Gurley, Madison County
Friday, December 30, 2011
Mary's Pit Bar-B-Que
Quest Log No26 – Mary’s Pit Bar-B-Que
Gurley, Madison County
Gurley, Madison County
The building has two doors in the front. Back in 1958, when it they opened Mary’s Pit Bar-B-Que in what was then the hamlet of Maysville, you would enter through the right door if the complexion of your skin was pale, and through the left door if it was not so pale. Since then, the left door has been blocked, so everybody uses the right door now, independently of their tan lines, but not much more seems to have changed there in over fifty years.
The actual “restaurant”, and I use this term rather loosely again, is a teeny room with a window in the back where you order and receive your meal, a small narrow counter next to it with six round, worn down bar-stools on metal poles (one of the seats is missing, though), the menu on a pin-board at the opposite wall, a white board with the daily specials on the small wall of the room, a pink trash can in one corner and a very low ceiling with lots of scribblings, cartoons and what I would call “country-graffiti”, on it.
Most of the folks who get their food here do it as take-out fare. And everybody seems to know each other, judging from the conversations I overheard when I was there – it seemed to me as if this place is the “original facebook”, where people from the neighborhood come together and just chat a little with each other face to face, while waiting for their pork sandwiches.
All in all it is a very homey atmosphere, but certainly you would not find “outsiders” like me and my wife there too often. They don’t have a web site, there is no sign on the nearest Highway, US 72, which is about four miles to the west, there is only word of mouth and the locals just simply know that Mary’s is there. So if you don’t have a friend from that area who tells you were to go, you certainly would just drive by the right exit on the Highway ignorantly on your way to or from Huntsville.
This would be a real shame, because apart from the genuine and cozy atmosphere, you would miss out on great food.
As usual, I had the pork plate, which was not a real plate this time, because the supplier didn’t show that week and so they had to improvise. The pork came in a cardboard basket, and the sides in Styrofoam cups. Oh, well, from my point of view this only added to the quirky authenticity of this place. I also had a soda, which came in the original can, and my wife had a slab of ribs. Oddly enough, they had no idea what she was talking about when she ordered a “half rack of ribs”, and we were lucky that a young guy, who apparently had already seen the world despite his youth, translated it for us into the native lingo. It’s the same county we live in, but twenty-five miles apart from each other, three valleys further, we already use different terms for the same things. Amazing.
And “amazing” also describes the ribs real well. Firm and lean, with an excellent dry rub on them, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside; they had a lot of meat on them and just the right amount of fat to enhance the smoky flavor. According to my wife, there was a distinct basic pork aroma in those ribs, and she ranks them in the top three of her list. She didn’t use the accompanying sauce, because that would have just diluted the blissful taste of the pure ribs. The BBQ beans that came with the ribs were, well, very similar to the stuff you get in one of those cans from the supermarket – but the top notch can, to make that clear. The biscuits that came with it were somewhat small and unassuming.
My pork also had a nice flavor, yet it was a bit soggier as I would have liked. It was not submerged in moisture, but I usually like my meat more on the dry side of the spectrum, and this it clearly wasn’t. The sauce that came with it was your run of the mill spicy vinegar variety, which I noticed is kind of a staple on that side of the Monte Sano Mountains. On our side, to the west, the sauces are usually thicker and more fruity than vinegary, or even made with mustard in some places, but once you drive down the hills on the east side, you will find that there the thin liquid vinegary stuff rules. Interesting - you don’t even have to leave the county to be in a fairly different BBQ-world.
As for the sides, the potato salad also reminded me of the concoctions you find in a Supermarket. But the slaw was a different story – it appeared to be hand made, with a very delicious sweet-and-sour taste and with quite a crunchy bite to it.
All in all, we paid twenty-five bucks for a very good meal, where the ribs and the slaw were the two items that clearly stood out. And the atmosphere, the history of that place, the friendliness of the people, the stories you hear there, are just priceless.