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.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Mr. Crite's Bar-B-Q
Quest Log No 60 – Mr. Crite’s Bar-B-Q Athens, Limestone County
Far away from the beaten path, one
will sometimes find the best things. Mainstream might be safe and familiar, but
surely it is also boring and unexciting. Of course, something outside of the area
of the common denominator might be disappointing, unacceptable, or even
dangerous. But first, you have to find those places, because they usually do
not advertise, there are no street signs, they are not on facebook, and they
are hidden in locations where you probably never thought to find them. So,
listen to the locals, they know. But do not assume that you can duplicate their
experience. They grew up with that particular whatever-it-is, and so they are
biased and think it is the greatest whatever-it-is in the World.
That is the way I heard of Mr.
Crite’s. A Buddy of mine lives in Florence, and
on his way to and from work in Huntsville,
he often stops there and gets some BBQ for the family dinner. Another co-worker
lived nearby for some time, and it was her family’s tradition to get BBQ from
Mr. Crite’s each Saturday. Both raved about this place, so a year ago I checked
it out. Alas, only from the outside, because it was closed. They have weird
business hours there, and during the winter months it is open basically only Thursdays,
Fridays and Saturdays from 11 AM to 4 PM.
But I would have not gone in
anyway. Not only is this restaurant, and I loose the term very loosely here, in
the freakin’ middle of nowhere, surrounded by woods and fields and all kinds of
rural landscape. The building looks positively rotten from the outside, and one
year ago I was not yet ready to accept that there was not necessarily food
poisoning lurking in those shacks. Now, with a lot more experience under my
belt and also having been to worse places during this quest, I am not that
squeamish anymore. Or maybe I just am at a point in my life where I just accept
my fate and don’t try to avoid it.
Anyway, as rotten as the building
looks from the outside, the inside will not win any designer prizes anytime
soon either. The light in there is dim, the ceiling is low, the floor is worn
out, the furniture is a motley mixture of wooden picnic tables and ordinary
tables, the space is tight, there is a beat-up air conditioner hanging in one
of the two windows, while at the other window the glass pane is missing and all
that is keeping the Alabamian Nature from creeping into the building is a holey
fly screen. The only redeeming aspect of the interior is a cheerful mural on
the wall that depicts some farm people with hatchets who are going after some
hapless pigs. I’ve seen horror movies that started in places like this.
Fortunately for me, I did not have a bulbous, blonde scream queen with me today,
so there the probability for me ending up being chased through the woods by
some toothless, overalls wearing Half-Zombies with Shotguns was pretty low.
What I did expect, though, based on
the tales of my Buddies, was above average BBQ.
When I hear the sound of a
Microwave coming from the Kitchen, my mood goes down immediately. I am not sure
whether it was the beans or the meat, or both, that was re-heated that way. And
I was not there late in the day, when some stuff might have needed a little
fire under the behind to bring it up to serving temperature. No, I was there
ten minutes after it opened that day, so everything should have been bubbling
and steaming without exacting it to those waves.
It certainly did not help to make
the food better, but the baked beans were not very memorable to begin with. Not
very sweet, not very tangy, kind of bland, of the
open-a-can-and-throw-it-in-the-microwave variety. The potato salad on the other
hand was creamy and very tasty, and had a made from scratch character.
The meat was kind of mushy and not
the most tender I ever had. It also had a very prominent aroma, which either
came from too much smoke or some weird spice they put on it. The taste was not
bad, but it will also not become my favorite anytime soon.
I tried to counter that with some
sauce, of which there were two varieties – one rather bland thick red
sweet’n’spicy concoction, and one also thick and red and just spicy. Well, the
sweet’n’spicy bottle came with a dried up plug of the sauce in the spout, which
was kind of icky, so I just squeezed a tiny bit out to take a me measurement,
but then stuck with spicy sauce. But here too, nothing to write home about. It
was just a thick red spicy sauce, without any outstanding attributes.
Together with a can of soda from a
fridge right next to the table I sat at, I paid just under nine bucks for the
meal. I consider that a good deal, although the food was clearly sub-par. But I
did not get food poisoning, was not bitten by a snake, had not black widow
trying to befriend me, and now have eventually mastered my inner fear of rotten
BBQ shacks. Bring it on.