Friday, September 30, 2011

New Market Bar-B-Q

Quest Log No21 – New Market Bar-B-Q
New Market, Madison County

No money in the world can buy style and authenticity. But how do you find out if, say, a BBQ place has that? When you begin smiling as soon as you step over the threshold, because it feels like coming home, that is a good sign. A no frills atmosphere with wooden furniture, ceiling fans and a big menu next to the hole in the wall where you order also is an indication. And then, of course, an assortment of stuffed animal heads on the walls, and no sign of a flat screen TV also help to determine that.
Most of all, however, you know that a place has style and authenticity when the owner, who just prepared your meal, comes out, places himself a rocking chair and begins to chat with you. It doesn’t get any more authentic than that here in the South.

But very seldom does a BBQ place survive only because of its looks – if the food isn’t right, nobody really cares.
Well, as much as a snowball has a fightin’ chance in Hell, the New Market Bar-B-Q won’t go out of business because of bad food.
Everything there is home made, and they sell out frequently before closing time. The place itself is kind of a hybrid between a full fledged restaurant and a take-out joint, and is only open Friday to Sunday. There is no drive through, so if you want to get take-out food, you must step out of your car and come to the hole in the wall inside the building. It is kind of archaic in these modern times when everything else is always “on-the-go”, and I like it very much.
Of course, I stayed there for my meal and occupied one of the maybe ten chairs that are lined up along the long side of the building at a long wooden counter. This is kind of a novel layout, but it surely contributes much to the very distinctive style of the place.

But I detour again – so, back to the home made food.
As usual, I had the pulled pork, with slaw and BBQ beans this time. A small bun, a pickle and a small cup of sauce complete the meal, which comes in one of those doggy-bag carry-out boxes. A plastic fork and soft-drinks in cans add to the plain country style.
The food, however, is anything else but plain. The pork had a wonderfully smoked aroma, and it was very tender and not especially moist – just the way I like it. Don’t get me wrong, it was not dry at all, but sometimes when you are finished with your pork, there is a residue of wetness at the plate, which I can perfectly live without. This was not the case here, and I would say this pulled pork can run with the big pigs (pardon my French).
As for the slaw, I had to choose between the vinegar and the mayonnaise style, and went with the first one. Didn’t regret it, no Sir, not at all. That was downright one of the best slaws I ever had. Crunchy and fresh, with just the right amount of sourness and seasoned in a wonderfully balanced way.
Almost as good were the semi-sweet BBQ beans, which lacked, thank goodness, any hint of the dreaded cinnamon, but had little pieces of meat in it.
However, there is one part of the meal that did not find my univocal applause – the sauce. It is basically vinegar with a few spices in it, which produces, no surprise here, a very sour taste with a little zing to it. It actually harmonizes quite well with the semi-sweet beans and the semi-sour slaw, but poured over the pork it lacks the richness and body of a tomato or mustard based sauce. There is certainly room for improvement here. But they also have a killer white sauce for their chicken and a creamy-thick red sweet-and sour sauce.

But all in all, this is certainly one of those places to return to when you are in the area. And for about seven and a half bucks, including a soft drink, you can go there often. And maybe have a home made dessert, too, which I inexplicably refused this time. Could kick myself in the behind for that missed opportunity – so I guess, I just need to come back and have another lunch there. I heard their ribs are the killer, too, so I will probably bring my wife, the family’s leading expert in that category. We’ll see - so much BBQ and so little time.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cecil’s Texas Style Bar-B-Q

Non-Quest BBQ No 10 – Cecil’s Texas Style Bar-B-Q

Orlando, Florida

During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ...

What exactly is this “Texas Style” that so many places carry in their name? Is it the fact that you order at a counter where the meat is prepared before your very eyes? Or is it the different wood that they use to smoke the meat? Or is it the sauces that are different from what we have here in the BBQ Belt? Is it all of the above?
Or maybe it’s just the posters of dudes in Cowboy hats on the walls. I don’t know, but I will find out next month when I will be on ravel to Dallas.

But right now, I have to be content with “Texas Style” places outside of that great state, in this case namely Cecil’s Texas Style Bar-B-Q in Orlando, Florida.
Which is a nice clean and somber classical restaurant, with wooden furniture split half and half between four-person tables and four-person booths, a few Texas-oriented pictures, posters and mementos on the walls, and an overall no-frills atmosphere to it.

You order at a counter and the meat is prepared before your very eyes. Then the plastic plate is handed to you and you go around a corner to the buffet with the sides. They have beans, beans, and some more beans there, in different varieties. You put two sides on your plate and proceed to the cashier, get your drink out of the soda machine, and then go to an island in the middle of the dining room where you will find the sauces, condiments, pickles, onion rings and the like.
Cecil’s is only the second place in Orlando where I found pulled pork, so I got that, and chose BBQ beans and some strange potato-casserole like thing as sides. A slice of the usual Texas toast comes with the meal, too.

Apparently, they know how to smoke pork in Texas – it was very tender and juicy, with a nicely pronounced smoke flavor, and surely well within the acceptable standards. Nothing really spectacular, though, just plain good ol’ pulled pork.
You have the choice between three sauces, and here is where the trouble begins. The sweet sauce is a notch better than pure ketchup, the mild sauce has the color of charcoal and tastes like burnt chicory, whereas the hot sauce is more bitter than spicy. A cup of the sweet sauce with just a few drops of the hot sauce generates an acceptable mixture, but quite frankly the sauces are not the strong point of this joint.
This can also be stated for the sides I had. The BBQ beans were nothing special, maybe a bit too much on the sweet side, but this potato-casserole thing was downright blah. Half-cooked potatoes with onion rings, all covered with American cheese – and it tasted like cardboard. So, still no sighting of potato salad in Orlando.
The Texas toast on the other hand was not too bad, but then again, what can possibly go wrong here?

One nice touch is that with each in-house dinner comes a free ice cream cone. The machine they have for this is a rather picturesque apparatus but the vanilla ice cream that comes out of it tastes very good.
For just under fourteen bucks, which seems to be a standard Orlando price tag for BBQ, including a drink and an ice cream cone, the meal was not a bad deal. The highlight was certainly the meat, followed by the ice cream as dessert, and it is a nice non-fancy restaurant. All in all, an acceptable dining experience with okay food, but I am clearly anxious to see how they do it in Texas proper.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bubbalou's Bodacious Bar-B-Que

Non-Quest BBQ No 9 – Bubbalou’s Bodacious Bar-B-Que

Orlando, Florida

During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ... 

Life is full of despair, disappointments and regrets. The item on ebay that you bid so vigorously for is snatched away from you in the last moment, you overlooked the police car that was waiting only for you to run that red light in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, the big winning lottery ticket is one number higher or lower than the ticket you have, and finding a decent BBQ place in Orlando is an exercise in futility.
But once in a while, the sky is blue, the birds are chirping and at the end of the rainbow actually sits a pot of … pulled pork.

Well, it was not a sunny, friendly day, but actually a grizzly, rainy, hot and humid day in Orlando, a day typically reserved for occasions like the one you have left on your vacation to finally go to Disneyworld. Suffice to say that the weather perfectly fit my mood – another day in Orlando, another frustrating BBQ experience that was waiting for me. The places I tried so far had been merely okay, and I feared that this string of bad luck would continue. Bubbalou’s Bodacious Bar-B-Que … are you freakin’ kiddin’ me? If that was not a name straight out of the Tourist-Trap 101, what else?!
And the logo – three dancing pigs with designer sun-glasses on – kind of fit in there perfectly.
So, the first impression, from the outside, was devastating. But since I was here, I might as well go inside and check the touristy-mainstream food out, right?
Inside, the place actually looked a lot like some of the BBQ joints we have here in North Alabama. Wooden furniture, dead stuffed animals on the walls, interspersed with faded newspaper and magazine articles, a few flat screen TVs with sports on, a roll of paper towels on each table – I didn’t check for dead flies on the window sills, but even without that minor detail, the place looks authentic.

But I was not there to do a sightseeing tour, so where’s the beef? Well, actually I ordered my usual, pulled pork. The dinner plate comes automatically with slaw, beans, fries, and the inescapable Texas toast, which is fine by me.
Hey, wait a minute … pulled pork in Orlando? Aren’t those the clowns who are slicing the good stuff instead of pulling it? You can surely understand my amazement when I saw the pulled pork option on the big menu card that hangs behind the counter where you order your stuff. They also have the sliced variety on that menu, but who in their right mind … okay, let’s move on, I had the pulled pork this night.
Tender, juicy, with big chunks of bark, nicely smoked with a bit of a vinegary sour aftertaste – that’s how it was. Or, to sum it up in just one word: superb!
And yes, I checked if there was some kind of tele-porter which could have beamed that delicious meat here straight from Alabama. Couldn’t find any, so I guess they actually know what they’re doing at Bubbalou’s.
You have the choice between four sauces to refine the pulled pork experience even further.
The sweet sauce is a thick red concoction that is mildly sweet, has just a little zing to it, and has a well rounded bouquet. Furthermore, there are two sauces that are called “Hot” and “Killer”. Both are somewhat spicy, but also kind of tasteless and surely do not warrant any special attention.
That should be reserved for the mild sauce, which has a very nice spicy tang, with a mustardy aftertaste and a slightly sour background. That sauce is the real killer in the quartet.
The sides are also noteworthy, especially the slaw. It seems to be made with yoghurt dressing instead of mayonnaise, and together with the exquisite crunchiness of the cabbage, it gives the slaw a very fresh taste.
You’ll find some meat residue in the BBQ beans, which is always a plus, and there is also no hint of cinnamon, which is definitely a good sign, and also the sweetness of this side is less pronounced, and so these beans are quite delicious.
The ubiquitous Texas toast is of the very tasty and crunchy variety, and the fries are just that – fries. Still no sighting of potato salad in Orlando’s BBQ places.

For about fourteen bucks with a drink, this is a lot of food you are getting. They also give you real metal silverware, but the dinner comes on quite the flimsiest plastic plates I’ve ever seen. But who cares about stuff like that – it’s like complaining about the dirt on a World Series homerun baseball you just caught.
So, just when I was just about prepared to write Orlando off the BBQ map of the South, I found a Home away from Home at Bubbalicious, ahem … Bubbadacious … well, the place with the three dancing pigs in sun-glasses. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Jack Danies Pulled Chicken

Non-Quest BBQ No 8 – Jack Daniel’s Seasoned and Cooked White Meat Pulled Chicken

What to do, if there is no time to go out and fetch some BBQ at one of the numerous places around here, but the cravings must still be satisfied?
Well, just reach into the freezer and put the two pound tray of frozen Jack Daniel’s Seasoned and Cooked White Meat Pulled Chicken with Jack Daniel’s Barbecue Sauce into the microwave.
Put some buns on the table while it is heated, and throw some cabbage and carrots into the blender. Et voila, a homemade BBQ meal is fixed in minutes.

Well, we did that tonight for the first time, just to try if this would be a viable alternative to getting into the car and driving to the next BBQ place, which is about two minutes away, if I am really hungry.
Suffice to say, the cole slaw my wife made from scratch was the best part of our dinner. With fresh cabbage and carrots, shreddered finely and dressed with vinegar, oil, salt and pepper, it was a delight. I would have been content with only that on the bun, to be honest.
But we also had heated the Jack Daniel’s pulled chicken now, so that had to go on the bun, too. There is a lot of Jack Daniel’s BBQ sauce on the chicken, which is surprisingly tender and of very good quality. The sauce is supposedly made with real Jack Daniel’s Whiskey, but the influence on the taste is rather minimal. I would have preferred to have the sauce in a separate pouch, instead of the meat being drowned in it.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Jack Daniel’s Whiskey, also like their mustards very much – but the BBQ sauce is merely okay. Too much on the sweet side, and also the ingredients list has “Silicon Dioxide” on it. Normally, they make glass windows out this stuff, but it is also used as flow agent in foods. Thanks, but no thanks, you can keep your weird chemicals to yourself.
So, I guess next time when the cravings come, I will throw over some clean pants, saddle my Nissan, and fetch something dioxide-free from the next best BBQ place here. I admit, I just like that whole health food thing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

306 Barbecue

Quest Log No20 – 306 Barbecue  
Athens, Madison County

When a friend of mine told me that there is a new BBQ place on Highway 72, just outside of Athens, I was thrilled. I had noticed some activity lately in the old building, but always thought that was more or less in preparation to tear it down.
Well, now it hosts Madison County’s newest BBQ restaurant, so naturally I had to go there as soon as possible.

The 306 Barbecue is open now for about a month and it all began like so many BBQ businesses around here – a few friends regularly did BBQ at local High School football games for a few years, then they entered their first competition and did well there, next they put the big new smoker they purchased for the competition to good use at a local car show, and ultimately the idea to open a restaurant of their own was kind of stuck in their minds.
Good thing that due to the shaky economic environment empty floor space around here is easy to find and cheap to have. I really do not know exactly what business had been in the building before, but a withered street sign in one corner of the premises could give you the idea that it was some kind of antique mall or novelty shop.

The 306 has its own big and colorful street sign up, and that is also necessary, because the building alone would not reveal its new purpose. As inconspicuous as it is on the outside, it is also very unassuming inside. Everything is spotless clean, but it has no atmosphere whatsoever. The walls are empty, except for a few TV screens in the corners, there are no pictures, license plates, sports banners, or anything which would give the place a “face”.
The furniture is folding chairs and folding tables, and only the counter seems to be custom made and has a little bit originality with its front out of corrugated metal.

But I am willing to overlook many flaws in the interior design department, if the food is special.
Because I was very hungry, I ordered the 2-meat combo, with turkey and pulled pork, and with potato salad and slaw on the side. My wife had the ribs, and because they were out of baked beans, decided for the slaw and the squash instead.
When the meal was served, I was shocked – the turkey came in slices! Are we in Orlando here, or what?! I made a mental note to call the State BBQ police later …
But the pork was pulled, and it was delightful. They obviously know exactly what they are doing when it comes to smoking pork. It had a very rustic smoke flavor, with a hint of sweetness that I had not tasted anywhere else before. Together with the quite tangy and somewhat sour sauce, it was just the perfect combination. For this, I would come back here anytime.
Alas, there was also the turkey. Not only was it sliced, but it tasted predominantly salty and was an utter disappointment. Also, my wife’s ribs were very fatty and the taste was merely average, but at least they were of the so-tender-it-falls-off-the-bone variety.

The sides were also a mixed bag. The slaw was actually tangy and fresh tasting, with a sour note and a very nice crunch. And although the potato salad was not bad, it was also not more than average tasting. However, the squash, which was actually a concoction made with egg and cheese, was wonderful.
So was the red sauce – they have only that one at the table, plus a very good white sauce, as well.
As I stated before, very seldom have I encountered a sauce that complements the pulled pork so perfectly as this one.
Prices are in the normal range for BBQ in this area, we paid twenty-four bucks for everything, including our drinks, which is okay also for the amount of food we got.
The meals are served on those compartmentalized Styrofoam plates, with plastic forks and Styrofoam cups.
We also noticed that the sweet tea was not brewed fresh, but was replenished by those gallon plastic jugs you can buy at your local supermarket.
All that, and the lack of adornment on the walls, makes the eating experience there a somewhat ambivalent affair. This restaurant, through its great location on one of the busiest Highways around here, and their undeniable expertise and mastership of pork smoking, could be a raving success. But the lack of atmosphere and the comparatively lower quality of the rest of the food they serve prevents it to rise to my Top 10 list for now.
But they are doing this only for a month now, and the learning curve is certainly steep. And those flaws are easily fixable, so we will be back some time to check on their progress. Even if nothing changes, at least I know that I will get fantastic pulled pork there.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fat Boys Bar-B-Q

Non-Quest BBQ No 7 – Fat Boys Bar-B-Q
Kissimmee, Florida

During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ... 

