Cheap Eats

Liberty City's Mr. Boneless Is All About the Meat

Terry Watts started selling food on Liberty City street corners nearly two decades ago. After years of his developing a rub (he won’t divulge the recipe) and hosting cookouts for friends, the pleas to turn his hobby into a business grew relentless. “Everyone said, ‘You need to be on the corner,’” he says on a Thursday night as people file into Mr. Boneless (1807 NW 79th St., Miami; 561-891-3015).

It’s so named because Watts pulls the bones out of his ribs ($12 platter/$8 sandwich) and chicken ($10 platter/$7 sandwich) before the meat hits his oak-wood-burning grill. Though cooking lore dictates the flavor hides in the bones, Watts isn’t afraid to avoid them, and his regulars swear by it.

"This is world-famous Mr. Boneless," 40-year-old Liberty City native Cedric Halyard says. "I've been coming here every week. Even when he was on the street corner, I would chase him down."

It wasn't always so. In a past life, Watts sold medical supplies. Then he switched to barbecue, joining Liberty City's countless streetside barbecue vendors. Simply drive up and down Seventh, 17th, or 22nd avenues, and you'll find them, most likely at night or on the weekends plying their wares from hulking steel grills. "I was happy when he finally got a spot so I could stop calling and bothering him every day to see where he at," Halyard says.

As the years passed, the operation became a family affair, drawing in Watts' children and other relatives. On a recent Thursday, his lanky son preps trays of red velvet and lemon cake, while a niece mans the register.

It's often difficult to find a day when the burnt-orange building is open for business. The surest sign is the enormous grill parked out front, puffing plumes of blue-gray smoke into the air. Usually, operating hours are Thursday through Sunday from about 4 p.m. to midnight. Though the place seems like it might be a barbecue joint, it’s not. Watts slow-cooks the meat on direct heat for about an hour, enough to impart a good char but not give it the tenderness of the traditional low-and-slow.

It’s enough to cook the chicken through and give it a crisp, spice-rubbed skin, though the ribs require some mouth work, even without the bone. In fact, the lack of bones doesn’t change the taste of the meat much. Watts could use better cuts with a richer, fresher flavor to coax the most out of them.

However, his sides are among some of the area’s best. Tender braised collard greens ($3.25/$6) are bathed in a savory broth studded with slivers of dark turkey meat. The mac 'n' cheese ($3.25/$6) offers the best of this side’s two faces. It has the crisped top of the homemade casserole version; below is the store-bought variety’s bubbling gooeyness few can resist. Before you leave, don’t forget to grab a container of banana pudding ($3), filled with banana coins and topped with Nilla wafers. 

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson