It started as a quest to visit all the 60+ BBQ places in the counties of Madison, Limestone, Morgan, and Lawrence in Northern Alabama (that is the Hunstville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area).
Then I got sent back to Germany and there was no BBQ. But eventually I got assigned to a new job which takes me on business trips in the USA occasionally. So I reopened the blog – just deleted the “North Alabama” from the title.
Quest Log No 45 – Lawler’s Barbecue Express #1 (Whitesburg Drive) Huntsville, Madison County
The last Lawler’s on the list of
BBQ places in the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area that I hadn’t
visited yet is the one with the 1 as the sequence number.
It is located right next to a gas
station, in a small building that it shares with the gas station’s office.
It has a drive through, and also a
small but relatively cozy space to sit inside with about half a dozen tables. The
furniture is wooden, the walls are decorated with some fishing related posters
and plaques, and everything is in good shape and the whole place is very clean,
with a health score of 99 out of 100.
Of course, after already visiting the
other four Lawler’s Express Barbecue restaurants, the menu has no surprises for
me anymore. The only item I did not try yet was the ham plate. And with that I
chose the BBQ beans and the potato salad as sides, just because I didn’t feel
like going with green beans and chips.
Unfortunately, my order was screwed
up a little, and instead I got a combo plate with pork and turkey, plus a cup
of ham on the side when the mistake was discovered.
Well, that was a lot of meat and
really more than I had intended to eat.
And so I only ate some pork and
some ham, and just a little bit of the turkey.
The ham did not taste real smoky,
and it did not have even a remote BBQ aroma. It was just baked ham, very tender
and kind of mushy, but also very sweet. I like the savory version of ham
better, and I kind of expected the flavor to go in this direction, because of
the hickory smoke it should have been smoked in.
Alas, it was just so sweet that I
had to pour a mixture of the hot and the mild vinegar sauce over it to make it
Also, the pork and the turkey
seemed to have been of lesser quality than I remembered it. Here too I could
not detect a real smoky aroma – I had better at other Lawler’s.
So, that concludes the Lawler’s
part of the Quest – until they open Number 6 at the new Madison Hospital
sometime in the next few weeks.
Quest Log No 44 – Henley’s Bar-B-Que Town Creek, Lawrence
If you follow US Highway 72/Alabama
Highway 20, the Joe Wheeler Highway, to the West, past Decatur into Lawrence
County, you notice that the scenery changes somewhat. You are leaving the more
densely populated part of the Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area to
find yourself in small town America,
with farmland and big silos by the side of the highway. The small villages
there have names like Courtland, Leighton, or Town Creek. Nothing fancy,
nothing special, just regular names.
Each of those towns has a gas
station or two, a car wash, maybe a Dollar General, and possibly even a BBQ
place. That is where all the local folks from the other towns that are not
blessed with such an institution congregate. And after a few decades, that
place has taken over the taste-buds of the region, and the BBQ they are serving
there is deemed to be the best in the world.
Well, being an outsider, who has
travelled the world a bit, I arrive with unbiased taste-buds and some
experience of how they do BBQ in other places.
And so, my first impression of Henley’s Bar-B-Que in Town Creek was not very
They also sell pizza there. Why, I
do not know, and did not ask. I just found it kind of odd, especially since the
pizza was not even made from scratch, but apparently came out of a box.
Well, since I did not see any
dedicated pizza place along the Joe Wheeler Highway, this might be actually a
niche were you can make money. So be it, but it felt a little strange to see a
pizza on the counter, placed on a heating plate under a glass dome.
They also sell Blue Bell Ice Cream
and milkshakes there, which goes much better with BBQ in my mind.
This all is situated in a big
dining room that oozes the charm of an empty train station. The decorations on
the walls are sparse, the lighting is bright and brutal, the furniture is
boring and functional. The place is very clean and the staff is very friendly
and nice, and they have a big screen TV in of the corners – but there is no
atmosphere, no individuality, no charm.
Unfortunately, the meal I had was
quite the same. Yes, it was BBQ, but it was unspectacular, had a strange taste,
and the best part of it was the bread roll that came with it.
