The Barbecue Dynasty of Huntsville AL

Ever since we started this blog, I have wanted to go back to the great city of Huntsville and pay a visit. I had only been here once before – like millions of kids around the southeast, I took an overnight middle school field trip to the Space and Rocket Center – and did not really remember anything about the city. What we found was a very charming and busy region, with a run of sprawl south of the downtown area along US-231 that’s pretty ugly but also decently managed, with a limited access highway running in tandem with the light-controlled avenues beneath it. We visited on a day with gorgeous blue skies contrasting the ring of the southern Appalachians that border the urban area, and it just felt peaceful and relaxed and, honestly, didn’t show us a bad side. Huntsville is the home of a couple of minor, minor league sports teams and a hospital with a monorail, and it’s where some of Big Bob Gibson’s kinfolk have carried on his tradition with some interesting barbecue joints. Continue reading “The Barbecue Dynasty of Huntsville AL”


Circumnavigating Alabama – Part 4

So, the situation as I was leaving Tuscaloosa was this: the sun had gone down, I was completely full, albeit well under budget, I’d met some great people and enjoyed some terrific scenery, but I was on a time crunch, with another 130-plus miles to go before my destination motel, and three more restaurants to visit. I was also pretty sure that I’d be getting sleepy pretty soon, before I had planned to. I had to press on through the darkness of US-43, which runs parallel to the combined routes of I-20 and I-59 in a southwest direction until reaching the town of Eutaw, at which point it drops away straight south. Eutaw is one of those towns where travelers have to pay close attention to the signs, because the road makes some surprising and abrupt left turns. It makes a long and gentle westerly curve into the downtown area and then drops south after that. I’m a pretty seasoned road tripper and it surprised and confused me more than these things usually do, anyway. Continue reading “Circumnavigating Alabama – Part 4”

Circumnavigating Alabama – Part 2

Shortly after Marie and I started the blog, we took a trip to Tallulah Falls and found our way to a joint called Hawg Wild in Clarkesville. There, I found the first example of white barbecue sauce that I’ve ever seen, went gaga for it and we made tracks for Birmingham as soon as feasible to sample white sauce in its home state. It turns out that even Birmingham is too far south for this very regional delicacy to be common; some of the people that we met during that trip had no idea what we were talking about, but everybody in the avenues and routes around Huntsville and Decatur and some other places are at least familiar with it. Continue reading “Circumnavigating Alabama – Part 2”

Buckhead Barbecue Company, Smyrna GA

In recent months, I’ve visited some of the barbecue restaurants in and around Atlanta that can trace their lineage back to Sam’s BBQ-1 and the old – well, recent, but old in restaurant terms – alliance between Sam Huff and Dave Poe. Those two once employed several cooks and staff who have gone out and started their own restaurants, with results that, in my book, range from pretty good to what I would have called disappointing but I’ve since downgraded to “downright awful,” thanks to the online sockpuppeting antics of its supporter(s) ticking me off.

However, we have clearly saved the best – for now – for last. Despite the name, which I find pretty silly considering this place isn’t even in Vinings, much less Buckhead, the Buckhead Barbecue Company has surpassed the quite good work found at both Sam’s and Dave’s restaurants. Their chef, Kevin Fullerton, used to work with those fellas. This restaurant is serving up an exceptional product at a terrific price from a little strip mall shop in Smyrna, just a few doors down from the excellent Roy’s Cheesesteaks.

They’ve taken the bold move of opening in the shadow of an unaccountably popular location of Jim ‘n Nick’s, a mediocre chain whose local store has already claimed one barbecue fatality in a store called Atlanta Ribs. I certainly hope that Buckhead Barbecue Company can draw enough attention to their little shop one mile outside the perimeter to thrive. Hopefully, the praise and love that Roy’s has found here will keep bringing the curious into the ‘burbs to try this place out. This place deserves some attention, friends.

We had supper here a few Wednesdays ago, in the company of our good friends Dave and Amy, who live in Virginia and had come to town for Anime Weekend Atlanta and stayed to visit family. We commandeered a table on their patio for more than two hours, catching up and talking about barbecue. Actually, when Amy had requested that we meet somewhere for barbecue and told me that they were staying in Smyrna, my little “what can I blog about” senses started tingling and I knew just where I wanted to try.

