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 No46 – Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (Danville Rd) Decatur, Morgan County
After I visited Big Bob Gibson’s main restaurant on Hwy 31
in Decatur in June 2011, I was very disappointed by the quality and taste of
the food, and somewhat taken back by the in-your face display of their national
notoriety, and of all the fabulous medals and prizes they have won for their
sauces, which have an ingredients list that is as long as the Old Testament.
My conclusion was that we had better places for BBQ here in Northern Alabama. Lots of them.
Well, it took me one and a half years to make it to the
other place Big Bob has in Decatur,
on Danville Road.
And I am glad to report that this visit ended in the partial redemption of this
First of all, the building does not scream “tourist
attraction” from a mile away. It is a rather unassuming barn-style house, with
rough wooden walls and a rather sober atmosphere inside. A few framed articles
about Big Bob Gibson’s coverage in the media over the years is the only
decoration, there are a couple flat screen TVs in the corners, and the rather
spacious eating area has some booths and some wooden tables. Nothing fancy
here, all very functional, no frills.
You order at a counter and wait there for your food to be
prepared. I chose the pork and white chicken meat combo plate, with potato
salad and baked beans. No slaw this time, because I still remembered vividly
the train wreck that was the slaw at the other place.
My wife took the rib plate, with baked beans and slaw – a
decision she regretted as soon as she spotted the alien-green heap of mushy
cabbage on her plate.
We both took a small bite of the slaw and almost spit it out
– disgusting. The texture was that of mushy grits and the taste was that of raw
cabbage with some artificial sweetener in it.
The baked beans on the other hand were quite edible,
although we both almost got into an argument out of what can they had come. The
potato salad on the other hand was very creamy and had a refreshingly neutral
taste. I can live with neutrality in potato salad, as long as it is not totally
bland, which it wasn’t. It was creamy.
But now to the most important aspect, which led to a partial
redemption of the devastating judgment from 2011.
The pulled pork was very tender and lean, and a bit on the
dry side, which I don’t mind. That way, it soaks up the sauce better. And here,
they had not only the famous supermarket-tested, award winning, endless
ingredients list sporting red and white sauces on the table, but also a
somewhat beaten plastic bottle with a simple spicy vinegar and pepper sauce. That
stuff had a good kick to it, and was the perfect companion to the real nice
smoky taste of the pork. And, it did not contain any of the chemical compounds
of the other stuff.
The chicken, all white meat, was also a bit dry, but
nevertheless very tender and receptive to the pepper-vinegar sauce. And the skin
was just sublime – a heavy smoke taste with some crunch to it.
Also, the ribs my wife had tasted extremely well, with just
the right amount of smoke aroma. They were not of the fall-off-the-bone
variety, but firm and yet tender and succulent. My wife ranks them within the
Top 5 of ribs she had in the last two years.
So, except for the just so-so or even disgusting side items,
everything peachy in Big Bob’s Land?
Not quite. Please do yourself a favor and do not chose
either the sweet or the unsweet tea for a drink – stick with the stuff that
comes out of the soda machine. The tea has a very nasty aftertaste, especially
the sweet variety. It kind of tastes as if they brewed it with water from the
kitchen sink. Just nasty.
So, while this experience was clearly better than that we
had in 2011 at the restaurant on Hwy 31, I still consider many other BBQ places
a better choice. If they would fix the side items, and the nasty tea, this
judgment might have to be revised. But until then, I think a little redemption
is better than nothing.
After two full years of working on the Quest, it's about time to look back on the achievements, and forward to the things that are left undone yet.
45 BBQ places are in the books, with between 15 and 20 remaining. The actual number is kind of fluctuating, because restaurants close, new restaurants are opened, there are a number of mobile BBQ "restaurants" on the list that may go out of business before I had the chance to visit them, and so on.
But even 20 looks very doable, although most of those are in the western part of the Quest area, so I have to drive an hour or more to go to certain places.
Well, I will cheerily take that burden on me - I still can't get enough of BBQ.
By the end of this year, though, I foresee the Quest to be concluded. But until then, it's: I'll have the pork plate with a side of potato salad and the baked beans, please. And a sweet tea ...