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.