Rusty Graves can still recall the man who taught him to make barbecue while growing up in the South. “He used to say barbecue is like the Mississippi River – it flows its own sweet path and takes its own sweet time,” Graves said.
Graves has incorporated his love of “Deep South” barbecue and antique motorcycles into the Buffalo Smokehouse Barbecue located in the Cleora Museum at 4710 E. U.S. 50.
Graves opened the restaurant and museum 2 weeks ago, specializing in his spicy Louisiana-style barbecue recipe he has been using for more than 30 years.
“We slow cook our barbecue for 24 hours,” Graves said. “I learned to cook barbecue in the Deep South — all over Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi.”
Graves cooks his barbecue in homemade grills he built and has been using since 1983.
Before moving to the area 7 years ago, Graves operated the Buffalo Smokehouse Barbecue for 30 years in Trinidad, using the same recipes and grills he continues to use now.
Graves said all the food is “homemade from scratch” and he uses “the best meat you can buy.”
His offerings include barbecue beef, chicken, pork ribs, hot links, pork butts and beef brisket, with sides like German coleslaw, potato salad and pinto beans. For dessert, the restaurant offers pineapple cobbler, which Graves said is “a tasty dish that most people have never had.”
“We don’t make everything sweet like some places do – we just make it good,” Graves said.
He said when his customers sit down in his restaurant, they’re “sitting in the history of Cleora,” an old mining town predating Salida, located just east of the city.
Many of the items in the museum and restaurant are mining artifacts from the turn of the 20th century – Native American arrowheads and various antiques from the time, such as musical instruments, telephones, carriages, clothing and household items.
“We have a pre-1900s atmosphere,” Graves said. “The exception is the motorcycles.”
Graves has built and restored antique motorcycles for 42 years, buying and selling the bikes with customers all over the world, he said. A motorcycle enthusiast, Graves said he has logged more than 500,000 miles riding motorcycles in every state across America, and also through Canada and Mexico.
Behind the restaurant and museum, Graves has operated his antique motorcycle repair shop for the past 7 years.
Graves said the restaurant and museum are a “family-based business,” with his kids Leeland, Christopher and Julaine helping to operate the restaurant.
“It’s why I put this whole thing together, to try and build a future for my kids,” Graves said.
The Buffalo Smokehouse Barbecue and Cleora Museum is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 539-8508.