As usual, I ordered the large pork
plate, with slaw and potato salad. Together with sweet tea and the tip, I paid
about twelve Dollars for it – which does not register as especially
The pork, as I alluded to already
above, had a very strange taste to it. There was no smoke flavor I could taste,
but something very strong like celery, or lovage. Not what I expected, and
certainly not very agreeable with my taste-buds. Moreover, the meat was
somewhat oily and I found two big patches of fat and gristle in it. Putting the
sauce I found on the table on it did help a little – it took the edge off the
intensity of the strange flavor, but could not cover it all together.
But that was probably too much to
ask anyway from a sauce that you could probably buy at the next super market.
The next disaster waited in form of
the slaw. One word: Sweet! Nothing else, just sweet little bits of not very
crunchy cabbage. The potato salad on the other hand was not too bad, but it had
a strange aftertaste, like too much mustard or pepper went in it.
The folks in Town Creek and
vicinity might think differently about Henley’s Bar-B-Que, and the fact that
this restaurant is probably there since the dawn of time surely is testament to
this, and I may a terrible mistake here, but I would rate the whole experience
there as “once and never again”. This was just not good tasting BBQ for me. Sorry
Quest Log No 43 – Lawler’s Barbecue Express #2 (Jeff Road) Huntsville, Madison County
Another day, another Lawler’s. They
are spreading like wildfire across the county, the next one (Number 6) already
in the making near the new Madison
This time, we went to the maybe
smallest of the bunch, located in a tiny strip mall on Jeff Road, a mile or so north of the
Kroger store on Highway 72. They have a drive-through window there, a small
room with a counter, a soda machine and other useful stuff, and outside, in
front of the store windows, there are two tiny tables with two chairs each. Well,
since this December feels more mike March, and it was actually T-shirt weather
outside, my wife and I sat down there and had quite a lovely meal.
True to my credo to have something
different each time I visit a satellite restaurant of a franchise, I ordered
the ham sandwich this time. It comes with pickles, mayonnaise and lettuce and
what can I say, I like it. It is very good smoked ham, nothing special, but
So, up until now, I did not have
any bad experience at Lawler’s. They are certainly not in the Top Five of my
list of favorite BBQ places. But as an alternative to some greasy burger joint,
they are unbeatable.
Quest Log No 42 – Lawler’s Barbecue Express #3 (Highway 72) Athens, Limestone County
Although Lawler’s is a small chain
with currently five locations in Northern Alabama (a sixth place is already in
the making, near the new Madison
Hospital), those restaurants
are not the same. Some are quite sober, functional eateries, while others are
outfitted in a special way, with attention to detail and a whimsical touch.
Like the one in Athens
on Highway 72, were they have an actual rowing boat on the ceiling, and some
nice display cases with fishing paraphernalia on the walls. The restaurant has
about half a dozen booths on the side walls, and some tables in the center. You
order at a window in the back and while you wait for it to be prepared, you may
seat yourself on one of the two park banks there.
Adding to that homey and welcoming
atmosphere is the staff, which is very friendly and responsive.
This is the fourth Lawler’s I’ve
been in, and so far it was the one with the best atmosphere. There is not much
difference in the food between the locations, which is understandable because
the meat is usually prepared at a central place up in Tennessee
and then driven the few miles to the satellite stations in North
Alabama each morning. Although, this place in Athens has a smoking facility outside of the
restaurant, so I wonder if maybe they shifted the whole meat preparing operation
a bit south now.
Anyway, as usual when visiting
another location of a chain, I tried something else then the pulled pork plate
with slaw and potato salad. This time I opted for the half chicken plate with
baked beans and potato salad.
Well, the chicken was very tender
and succulent, but I could not detect a very prominent smoke aroma. But with
the white sauce on it – Bang! Absolutely great! I dare to say that with a
distinctive smoky flavor on the chicken, it would have not harmonized as well
with the sauce.
The baked beans were superb, too,
not too sweet and without any cinnamon. The potato salad I already had before
and I still like it very much. It is predominately on the sour side, and rich
So, if I had to choose from one of
the many Lawler’s locations here in the Tennessee
Valley, the one on Highway 72 in Athens would be my
favorite. It looks and feels like a good old BBQ place (only without the dead
flies on the window sills …), the food is always very good, and the prices
(under ten Dollars for the plate and a drink) are certainly acceptable. So what
if they don’t smoke the meat exactly were they sell it – as long as it is not
frozen and then put in the microwave, I don’t have any problem with it.
