Thirty years ago, Mitch Davis lost a bet with his daughter. He had just taken over the Corner Stop at North Twenty-sixth and Colonial in Waco. After decades running grocery and convenience stores for other people, he finally had his own place, but it wasn’t much. “I had a little hot plate for making hamburgers on,” Davis remembers, but he wanted to serve more. He added a grill and deep fryer just as one of his daughters, Tasha Sterling, returned from New Orleans. She was moved by a deep-fried rib tip she’d tried on her trip, and thought her dad should try cooking them. Davis was skeptical of the idea, but Sterling told him, “If they don’t sell, take the case of ribs out of my check.” She didn’t lose any money.
Today, he sells a whopping 1,600 pounds of rib tips each week. You can get an original or spicy version of the battered and deep-fried rib tips at the Corner Stop, which is known to locals as Mitch’s. You might find the namesake behind the counter, his daughters Tasha and Le’Sheena, or his wife Joyce. The fried rib tips are the most popular item they sell, beating out breakfast sandwiches, barbecue, and triple meat cheeseburgers.
Inside the small store, you’ll find fried ribs tips in two large warming trays, which keep them remarkably crispy. The spicy ones are a bit extra ($8.79 for a small basket of spicy ribs, $7.89 for original) but are worth the additional dollar. Upon request, they come with a small cup of Cajun Chef hot sauce. The combination is hard to beat.
For the uninitiated, rib tips are the end of pork spare ribs. There’s plenty of bone and gristle to contend with before getting to the meat, so the tips can be hard to eat if not tender. Davis’s method creates a tender rib tip that is still juicy, and eating it isn’t much different than enjoying fried chicken on the bone. The batter is the secret, Davis says, but he’s not giving up anything about the recipe, which hasn’t changed since day one. You can get them anytime the Corner Stop is open, which doesn’t include Sundays. That’s when Davis preaches at the Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Waco.
Davis will be 65 later this year, and he hasn’t eaten a fried rib since he was 50. “When I first came into the business, all my money went into this store, and I had to eat here. Now I got a little change,” Davis says. He does still sample from the barbecue menu, which includes smoked brisket, rib tips, and spare ribs a couple times a month. The smoked ribs tips are covered in barbecue sauce from Sam’s and sold by the bowl, which sit in the warmer covered in plastic wrap. They’re tender and very smoky, and there’s something about that sweet, commercial sauce that makes them addictive.
A haphazard pile of wood sits next to the smokehouse outside, and friends and neighbors drop off wood for him at no charge. Davis leaves the smoking duties to his longtime friend and pitmaster Lloyd Ware. “I can’t stand the smoke,” Davis says. “I’m just the supervisor.” Ware does his work on a pit fashioned from an old propane tank. It doesn’t have an offset firebox. It’s a direct heat grill that he transforms into a smoker by shifting the fire to one side of the pit. Ware cooks sixteen briskets a week, and a plate with two sides can be had for $12. With my hands already full of various rib tips, I didn’t try the brisket.
Throughout our conversation, Davis stressed that his mission at the store is as a servant to his customers and the community. Both of his daughters and their husbands help run the store along with Davis and his wife, serving up reasonably priced food along with a few amens. I asked Davis if he was surprised at the staying power of a simple dish like fried rib tips. He’s not. “The Lord blessed us with a special batter,” says, adding with a laugh, “and sometimes we’ve got to listen to our children.”