In the Orlando area, chain restaurants rule. Even most of the BBQ places there have at least two locations in the city – there are virtually no lone riders around.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Why not branch out if you have a good product, and make more profit? Streamlined logistics, rebates on expanded orders for your raw materials and dining room supplies, spill over of the customer base from one location to the other, and all kinds of other benefits can come from that.
Of course, there is always the lingering possibility that in the name of profit maximation you streamline everything too much and end up serving bland mainstream food after a while. Which, quite frankly, is what most of the BBQ places in the Orlando area reverted to. It seems to me that they predominantly cater to the Tourist who has “eating original southern BBQ” on their to-do-list, just after “see all four Disney World parks in one day” and “get a photo with an alligator on one of them farms”.

What a pleasant surprise is was then, when I found this little non-franchise authentic BBQ joint just half an hour south of Orlando in Kissimmee.
Fat Boys Bar-B-Q is there since 1971, it has no satellite station, is not part of any franchise, and it’s just your typical family-owned southern BBQ place.
The inside exudes this friendly family atmosphere that makes you feel welcome and at home. The walls are plastered with photographs of family, friends, and customers, and the medium sized dining room is divided in three rather cozy parts. In the background, you hear a local Country&Western radio station, and everything seems to be just laid back and casual.
The staff is also very friendly and the service is quick. The meals are served on resin plates with actual metal silverware, and the whole place is very clean.

So, I ordered my usual pork plate, with BBQ beans, slaw and potato salad as sides.
Of course, as customary in this region of the world, the pork comes sliced instead of pulled, but it had a very nice pink ring and a very pronounced smoky flavor. It was quite tender, but as is often the case with sliced pork, it was a bit on the dry side. Never mind that is also was less than hot … well, parts of it were actually rather cold. Must have been sitting there on the shelf for a bit before it got served.
As for the sides, I didn’t eat the slaw, which was just too sweet for my taste. The BBQ beans, on the other hand, were quite exquisite, with a very strong bacon taste and just a faint undercurrent of sweetness. The potato salad had a distinct dill flavor, and a tendency towards a mustardy taste, which I really liked.
The sauces were the usual concoctions for that area – one extremely sweet Sweet sauce, one not so sweet and actually a little tangy Mild sauce, and one rather spicy but otherwise tasteless Hot sauce, for which you had to ask separately.
And, as usual, the Mild and the Hot sauces mixed together would then result in an acceptable BBQ sauce.
The plate also came with two slices of toasted white bread, which was very dry and had a rubber-like texture.
For around thirteen bucks, including a drink, it is a fair deal, keeping in mind that prices in this region are a bit elevated anyway. Granted, they could heap a bit more meat on the plate, but that is just a minor detail. The big picture is that you get good BBQ there in an authentic atmosphere. One can only hope that this place stays there for another forty years, as a beacon of true BBQ tradition in a see of middle-of-the-road barbecue chains.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

O'Boys Bar-B-Q

Non-Quest BBQ No 6 – O’Boys Bar-B-Q
Orlando, Florida

During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ... 