Quest Log No 41 – Lawler’s Barbecue Express #5 (Memorial Parkway) Huntsville, Madison County
The purist version of BBQ is
certainly pulled pork on a plate, with a couple of sides and some sweet tea.
Maybe a pulled pork sandwich does qualify, too. But if you put pulled pork on
something else – is this even BBQ anymore? Like, on a gigantonomous baked
potato, with cheese and sour crème and the kitchen sink?
Well, that’s what I had at the
Lawler’s Barbecue Express #5 on Memorial
Parkway in Huntsville
You know my rule – if it’s a chain,
I’ll have a different item from the menu in each of the various locations.
So this time it was the stuffed
tater with pulled pork, for about nine Dollars with a drink.
While I wouldn’t want to eat that
every day – I am trying to preserve my girlish figure, you know, and this thing
surely has a gazillion calories - I must say that it was very tasty. The pork
was very tender, lean and succulent, and it harmonized extremely well with the
other stuff they put on the potato. They had their four sauces on the table,
but I did not need any of them – it was perfect how it came out of the kitchen.
And yes, I know, they do not smoke
their meat in those satellite locations, but do it in a central place up in Tennessee and drive it down to Alabama then. The purist in me cringes at
the mere thought of it, but the hungry man says, as long as it tastes good, who
cares? It surely beats the food you usually get at the next burger joint.
Although, from the looks of it,
this place on Memorial Parkway
does not have many special features that would distinguish it from other fast
It is located at the corner of a
small strip mall, and the interior is, well, functional. Some wooden tables and
chairs, a few decorative signs on the walls, really nothing special. Other
Lawler’s have a more special interior, with more attention to detail and a much
cozier ambience. This place has a more factory like charm – which is
understandable, because it is clearly not a typical family dinner location, but
a place where Joe and Jack from the power company emergency unit get their
lunches. Big taters and all.
Quest Log No 40 – Whitt’s Barbecue (Marion Street) Athens, Limestone County
There are two Whitt’s Barbecue
places in Athens,
and after visiting the one on Elm
Street, my wife decided that we should go to the
other one, on Marion Street,
as long as we were in the city. That was fine by me, for I can eat BBQ more
than once a day without any problem. Her motivation to go to the second place
was pure scientific curiosity – would they have the same quality?
Well, when we pulled up in the
parking lot, that question was answered immediately – since the place on Marion
Street does not have a pit of its own, they apparently get their meat from the
place on Elm Street, which has a pit.
So much for the quality comparison
We decided to get a sandwich there
anyway. I took a Turkey
sandwich, and my wife had a Beef sandwich – with all the fixins’, lettuce,
Additionally, my wife had half a
pint of potato salad, because she only got a few scoops before on Elm Street, and she
really liked it.
My Turkey sandwich was not bad, but it
also was not a real BBQ sandwich. If there was any smoky flavor to the turkey,
it was overlaid by the taste of the pickles and the mayonnaise. Don’t get me
wrong, it was still a very good sandwich, but not really a very good BBQ
sandwich. Maybe a white sauce instead of the mayonnaise, or less pickles, or
both would do the trick.
And my wife was downright
disappointed by her Beef sandwich – slow cooked, she said. No BBW flavor, plus
the dominance of the mayonnaise and the pickles. A very good sandwich, but not
if you expect at least some BBQ flavor.
Anyway, if I had the choice between
a Burger joint and Whitt’s, the latter would win most of the time. And since there seem to be no other halfway decent lunch places around in the Marion Street area, I can absolutely understand that this place was overrun by people when we were there.
as with the place on Elm Street
– no way I would drive there 30 miles in a snowstorm.
Quest Log No 39 – Whitt’s Barbecue (Elm Street) Athens, Limestone County
There usually is an economical way
to do things, and a no-compromises way. With BBQ, I certainly prefer the latter
one – only the best ingredients, the best wood, the best everything, plus a
little extra love on the side will satisfy me. But then again, I am not out
there to make a profit, so my perspective might be a little different from
those BBQ entrepreneurs.
