One of the current faves among the restaurant-reviewin’ crowd in Birmingham is Saw’s, a barbecue joint that has moved into the space formerly occupied by the much-loved Broadway Barbecue. It’s in a really nice little strip of shops and restaurants on Oxmoor Road in the Homewood community just south of the city center and Vulcan Park, a strip which, it would transpire, held one or two other surprises for us on our trip to Birmingham this weekend.
We scheduled a day trip out there as the Crimson Tide faithful made their way to Tuscaloosa for what would turn out to be a simply remarkable, and long overdue, shellacing of the Gators. Most of the trip out I-20 saw us traveling along with Georgia-plated cars decked out in Bama or Florida flags and stopping along the way for tailgating supplies. Saw’s, anticipating the crush, had opened early for a couple of Crimson Tide fans who’d phoned ahead to pick up great big orders for the pregame fun.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that I selected Saw’s on the basis of its white sauce, which has found a few rave reviews from fans. I have also learned that I’m said to be using this sauce “wrong.” White sauce, they say, is for barbecued chicken, and not pork. Well, frankly, I am more than fine with how well the white sauce at Miss Myra’s and Hawg Wild goes with the pork, but I’m willing to concede that I probably should sample the sauce the way that it was apparently intended, so while Marie and my upbeat and very well-behaved daughter enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches, I indulged in the smoked chicken.
We got to Birmingham earlier than planned and found the restaurant at about 10.40. This gave us the chance to stretch our legs a little and walk up and down the row of stores along Oxmoor and Broadway, and look around in the little antique mall at the end of the row. When Saw’s opened, a good crowd had already turned up, and the line stayed out the door for the entire time we were eating.
Saw’s – the name is actually an acronym for Stupid Ass Wilson, the fellow who bought the place when he saw that the fifty year-old smoker was still intact – has a pretty limited menu. I did make the mistake of assuming that the smoked chicken plate would, like the chicken sandwich so mouthwateringly photographed over at Plain Chicken, be pulled and not still on the bone, so I guess that Wilson was not the only stupid ass in Homewood on Saturday. Nevertheless, the chicken was really good, and I liked that sauce, which was very tangy and met my expectations. I could certainly have used more of it, but I did not feel like getting back in that gigantic line and paying fifty cents for some more of it. That, I think, is the biggest strike against the place; Miss Myra’s, sensibly, leaves bottles of white sauce on the tables. Saw’s has also, sadly, raised their prices since opening. A plate with two sides is now a quite high $9.75.
Saw’s does have both of its more traditional sauces available for customers to sample or drench to their liking. One of the newspaper articles on the wall described the experience as being “Bamalina,” combining an Alabama/Memphis-style smoked cut of pork with a thinner, vinegar-based North Carolina sauce. The Saw’s Sauce, available for purchase at $5 a bottle, is accompanied by a slightly thicker variety, perhaps made with more tomato, for more traditional taste. Both Marie and my daughter preferred this sauce to the bottled Saw’s. I sampled both along with bites of their pork and thought they were both quite good.
For sides, I had the tasty deviled eggs – apparently a regular option at Alabama barbecue joints – and the slaw, which was excellent. It’s very, very finely chopped, so much so that it resembles rice, and with a very deep vinegar flavor.
All told, this was a fine lunch, but I really think that I’ve been spoiled. As nice as Saw’s is, Miss Myra’s is just a hair better in just about every category. This wouldn’t be the first time this would happen today. This was our second day trip to Birmingham to come eat and write, and two of our stops really just did not compare quite so favorably to that first trip. Also, as Birmingham does not suffer from traffic and sprawl anywhere as badly as Atlanta, the six-mile distance between the two barbecue joints is darn near negligible. Saw’s was certainly worth trying, but when we make a third trip through Birmingham next spring, I think I just want to go to that first find again.
Other blog posts about Saw’s:
My BBQ Blog (Aug. 4 2009)
3rd Degree Berns Barbecue Sabbatical (Oct. 5 2009)
Plain Chicken (Oct. 28 2010)
Hyoungry Man (Oct. 29 2010)
Cactus & Kudzu (Aug. 25 2011)
Man Up: Tales of Texas BBQ (Dec. 23 2011)