We all go through life, deeply troubled by questions of eternal and infinite significance, like “Who am I?”, or “What is my purpose in life?”, or “Is there life after death?”, or even “Is there intelligent life in the universe?”.
When you are in the Orlando area and get the itch for BBQ, an additional question will invariably pop up: Why the heck are they slicing their meat??!
Everybody here in North Alabama knows that only pulled meat can deliver the kind of sublime delight that ultimately and rightfully makes BBQ such a cultural icon in the South.
But in Orlando (and Mississippi – see my Vicksburg post …) they just ignore common wisdom and stubbornly do it the wrong way.
It’s got to be the tourists. No, seriously, could you imagine an Englishman sitting in front of a plate with pulled pork after a long hard day touristing at Disney World and not going: “Good Lord! That’s exploded …!!” ?
So, to make it more agreeable to the mainstream Alien from across the pond, they slice the meat. What a shame. No, it’s downright blasphemic for all us disciples of the North Alabama Smoked Church of All Ribs (NASCAR). And it really, really does not taste that good, either.

Why then, do I even go to these places? It is a service to humanity, really. To warn every self-respecting BBQ connoisseur of the perils that lay hidden in those lands where the dictatorship of mainstream culture let’s only the façade remain, but hollows out the true meaning and purpose behind it.

O’Boys Bar-B-Q (the “O’ ” stands for “Orlando”, and not for “Old”, as I suspected first …) can be found in two locations in Orlando. I was at the place on South Orange Avenue, which has the layout of your usual mainstream sports bar, with flat screen TV’s all over the place, a bar area, posters of local football teams on the walls, between two huge Auburn flags … hey, wait a minute! Isn’t that kind of weird? Can anybody imagine having a Gators flag hanging in, say, any of the BBQ places around Huntsville? Well, maybe it would stay up long enough to call the cops, because surely someone must have broken in at night and place this thing here … damn college students with their silly pranks!
Other than that oddity, the place is friendly and clean, and so is the staff … well, I didn’t really check the cleanliness … you know what I mean.
Since I was very hungry from the flight and hadn’t eaten much the whole day (don’t tell my wife …), I decided to go for the overkill – the 3 meat combo, with Ribs, Pork, and Beef. All sliced. Except for the Ribs, they came still on the bone. But you get the picture.
And, oh boy, for around seventeen bucks with a drink, they bring you a lot of food!
As sides I had fries, because in all of Orlando they don’t seem to know the concept of potato salad, baked beans, and slaw. On top of this, they packed two humongous slabs of Texas toast. A lot of food. Seriously. I am ashamed to concede my inability to eat all of it – I left the fries and some of the beef. Which was sliced. Both of it, the bread and the beef.

So, then I dug into all this, ribs first. Ahem, you know what I mean. First, I ate the ribs, which were not especially tender or in any kind of way of the “fall-off-the-bone” variety. Also, they were a bit too much on the fatty side, but actually very flavorful and I did not need to sauce them up at all.
The pork, however, was in desperate need of a little help from our red sticky liquid friends. It had the texture of card board, the tenderness of wet card board and the taste of … you guessed it, card board!
Alas, the sauces helped a little, but were certainly no revelation by themselves. The sweet sauce was just that – very, very stickingly sweet. The mild sauce was just the sweet sauce with less sweetness, and the hot sauce was just spicy, without any taste of its own. Blending together the mild and the hot sauces, I was able to come up with an almost agreeable mixture.
Which I didn’t really need for the third meat on the plate, the sliced beef. The taste was very savory and smoky, but the whole cut was more fat than meat, and while I like a little fat here and there, it was just too much to stomach. And remember, I already had the fatty ribs in my belly, so I just cut a few choice pieces out of the beef to get an idea of the taste.

By then, I already had no room for the sides anymore, but I tasted them anyways. Funny thing, the taste of the baked beans reminded me strongly of the Chef Boyardee my kids eat occasionally. The slaw was not really bad, not really good, just middle of the road.
The best thing of the whole meal was definitely the Texas toast, which should not be the case in a BBQ joint.
Well, a joint it isn’t per se. They serve the meals on real china plates, with actual metal silverware. It is more of a family restaurant kind of place, certainly geared more towards the Tourists than the local hometown folks.
Oh, wait, no – the best thing of the whole meal was actually the smell of smoked meat that drifted over the parking lot when I arrived. A promise they couldn’t really keep.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Granville's Gourmet Ribs & BBQ