Whitt’s Barbecue started as a
backyard family business in Athens in1966, and
the extended family, plus some non-family franchise owners, owns and operates
25 restaurants in Tennessee, 5 in Alabama, and 1 in Kentucky
nowadays. Certainly, standardized processes, shared resources, wholesale
orders, and all the other by-products of the economy of large numbers helped to
shape this little empire.
What were left behind were
individuality, innovation, and inspiration. If you turn the first letter of the
franchise name on its head, what do you get? Another golden arch …
Well, that said, I would prefer
Whitt’s southern style fast food over a sloppy burger any day. And fast food,
it is – all the Whitt’s restaurants are carry-out/drive-through places. You get
your meal in a Styrofoam box that is put in a brown bag with the corporate logo
on it. They have a walk-up window in addition to the drive through, for those
of us who roam the country side on foot.
I already visited the Whitt’s on 6th Avenue
in Decatur a year ago, and there I had a Turkey
sandwich. This time, I took the pork plate, with potato salad, baked beans and
slaw. It also came with a roll and a small cup of sauce. For this, and a cup of
sweet tea, I paid about eight Dollars. Overall, I’d say that this is a very
good deal – you get a decent, though not great BBQ meal. But let’s get into the
The meat was succulent and very
tender, although it did not have a very distinctive smoky aroma. I had better,
but I also had much worse, so although this probably does not represent the
pinnacle of pit mastery, it is okay. So was the sauce that came with it – a
vinegar based, non spicy pepper sauce with a somewhat lame kick.
Not okay, on the other hand, was
the slaw – much too much artificial sweetener in there, just awful. The baked
beans were also very sweet, but at least I could not detect cinnamon in there.
I hate cinnamon in baked beans, and the absence of it made even this sweet
The potato salad on the other hand
was really good. It had a slightly sour taste, some real egg in it and an
overall savory aroma. My wife liked it so much that she declared it the best
potato salad she ever had in a BBQ place. I would not go as far as that, but will
concede it to be above average.
So, if you need something good for
lunch and you are in the vicinity of a Whitt’s, there is no reason not to go
there. I just would not drive thirty miles for it in the middle of a snowstorm,
like with a few other places I know around here.
Quest Log No 38 – Dirt Road BBQ & Grill Decatur, Morgan County
As I was driving to Dirt Road BBQ
& Grill on the Beltline in Decatur
today, a strange scene caught my eye. There was a pig and a blonde chick
standing by the side of the street, frantically waving at the passing cars.
I stopped and asked, "Where
did you get that?"
The pig said, "I won her in a
No, this is not an entirely true
story, just a very lame blonde joke, based on an actual pig-and-blonde-chick
sighting. They were trying to entice drivers to stop at the restaurant for
lunch. But besides me, I did not see anybody follow this siren song. Well,
since I had planned to eat there anyways, so that does not count either.
My wife and I visited the original
Dirt Road BBQ in Trinity about nine months ago, and since then a small
franchise was born. The newest addition to the Dirt Road BBQ family is this new
restaurant on the Beltline in Decatur,
which opened in August 2012. Its middle name is “Grill”, which describes the
general focus of this establishment pretty well – think “Sports Bar”, and you
are not far off. They even have Karaoke nights.
The restaurant is situated at the
end of a strip mall, next to some optical shop. The exterior is dominated by a
very large sign with the name on it. The interior is your typical family
restaurant/sports bar layout, with the exception of about half a dozen booths
on side that are made out of raw hewn wood planks. The original location in
Trinity has more charm, but as a franchise concept I guess you have to
streamline some things.
So I entered one of the booths, got
my free sweet tea (they not only have Karaoke nights, but also free tea Fridays
…) and ordered a Junk Yard Dog and a Turkey Sandwich.
Wow, wait a second – what happened
to pork, potato salad and slaw, you might ask? Well, I invented this new rule
that whenever I go to a different restaurant of the same franchise, I have to
try something else then before.
Hence, the dog and the sandwich
today, because last time I had the pork plate, comprende?
The Junk Yard Dog is a mess. I
didn’t even try to eat it using only my hands – I would have looked totally
stupid trying to tame the massive amount of stuff piled on that bun. A six inch
long sausage with the diameter of a football (okay, that may be an exaggeration
…), a very healthy helping of pulled pork, topped of with the special Dirt Road
BBQ sauce and two handfuls of shredded cheese. Oh, and two pickle spears that
were buried underneath the sausage.
