Greatest Hit: Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse

Blues plays in the background as the unmistakable scent of barbecued and smoked meat fills the air. In a community serving up gumbo and po’boys, Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse offers a change of menu and atmosphere.

“Not to say that people here don’t eat meat, but this is known for seafood and for Cajun cooking,” said owner Mike Lewis. “I just felt like there was a need here, and I was hoping to fulfill it.”

Originally from Tampa, Fla., Lewis has enjoyed cooking since childhood. Except for a short time working in sales, he has followed his passion of preparing and serving quality food. After moving to Houma, he finally achieved his longtime goal of sharing that enthusiasm by opening a restaurant in 2008.

“A part of opening up Big Mike’s was to create a neighborhood place. That was my goal. You know, like Cheers, ‘where everybody knows your name,’” he said, singing a phrase from the show’s theme song.

That idea inspired him to designate a side of the restaurant for customers to mark their names or leave messages. Little space is left; signatures and words of praise cover the wall as testaments to Big Mike’s far-reaching fanbase.

“See, that’s just cool,” Lewis said, pointing out a note from a Canadian visitor. “The whole purpose of (the wall) is to write in your piece of ownership. As long as your name is there, you own that piece of Big Mike’s.”

Since reopening after a 2009 fire that destroyed the original building, Big Mike’s has been as busy as ever. The restaurant even draws people from states widely known for barbecue. Suzanna Cox, a Houma native who now lives in Texas, recalled visiting at least once a week when she was local. Dining on ribs and brisket with her cousin, Leslie Lauman of Boutte, Cox said she stops at Big Mike’s whenever she is in the area, typically once a month.

Lewis does not have a favorite menu item, but he said the brisket is a crowd-pleaser that he began serving following multiple customer requests.

“Honestly, I never was a brisket fan. … Nothing ever grabbed my attention when I’d go to barbecue restaurants,” he recalled. “I said to myself, ‘If we’re going to put out a brisket, we’re going to do the best job we can at getting a flavor people will love.’”

They succeeded; brisket is now one of Big Mike’s top-sellers, he said.

Lewis said he enjoys keeping busy and could never hold a job he where would have to sit for long periods.

“I love being in unpredictable circumstances. That’s what a restaurant is,” he said. “I love what I do; I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m entrenched in this business, and I don’t plan on going anywhere.”

2012: N/A

Mike Lewis, owner of Big Mike’s BBQ Smokehouse in Houma, takes a slap of ribs off the grill.