Quest Log No19 – Granville’s Gourmet Ribs & BBQ

Oakwood Avenue, Huntsville, Madison County

The first thing you notice when you walk from the parking lot towards the entrance of Granville’s Gourmet Ribs & BBQ is the big black portable smoker in front of the building.
Evidently, that’s were they smoke their meats, which is kind of an odd thing for a BBQ restaurant. Most other places have a dedicated pit in the back of the building, or some oven inside. But from the looks of it, and from where it is located at the street-side of an old Strip Mall, you can certainly imagine that the building was never designed as a BBQ place - dry cleaner would be my guess. So they had to come up with a way to cook at least their meats, plus another part of their business is catering, hence the portable smoker on a trailer. It’s kind of the old two birds with one stone story here.

Also kinda odd is that in a place like this, with wallpaper that is ripped down in places, chairs that display the remnants of the whole menu on their seats, with three rather garish paintings on one wall, and some randomly distributed flat screen TVs on the other walls, the food is actually served on real china plates with real metal silverware. And it is also brought to your table, and the dirty plates are cleaned off afterwards by the staff, too. Nice touch, adds a bit of classy-sassy to the place.
Not so classy was that the credit card machine was broken, that the Coke machine was out of Sprite and Root Beer, and that they were also out of a few of the side dishes on the menu. That’s gotta be costing them major style points, regardless of the real nice and friendly staff. Well, I keep talking about the staff here, but actually there were only two people behind the counter, a cook and the waitress.
But that’s all right, because the place is not really big, it seats maybe thirty people comfortably, so I guess these two can handle it pretty well.

As usual, I had a large pork plate, with slaw and the fabled baked potato salad as sides. You also get a piece of griddle cake, and all together it is really a lot of food, and especially a lot of meat, for eleven bucks, with a drink.
And the meat is not only plentiful, but actually quite good. It has a phenomenally smoked flavor to it, one of the best I ever had. My portion came with a lot of bark, which added tremendously to the taste. Quite frankly, there is no sauced needed to enhance the sensory pleasure, the meat alone, which is very tender and very juicy, is delightful enough.
The few rather minor slabs of fat that I detected and removed from the meat did not dampen my pleasure.
That was reserved to the rest of the meal. The griddle cake was akin to a piece of cardboard, the slaw was absolutely tasteless, the potato salad, of which I had heard so many good things before, was actually a quite moldy tasting affair, and the BBQ sauce, which you can buy by the pint at the counter to take home with you, was just glorified ketchup with a faint hint of some additional spices in it.

Good thing that the meat was such a heap, or I would have stayed hungry, because after a taste of those things, I could not bring it over myself to touch them anymore. So, for the meat I would come here every time, but only for that. Obviously, the cook knows how to operate his smoker, but for the rest … let’s just weave a veil of silence to cover it, shall we?!


Friday, September 2, 2011

Moe's Original Bar B Que

Quest Log No18 – Moe’s Original Bar B Que
Cecil Ashburn Drive, Huntsville, Madison County

If the old theory is true that the pleasure of a meal is not only determined by the quality and tastiness of the food, but in equal part by the surroundings you eat it in, die-hard Auburn fans will certainly steer clear of Moe’s Original Bar B Que like Saban would avoid Holy Water.
One of the first things you might notice there is the signed photograph of Nick Satan … I’m sorry, Saban of course … next to the cash register. Then, there is this huge Crimson Tide flag that hangs on the ceiling, next to Old Glory and the Alabama State Flag. A painting of Bear Bryant and a panoramic photography of Bryant-Denny Stadium, and some other stuff with the Big A on it, can be found on the walls, too. In short, only Tiger fans with cast-iron stomachs would probably be able to keep their food down in this joint.