I am not ashamed to testify here
that I used a fork to partition this heap of meat, cheese and bread.
It says on the menu that the Junk
Yard Dog is the favorite of Jason, the Pit Boss. I can understand this, because
it is really good. But you have to make sure that with each bite you get all of
the ingredients. The sausage alone is very mildly seasoned and kind of bland.
Thankfully, it is also not fatty at all and the texture is surprisingly
exquisite. The pulled pork is lean and tender and has a very nice smoke flavor.
The cheese is the typical cheddar you find everywhere, and the pickles are …
The special BBQ sauce is much too
sweet for my taste, without any zing to it. But together will all the other
stuff, it makes for a very harmonious yet interesting taste. The sweetness of
the sauce, the sourness of the pickles, the smokiness of the pork – never
thought that this would work so well. Personally, I would probably exchange the
cheese for some fried onions – then this Dog would possibly be sensational. As
it is, I would rank it as amazing right now.
So, after this heap of food, I was
surprised to not being filled up, but that I had some space left for the Turkey
Two thick slices of smoked Gobbler,
some slaw and white sauce, all on a standard bun. The turkey was very well smoked,
with a superb flavor, but unfortunately a bit on the dry side. The slaw was of
the “let’s shred the cabbage into microscopic pieces” variety and has a
sweet’n’sour taste, which dominated the whole sandwich, and I really didn’t
taste the white sauce at all.
But don’t get me wrong – although
the slaw flavor was quite overwhelming, the sandwich was tasty and at the end,
when I reached some bites with only the turkey with a little slaw left on it,
it was actually very good. The smoky flavor of the turkey came through quite
nicely, which was overlaid by the slaw before. A little less of that, and this
sandwich would actually have potential.
Well, I am no expert of the
restaurant business, but I think we might see the beginning of a success story
here. Yesterday Trinity, today Decatur
– what’s next? I hear that Birmingham
could use some good BBQ restaurant …
Quest Log No 37 – O’le Dads Barbeque Hazel Green, Madison
The Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist
Association publishes a guide called “North Alabama Barbecue Trail”. Of the 16
BBQ place featured in there, I have visited only seven. Well, I might need to
expand my coverage beyond the three counties of Madison, Morgan, and Limestone eventually.
But do I really need to travel to Cherokee or Boaz for good BBQ? We have about
sixty BBQ places in those three counties mentioned above, and I am struggling
to visit each of them – which is still my goal - as it is. And quite frankly,
there aren’t many BBQ restaurants outside this area that are really worth
driving two hours for. We are truly blessed not only with a fairly high density
of BBQ joints here, but also with some of the best BBQ one can imagine. The
quality at the top is just amazing, and even the average restaurants are
usually better than what you can find elsewhere.
So then, the seventh of those
restaurants mentioned in the brochure, which I visited during my quest was O’le
Dads Barbeque in Hazel Green.
My large pork plate came with three
sides – potato salad, vinegar slaw, and baked beans. Also, you have the choice
between a roll and three hushpuppies. Well, what choice? Exactly.
The meat was tender, with a very
distinctive but not overbearing smoke flavor. It was also quite moist, which
lets me think that maybe a liquid of some kind was added to keep it from drying
out. Thankfully, it was not oil, which would have given me the cramps (see The
Main Dish for reference). I am not a great purist, and since the pork was very
tasty and the meat, while more moist than it probably should have been, was not
soggy or flabby, I don’t want to make a big fuzz out of it.
The baked beans had some meat in
them and were not sweet at all – very good.
The potato salad, on the other
hand, was a bit blah, basically your standard on the sour side tasting mayonnaise-based
concoction without any outstanding features.
And the slaw was of the sweet
variety, which I personally don’t fancy that much. All sides together, however,
with the meat and the hot sauce on it, generated an amazing taste experience.
Sweet, sour, peppery, smoky, plus the different textures – amazing.
Oh, and the hot sauce is really
hot. It is a simple vinegar based pepper sauce with some kick – and a very
attractive orange color. It might even glow in the dark.
The mild sauce is just a standard
thick brownish-reddish sweet’n’spicy sauce – you can grab one of those at the
So then, we come to the absolute
highlight of the meal – hushpuppies. Three of them, fresh out of the fryer,
each the size of two golf balls.
