Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q, Birmingham AL

A few chapters previously, I mentioned how the discovery of mayonnaise-based white barbecue sauce in Clarkesville, Georgia had changed everything. “Oh, yes,” some people say, “that’s what they have in northern Alabama,” but that isn’t true. White sauce is still extremely obscure and not at all common. One of my co-workers was born and raised in Tuscaloosa and he’d never heard of it until I asked him about it. Heck, the girl we spoke with at a fair trade importer right in the heart of downtown Birmingham had only a vague idea what we were talking about. I don’t know that it’s as accurate to call it a regional delicacy as it is some weird thing that only a scattered few oddballs know about.

At any rate, as soon as we returned from Clarkesville, I looked over the calendar and Marie and I agreed that this past Saturday would be a fine time for a day trip to Birmingham. Actually, I think it wasn’t so much agreement as it was Marie seeing the fire in my belly glittering through my eyes and electing to go along with it to keep me from sulking exploding with the white-hot intensity of a newborn star. I’d only visited Birmingham once before, about eight years previously. It’s just under three hours away and full of interesting places to eat, so we really could have come out this way again before now. On the other hand, once you get around the town of Anniston, I-20 is so broken up and full of potholes that it looks like it’s been used for mortar practice, so it’s just as well we don’t go all that often. We can only afford so many tires and alignments a year.

A little research pointed us to Miss Myra’s, in the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills. It’s considerably more than a neighborhood, with a population of more than 30,000, but even though it’s inside the I-459 perimeter, the town really feels like it’s still part of Birmingham, in much the same way that Decatur still feels like a neighborhood within Atlanta. We drove through a nice, upscale mall area full of the usual outparcel chain suspects before finding Miss Myra’s on one end of a tiny little strip, clearly constructed in the 1950s, populated today by cute stores, boutiques and a locally-owned coffee shop, each of which have the smell of that pit smoke lingering all the time.

Miss Myra is retired, but her daughter and granddaughter still run the place, which, in the 1980s, was a filling station and jot-em-down store. Eventually, the barbecue that they started serving became successful enough that the gas pumps got in the way and the family turned it into a full service restaurant, the walls covered in Crimson Tide banners, memorabilia, newspaper stories of Iron Bowl wins and, oddly, a single lone Tigers plaque, perhaps a concession to one employee with misguided loyalties. I wore one of my Bulldog shirts, of course. I don’t often visit rival SEC teams’ home turfs, but when I do, I feel it necessary to dress the part. That reminds me, I really do need to try out that pharmacy and soda counter in downtown Auburn one of these days.

At any rate, I came to eat white barbecue and not talk sports. That will come in the fall. (Oh, Marie, we should do a tour of SEC cities one day! The ones that aren’t Gainesville, anyway.) I was afraid we might have been a hair early since we arrived at 10.30 local time, but no fears. Miss Myra’s got in the habit to open at seven-something every morning in order to feed picnickers and tailgaters, and serve breakfast as well, so after a quick detour for my daughter to look into the cute shoe store, we went on in. The very first thing I saw, and no kidding, was a plastic squeeze bottle of white sauce set on every table, shining brightly against the low light and red and brown interior.

Miss Myra’s sauce is apparently a little simpler than Big Bob Gibson’s. She once claimed that she restricts her ingredients to just mayo, vinegar, salt and pepper, and that she likes it as a dip for pretzels even more than as a sauce for pork. It didn’t occur to me until just now to double check, but I don’t remember seeing pretzels on the menu, and I don’t like to think that Miss Myra was holding back on us. Maybe I’ll pick up a bag of Snyder’s of Hanover and try it out on that pint of sauce we brought home with us. It’s extremely good. Folks, I’m not kidding. Her traditional tomato-based sauce is also remarkable, but this white sauce was everything I’d hoped for, and I used a hell of a lot of it. You remember that cartoon message from the ABC Nutritional Network on Saturday mornings with Louie the Lifeguard singing the song about not drowning your food, in mayo or ketchup or gook (yuck!), because it’s no fun to eat what you can’t even see, so don’t drown your food? I never heard it. When only a final forkful of pork that I wished to save for last remained, I squeezed sauce onto my bread, one bite at a time.

Oddly, Miss Myra’s serves neither stew nor hash nor even burgoo as a side. On the other hand, you can get deviled eggs here as a side, and I genuinely can’t remember right now any barbecue restaurant in Georgia that serves them. They should. Those, the beans and the vinegar-based slaw were all absolutely excellent. It was a fine lunch at what I must say is among the best barbecue restaurants I’ve ever visited. She’s up there with Jomax and Hot Thomas, basically. It will be very hard to return to Birmingham and not make another trip, and yet there are so many other restaurants that I want to try! I can think of four others I’m half-tempted to go back and sample in a couple of weeks, and I’ve even got my fingers crossed that I’ll find a hundred bucks under the mattress so we can visit the Hot & Hot Fish Club, but actually, the next time we’ll be going through Birmingham it will be in the early morning on our way to Memphis next month to visit Marie’s sister.

But there’s a little town called Hamilton about an hour’s drive west and north of Birmingham, and I might have found some more white sauce up there that needs trying.