Which is a shame, because the BBQ you get there is rather good, actually. The proprietors, three Bama boys from Huntsville, Athens, and Tuscaloosa, learned their trade from a guy named Moses (Moe) Day when they were enrolled at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Aha, you might say, hence the conspicuous absence of everything Tigerish in this joint. Hmm, you might be up to something here …
After they finished college, all three met again in Vail, Colorado, and decided to bring the exotic taste of real Southern BBQ to the Rocky Mountains. That was ten years ago and since then they opened eighteen franchise restaurants, mostly in Colorado and Alabama. In 2010, they finally returned to their home towns, setting up shop in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville.

Moe apparently was an excellent master and the three Bama boys seemed to be his top students – the food they serve is really first-rate.
Other than the typical Southern pit master, who predominantly uses hickory wood, they use fruit wood to smoke the meats. The sides are made from old family recipes and are prepared fresh daily.
The restaurant itself is part sports bar, part rustic BBQ joint. We already established the theme for the wall decoration, and on top of that four large flat screen TVs hang there, too, which inevitably show various sports channels. The furniture is simple and quite rustic wooden chairs and tables, nothing fancy at all here. They serve the food in plastic baskets that are laid out with plaid butcher paper, the utensils are plastic, and the cups are Styrofoam.
The only sauce on the table is some regular hot sauce from the supermarket. Ketchup and the original house BBQ sauce are located next to the utensils, straws, sweet tea fountain, coke machine and bucket of lemonade slices at the back of the room.
Yes, there is only one BBQ sauce to choose from, but that is absolutely okay. It is a thick concoction that combines a delicately sweet basis with a spicy-peppery overtone, without being overly hot. If you like it spicier, be reminded of the supermarket hot sauce at your disposal, if you need it to be less spicy, well, I guess you could use the Ketchup to tone it down a notch. But in my book, this sauce is rather perfect and ranks with the best of them.
As usual, I had the pork plate, while my wife indulged in the Ribs. The pork had a nice smoky flavor, yet not as strong as in other places I’ve been to. Here, I guess, the fruit wood comes into play, which does not give the meat a very strong aroma. But nonetheless, it was very tasty and, although almost a bit too moist, also extremely tender. The ribs my wife had very lean, with a good amount of meat on them, but also without a distinctive smoke aroma, and more on the salty side. Both ribs and pork came with sauce applied on them, which is not the fine Southern style, I’m afraid. Let me choose my sauces, type and amount, for myself, Sir, and don’t patronize me!
With each plate you can choose two sides, and I had my trusty old potato salad and slaw, of course. While the potato salad was not bad at all, maybe a bit too far on the neutral side, the slaw was a revelation. The same sweetness as basis, like the sauce, and a very determined peppery overtone make this slaw a very distinctive member of the cole slaw hall of fame. They call this thing “marinated”, and that is a very good description. It has a very crunchy bite, and yet the cabbage strips are thoroughly soaked with the vinegar based marinade.
My wife had the usual baked beans as one side, which were too sweet for her taste – she likes it a bit more savory. For the other side, she had …. drum roll … banana pudding.
Yes, as unbelievable at it may sound, they let you have a dessert as a side item to your meat in this place. Where was this joint when I was a child?!
And if you don’t come here because you are a Bama fan, or because the pork is so good, or because of the fantastic sauce and the marvelous slaw, come because of the banana pudding. It is divine. Period. Divine. You understand? Heavenly, like Manna.
Oh, yes, and they also give you a piece of home made corn bread, which is also top notch, especially when you dip it in their original BBQ sauce.
So, the quality of the food is quite outstanding for some items, and very acceptable for the rest. And for about twenty-three bucks for both plates, including drinks, the amount of food you get is also a fair deal.
Soon, they will bring this deal to Auburn, as well. Their 19th restaurant is scheduled to open there in the Winter of 2011.
In War Eagle land, they surely will drape their walls in tiger stripes instead of crimson red, as in Huntsville. But an underground cell of Tiger fans already seems to be at work at the Huntsville location right now – their original house BBQ sauce is not red, it is kind of … orange.