In my humble opinion, and in my
wife’s expert opinion, these are the best hushpuppies on this planet (sorry
Greenbrier Restaurant, you just lost that title …).
Crunchy on the outside, fluffy yet
firm on the inside, with a perfect golden color and not too sweet - just the
way hushpuppies were intended to be.
Dip them into the remnants of the
baked beans sauce and this is better than any dessert.
For all of that, times two because
my wife had the same meal, plus a large cup of sweet tea and a can of soda, we
paid just under sixteen bucks - which is a more than good deal in my mind.
Of course, there is the drawback
that for this you have to drive out to Hazel Green, the well known center of
the universe. But the place is very easy to find, it sits right at the very
busy US Highway 431/231. Most people get their BBQ as carry-out, which clearly
has its reason in the fact that the dining area of O’le Dads Barbeque is half a
dozen tables in a screened porch at the front of the building. The porch has no
air condition, but features the lovely background soundtrack of speeding
eighteen wheelers, ambulance sirens, and general heavy traffic.
It is not the homiest place you can
imagine, but surely one of the most authentic you can find. And the food more
than compensates for that little nuisance.
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 ...
The name Porky’s will forever have a specific meaning for us folks old
enough to remember the teen-movie from 1982. In the movie, Porky’s was a place
of ill-repute, a hillbilly-redneck gentlemen’s club where a group of Florida
High Schoolers were treated poorly and then took revenge on the slimy owner and
his goons. Great fun movie, the critics hated it, the kids loved it, and it is
in fact the highest-grossing Canadian film of all time.
To name a BBQ place Porky’s is not really a revolutionary idea – it
actually seems quite obvious to me -, but during almost two years of being on
this quest now, I only found one restaurant that had the moxy to call itself
so. Maybe it is the association with the place from the movie that let people
shy away from this name.
Be it as it may, in Grant,
Alabama, they have a Porky’s
It is situated right at the main street in the middle of town, and
other than the movie place that sports some outlandish big neon-piggys on the
roof, the place in grant only has a simple sign with the name on it.
Well, it kind of fits the somewhat sober interior. About half a dozen
booths on the wall, two rows of tables and on the other side of a six feet high
wooden barrier the same layout. It is just a typical, nondescript eatery like
so many along America’s
Although, one thing sets it apart from many other restaurants – there
is a smoking section in the seating area beyond the barrier in the middle of
the room. This is quite unusual to find these days in restaurants, and
rightfully so. I like my meat smoked, not the air that I breathe.
And quite frankly, their meat could have used some of that smoke that
floated around the room when I was there. It was lean and tender and had a very
distinctive pork taste, but no smoke flavor whatsoever, and it was very dry.
The sauce on the table was of the run-of-the-mill thick red
sweet’n’spicy variety. I only noticed other sauces at a table next to the soda
fountain, when I refilled my drink after the meal.
The slaw was made with vinegar and had a very nice peppery flavor and a
good crunch to it. The potato salad was made with mayonnaise and tiptoed on the
sour side of life.
In addition to that, the pork plate came with a slice of Texas Toast.
For just under nine bucks with a fountain drink, the amount of food was
very fair, and the overall quality was acceptable. But the smoke was definitely
in the wrong place at Porky’s in Grant,
Quest Log No 36 – Big Cove BBQ Huntsville, Madison County
The King died because he stuffed
himself with Burgers, Fries and Cherry Cola. Coming from Tupelo,
and eventually living in Memphis,
this was a somewhat strange choice – had he stuck with good old southern style
BBQ instead of the junk food (and pills), he might still perform in Vegas.
Because BBQ done right is not only soul food, but it is health food as well.
When you enter Big Cove BBQ, one of
the first things you will notice is the life-sized cardboard cut-out of Elvis
in his glorious years, standing in one of the corners. Whether he was placed
there to remind the customers of the dangers of an unhealthy diet, or to serve
as a tribute to the southern way of live, or as a guardian angel for all that
is old style, I do not know. But it works – this place is as southern, old
style and healthy as the young Elvis, straight out of Tupelo, once was.
