of people coming up from Orlando for the game will stop by for them—sometimes a lot.'”

Beef brisket to go, with sides. Don’t miss the sweet potato casserole
Beef brisket to go, with sides. Don’t miss the sweet potato casserole

Located at one of the gateways to the Northeast Community, Tina says the neighborhood has cleaned up a lot since they opened. “This used to be a bad side of town,” she says. “There’s a big tree over there that used to be called the Crack Tree, because drug users hung out around it. We teamed up with an officer who lives nearby and the police, and this has become a much nicer area. She says community policing efforts in the area has also made a difference.

J.T., who in his day job is a field investigator for Florida state law enforcement, also chairs the city’s Northeast Community Redevelopment Agency (or NECRA) citizen committee, which is tasked with eliminating slum and blighted areas, helping prevent the spread of disease and crime, establishing social and economic vitality, and improving housing and traffic. Currently they’re looking at expansion of the Martin Luther King community center and developing a stormwater master plan.

Tina and J.T. have seen many family transitions of late. Tina’s daughter recently gave birth, and so J.T. and Tina have been going up to Pennsylvania where the mom and baby live.

When the couple are away, Sugarboo’s closes down. They post any store closings on their Facebook page.

Asked where the name of their restaurant came from, Tina says, “J.T., in high school they called him Sugar Bear.” Their current logo features a dancing bear.

Hungry bears indeed dance happily around Sugarboo’s. Hungry angels, too.

Web: sugarboo.com (includes menu)

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David Cohea, Writer (david@mountdoracitizen.com)