All of the meats here are very good, with pulled pork smoked just perfectly and just moist enough to not need any sauce. That said, if you like drowning your meat and you like to try several different things, then Buckhead probably offers more sauces than any place that I know this side of Asheville’s Ed Boudreaux’s: a whopping nine varieties, and every one of them is lip-smacking tasty. If any one was the house sauce at a single-bottle joint, it would be a winner, which makes it a much better experience than Ed’s, where the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” was never more true.

I was most impressed and intrigued by the different “Eastern NC Vinegar” and “Lexington NC Vinegar” varieties. I had heard that the distinctive sauce around Lexington was a vinegar-tomato blend, but, not really able to go up there and try it for myself, yet, I was left wondering what the difference is between that and the sauce common at so many restaurants around Atlanta and the I-20 corridor, which I would describe as red, and thick with a mild, vinegary kick. If what Buckhead Barbecue Company mixes is accurate, then Lexington sauce is much thinner – online recipes that I’ve since consulted suggest four parts water to one part each vinegar and ketchup, with sugar and lots of pepper – and has a different sort of kick, very much unlike what I have been finding and questioning. There is, it turns out, at least one other example of Lexington sauce in the area; Swallow at the Hollow’s vinegar sauce surprised me by splashing red all over the pink meat. Now I know why.

Apart from these, there is a very good mustard sauce, two examples of a traditional brown sweet sauce – a spicier “Kansas City” and a sweeter “Memphis” – and an Alabama white sauce, and every one of them is just wonderful. My daughter was so taken with the Kansas City sauce that, after she finished her meal, which included a fun little combo dish of Brunswick stew poured over very good mac-n-cheese, she started squeezing herself spoonfuls of sauce. Give her some saltines and she’ll look just like a starving undergraduate.

Dave had trouble deciding between two sandwiches. They offer one rather gloriously ridiculous Elvis tribute sandwich, with crunchy peanut butter, bananas and bacon, fried, and he was tempted, but he went with the Big Pig, which is a sliced pork loin beast topped with pulled pork, bacon, melted cheese and horseradish sauce. Dave was one of my groomsmen and I love the guy, so I seriously hope he had steamed vegetables for lunch the next day. On the other hand, with the bread puddings he and Amy took along with them, I’m not so sure eating healthy was on the agenda. Well, they were on vacation.

Big Jim’s Bama-Q, Hammondville AL (CLOSED)

So I decided that we should have a little barbecue tour around DeKalb County, Alabama. The valley between Lookout and Sand Mountains, where my parents lived in the 1950s, is still really isolated from today’s bloggers. With an aging population and little industry anymore, there are very few reasons for younger people to stay here, and, other than the gorgeous land around the somewhat-unimpressive-in-August Desoto Falls, little to bring tourists through. Well, there’s a church that’s literally built into a mammoth rock, and that’s pretty neat, but even Manitou Cave is closed to the public now. Haralson’s Drugs, which once sported an awesome soda counter, is long gone. Well, I knew that place wasn’t gonna last when they quit carrying comic books in 1981 or so. At any rate, there are very few restaurants in the area, and unless you’re a fan of the country band Alabama, whose fan club and museum is larger than some airports I’ve seen, or unless your parents grew up here, I can’t imagine what would bring you to Fort Payne or any of the surrounding towns. Continue reading “Big Jim’s Bama-Q, Hammondville AL (CLOSED)”

Rusty’s Bar-B-Q, Leeds AL

This is the first of two entries this week in which I will mention a restaurant that I can tell you less about than I would like. In fact, I can’t tell you the most important thing about it: where we heard about it. Well, I suppose “Is it any good?” might truly be the most important part, but as we typically don’t go in for negative reviews here, the fact that it gets an entry at all should be evidence that it’s a good place. Continue reading “Rusty’s Bar-B-Q, Leeds AL”

Saw’s BBQ, Birmingham AL

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. Continue reading “Saw’s BBQ, Birmingham AL”