You order at a small
hole-in-the-wall counter just opposite the entrance door. The menu is of the
k.i.s.s. variety – keep it simple, stupid. Pulled pork sandwiches and plates,
stuffed baked potatoes, slaw, baked beans … nothing fancy here, just good old
The dining room has about half a
dozen tables, decorated with neat red-and-white-checkered plastic table cloths.
The chairs are of the usual black-metal with faux black leather seats variety.
The walls are covered with wooden panels, with some old pictures, news paper
articles, and the like as decoration. There is a gumball machine in one corner,
and some pig figurines placed in a shelf next to the cooler that holds the soda
Sitting there, it felt almost like
sitting in someone’s living room – very cozy and homey, and spot clean. That
feeling was certainly amplified by the extreme nice and attentive attitude of
the staff – it never hurts to be polite, friendly and considerate.
There is also a patio with more
tables in the back, but I doubt that this is used very often. Most folks seem
to come here for take-out food and those who stay seem to be regulars. Well,
given that this place is kind of hidden on a by-road behind a gargantuan WalMart SuperCenter, not very many outsiders
will ever find this BBQ.
This is a crying shame, because
apart from the old style atmosphere, they serve a righteous BBQ!
As usual, I had the pulled pork
plate – which, for not even eight and a half Dollars including free refills for
my sweet tea, ended up to be a killer deal. Not only was the portion enormous,
but also the quality was excellent.
The pork was succulent and tender,
very lean and with a good smoke aroma. They have two sauces, one thick red mild
one that is of the common sweet’n’smokey taste. Nothing wrong with that, but
this is the sort of BBQ sauce the WalMart carries, too.
But the hot sauce there is of a
different breed. It is actually more orange then red, which should give you the
first hint of its character. Yes, it is hot. My guess is a lot of cayenne
pepper, some ground jalapenos, and a bit of black pepper mixed into a base of
tomato sauce. First, it took my breath away, but after the third bite or so, I
actually liked the tingling on my tongue that put a different twist on the
smoky flavor of the pork.
The plate also came with three
sides. The potato salad was, hands down, one of the best I ever had in a BBQ
joint. Slightly sour, with big bites of potato, and a well rounded aroma.
The slaw was made with a
yoghurt/sour crème based sauce and tasted very fresh and light. Actually, I
could taste the cabbage, which is not always the case because most slaws are
just smothered with mayonnaise and/or sugar and vinegar. Not so here, the
flavor was very well balanced between a slight sourness, the freshness of the
sauce and the aroma of the cabbage. Also, I like it a lot if the cabbage pieces
are ‘bite sized’ – that means not shredded into oblivion, but also not cut so coarsely
as to leave the leafs almost intact. This slaw had the ‘right’ size – which is
hard to describe and certainly varies from person to person. But it worked for
The baked beans on the other hand
were a bit bland, way too sweet for my taste. But I liked that they were
enriched with green bell pepper, which gave it a little unexpected crunch.
Also part of the plate were two
buns, which I did not touch – I just was full to the brim, it was a massive
meal even without the buns.
The only negative experience there
was that they have real nice T-Shirts for sale, with a guitar playing pig on
it, but they were sold out of the 2XL size. Well, judging from the crowd you
usually see eating at those places, this should be the most popular size in North Alabama. The skinny types ain’t into southern soul
food that much, I guess.
Too bad, I would have proudly worn
their T-Shirt, to let everybody know that I am now a fan of their BBQ. So, I
guess that I have to return there once in a while to check on their T-Shirt
situation – looking forward to it.
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 ...
For many years now, several Burger empires have accessorized their
beef-in-buns with the moniker “BBQ” occasionally. Most of the time that only
meant that instead of ketchup, they slapped some dreadful “St.Louis style”
sauce on it.
Yeah, right – if the sauce is sweet’n’spicy, that’s legitimate BBQ,
regardless of what’s underneath.
So, I was on my way home from a Braves game in Atlanta, and my GPS told me to drive the
northern route home. Very scenic, but not much of a BBQ area up there in the
Little River Canyon region. Because I was hungry, I decided to not wait for a
BBQ restaurant to cross my way, but to eat a quick burger at the first golden
arches, castle or place that was named after a Confederate General I could
Hardee’s it was.
I always liked their burgers, so I went in and tried to find out what
to order. My eye caught a sign above the counter that said “Memphis BBQ
Thickburger”. Well, that sounded like one of those other burgers I mentioned
above. But what the heck, I was hungry, had never eaten this before, and so I
ordered the 1/3 pound variety of it.
