Eli Crawford, of Eli's Bar-B-Que, dies at 71

It was late last year that our food critic Jon Palmer Claridge and I put together a compendium of local barbecue hot spots. At the top of the list was Eli's in Dunedin. Open only two days a week, the faithful made the pilgrimage in search of barbecue enlightenment since the joint opened in 2001.

"Perhaps because I’m a lapsed Catholic, Eli’s reminds me of waiting for confession," Claridge wrote last August. "Groups of disciples stand in line, silently waiting to approach the window, then speak one-on-one, and slowly retreat to await their heavenly reward."

Claridge fell hard for Eli's ribs.

"The ribs are so juicy and perfectly touched by wood that I taste the two tomatoey sauces just so I can report that even the mild one packs heat on the finish," Claridge wrote.

Friends and customers posted on Eli's Bar-B-Que Facebook page.

"We've lost a great cook, a great dancer and a great smiling wonderful man," wrote Dave Barmore. "There will be Bar B que tonight in heaven."

"He was a perfect match for his 67 Buick 225. Both the best in Town," wrote Todd Raymond.

"What a beautiful person, inside and out," wrote Stephanie Jones. "I'll miss his big beaming smile!"

A service for Eli Crawford is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday, March 23, Mount Olive M.B. Church, 1124 Harveys Lane, Clearwater.

click to enlarge Eli Crawford of Eli's Bar-b-que, has died at 71. - Shanna Gillette
Shanna Gillette
Eli Crawford of Eli's Bar-b-que, has died at 71.

click to enlarge Eli Crawford of Eli's Bar-b-que, has died at 71. - Shanna Gillette
Shanna Gillette
Eli Crawford of Eli's Bar-b-que, has died at 71.

It wasn't just the ribs, almost inappropriately tender and juicy, that made Eli's Bar-B-Que in Dunedin. It was Eli Crawford, a shepherd of meat to the promise land of barbecue. It was almost as if the racks of ribs knew they were in the right hands when they reached Crawford. And they submitted to his barbecue will every time.

Eli Crawford, 71, died on March 14. The Tampa Bay Times' Andrew Meacham reported Friday that Crawford passed away after a battle with leukemia.

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