Friday, February 18, 2011
Quest Log No2 - Dreamland Bar-B-Que
University Drive, Huntsville, Madison County
The original Dreamland Bar-B-Que opened in Tuscaloosa, AL in 1958. It is still there, but currently you can find a Dreamland in seven more locations throughout Alabama and Georgia – and find it, you will!
In Huntsville, the Dreamland is located smack in the middle of University Drive, the main east-west artery of the city, so you wouldn’t need a map to find it anyway. But even blindfolded you couldn’t really miss it – you will smell it half a mile before you actually see it.
They use hickory wood to smoke the meat, and lots of it. If you eat there, be prepared for the possibility that your clothes will be soaked with that aroma. Not that this would be a bad thing, but it might give you cravings all day long.
Once you fought your way through the smoke filled streets and parking lot, the restaurant might not be what you expected. It resembles a sports bar, with numerous flat screen TVs on the walls, each displaying a different sports program. The remaining spots on the walls are covered with framed shirts of local sports heroes, the ubiquitous Roll Tide and War Eagle banners, old vanity license plates with sports related contents (BAMARLZ) on it, and other sports related stuff.
And because some of the TVs are actually not muted, there is a constant background noise in the room that is never really annoying, and also fits very well to the whole sports-bar layout of the place.
They have a bar there that serves alcoholic beverages, and on the opposite side of the room there is the fireplace where they smoke the meats. For that smell alone it is worthwhile to just sit there in total awe for an hour or two.
But since you are there already, you might as well eat something, right? Smoke that’s smelly ain’t fill your belly …
Well, you came to the right place – they’ve got some great things to eat there.
They start you off with an appetizer of some slabs of sandwich bread and their warm special sauce.
And yes, this sauce is something else. It consists of water, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, tomato paste, and less than two percent of spices and other substances.
It is tangy, without being too hot, not fruity, but more on the sour side. It leaves a tingly impression in your mouth and you should not even try mixing it with ketchup to tame the spiciness of it – this concoction does not play well with other condiments, but is meant to be savored in a pure fashion.
After that, I had my usual pork plate, with vinegar cole slaw and potato salad. There is no choice of small or large, though, one size fits all. But it is a healthy portion you get, and together with the sandwich bread before, it fills you up good.
My wife, who also is a BBQ aficionado, had the rib plate, which comes with four ribs, with sides of creamy cole slaw and baked beans.
The pork at Dreamland does not come in the usual pulled fashion, it is chopped instead. And although the meat is very well done and also tender, it is a different experience to actually chew on relatively big bits and pieces, instead of just squashing already half disintegrated strings of pork.
The flavor is great, due to the hickory smoking the meat is exacted to for hours. The process even leaves a crust on the pork, which is full of unbelievable flavor.
Besides the ubiquitous ketchup, there is no other sauce at the table. The pork comes with the special Dreamland sauce already applied to it, so no tempering with the way old Big Daddy Bishop, the late founder of Dreamland, wanted it to taste.
And there is really no reason for any altercation – it is perfect, as it is. The combination of sauce and the chopped hickory smoked pork is one of the best I ever had. Usually, I like the more fruity-sweet BBQ sauces, but this one at Dreamland, although on the vinegar-spicy side of the spectrum, is really something special. Of course, you can buy it in bottles to take home with you, and they even ship it worldwide.
The cole slaw is marinated in their special house dressing, which compliments the pork sauce very well. The potato salad is also very good, although really nothing out of the ordinary.
But truly famous are Dreamland’s ribs. They are of course also hickory smoked, with this fabulous blackened crust. They do not fall off the bone, so you have to gnarl the meat off, and they are also fattier then your usual run-of-the-mill family-restaurant-style ribs. But the taste, my wife assured me, is just marvelous – and her judgment on meat is generally impeccable, being the reigning carnivore in our household.
She also liked the creamy cole slaw and the baked beans, but the ribs were absolutely the highlight of the meal.
For all that great taste, you have to fork over about $14, including a drink. That is certainly not the cheapest BBQ you can get, but it is totally worth it.
The service is friendly and attentive and the place is clean. The meals are served on Styrofoam plates, with a paper liner, the drinks come in plastic cups with the Dreamland logo on it, and the silverware is actually plastic-ware. That is the standard, I know, and I’ve certainly seen worse, but I still would prefer real metal utensils and maybe even a plastic plate. But that is only a minor detail and does not take away from the great tasting food they serve.