Oh, and by the way, said the manager who took my order, this burger is
not on the menu yet – I just hung up the sign a minute ago and it is supposed
to be sold starting tomorrow. But because I must have looked really ragged,
hungry, dangerous, or desperate, he told me that he would sell it to me anyway.
And so I became probably the first paying Hardee’s customer in the USA to
get a taste of this new creation.
And new it was.
“A 100% Black Angus Beef
Thickburger®, Pulled Pork, BBQ Sauce, Crispy Onion Strings all on a Seeded
Yes, indeed – it had pulled pork on
it. Plus the 1/3 pound beef patty. Which makes this a carnivore’s dream burger,
Anyway, since the pulled pork was
smothered in a not too bad variety of your standard supermarket BBQ sauce, I
have no idea how the pulled pork tasted.
But the burger as a whole was just
great – one of the best burgers ever. The different textures of beef, pork,
onions, and the bun makes eating it a very interesting experience.
The BBQ sauce, as said before, is nothing special but gives it a kick
in the right direction. The crispy onions on the other hand are hardly more
than garnish and do not contribute much to the taste, which is clearly
dominated by the BBQ sauce.
Although I would never classify this as a “BBQ Sandwich” in the
classical sense, it is a novel idea to combine a burger with some pulled pork.
I am absolutely sure that this is a staple of countless backyard and garden BBQ
pit masters, but this was the first time I saw something like this in a
mainstream burger joint.
And it was good, real good – as a burger. As BBQ sandwich … not so
much. But still, I applaud the good people from Hardee’s to bring us something out
of the ordinary, something else than two patties, a bun, pickles, onions … you
get my drift.
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 ...
On my trip to Atlanta
today, to attend two Braves games and spend some money at IKEA, I also looked
out for a new BBQ place to visit.
Usually, when I go on a trip like this, I go online and check which BBQ
places are located on the way to my destination, or at the destination itself.
This time, the rave reviews on the internet pointed me to a place in
the middle of nowhere, adjacent to I-20 halfway between Anniston
and the Georgia
Marie’s BBQ House in Heflin,
Alabama, was founded in 2005 and
is one of those typical Mom-and-Dad joints you can find everywhere here in the
South. The whole family, including children, grand-children, nieces and nephews
They reside in a fairly new and custom built looking building that is
littered inside with flags, pictures, and other decoration sporting the emblem
of the other Alabama College Football team which won a National Championship in
There are some booths at the outer walls, and some tables in the middle
of the room. The interior is bright and clean, and the furniture is modern and functional.
You order at a counter from a menu that has all the usual BBQ items on
it – including Brunswick Stew all year long.
You can have your pork either sliced or chopped, but not pulled – which
is kind of strange. My first thought was, is it not tender enough to just pull
it off, so you have to use a metal object? Well, we’ll see.
As usual, I ordered a pork plate with potato salad and slaw. The pork
came chopped – and with sauce already on it. Fortunately it was not drenched in
it, but the sauce only covered about half of the pork. So I was able to actually
taste the pork – it was tender. But a bit on the dry side, and not without some
bigger bits of fat.
The taste was very smoky, yet not too intense. With a simple
vinegar-pepper sauce, this pork would have made a wonderful meal. With the
brownish-red sauce they poured over it, though, it was merely okay. The sauce
tasted not very special, just your middle-of-the-road Memphis/St.Louis kind of
stuff. What a pity.
The potato salad was of the creamy-mayonnaisy variety and had big
chunks of egg in it. I like that, and the taste was fresh and just slightly
sour, which made this salad one of the better ones I’ve had.
The slaw was also done with mayonnaise, and also tasted very fresh and
creamy. There was a very nice crunch to the shredded veggies, and together with
the smoky pork and the slightly sour potato salad, it produced a very
You also get a thick slice of Texas
toast, which is soaked in liquid butter.
For just a bit over nine Dollars, including sweet tea, the pork plate
at Marie’s BBQ House in Heflin is a very good deal. The portion is fair and the
taste, if you forgive them the so-so BBQ sauce, justifies a repeat visit. Too
bad, that my next trip to Atlanta
in two weeks will be by plane …