BBQ & Brews
Don’t look for the pork in government in our capital city, instead seek it out at these pig houses where they cook low and slow. Here are a couple of decidedly different tasty ‘cue joints that pair nicely with the city’s craft brew spots.
3510 Atlanta Highway
The crowded parking lot is the first clue that Sam’s dishes up some of Montgomery’s finest smoked meat. The line at the counter also shows how popular this small joint is. While you’re waiting to order, watch Sam’s son, Nathan Chambliss, wield a long fork as he turns the smoldering butts on the ceramic tile pit. The decor is nothing to go on about — simple tables and chairs fill the plain yellow painted box building. But the pork? It’s the only meat served here. And it’s only chopped. “Samwiches,” the locals call them. Sam’s only barbecues one meat. Oh, they serve hot dogs and sausage too, but the Chambliss family doesn’t think of it as barbecue. Dig into a Samwich and you’ll agree. Sam’s does it really well.
Brenda’s Bar-B-Q Pit
1457 Mobile Road
A gritty brick shack on a back street near City of St. Jude’s houses Montgomery’s oldest barbecue joint. It’s a walk-up kind of place; there’s nowhere to sit and eat except for your own vehicle’s tailgate. But don’t let that stop you from digging into the ribs, chopped pork, and smoked chicken. Brenda’s is also one of the few spots where you can still order a pig ear sandwich on white bread with mustard, an old Alabama soul food delicacy.
12 West Jefferson Street (across from Riverwalk Stadium)
Montgomery’s first craft beer house has fun with beer names, such as the Alabama Pale Ale, their (APA); Y’all’s Alabama Light Lager (Y’ALL); and a Red Clay Irish Ale. But beer is quite seriously brewed. If by chance you are still hungry when you arrive at this casual spot, sample the fried Wickles Pickles. Canned nearby in Dadeville, the pickled treats are a taste of Alabama that make the beers slide down easy.
On the Plains, East Alabama’s mustard-based sauce is champion. This is a region of vinegary smoke curling over hickory logs, and an entirely different lexicon on the menus. Look for Chipped Pork (meat pulled from the butt, minced, and then simmered in sauce), Chopped Pork (meat pulled from the butt, chopped into bite-size pieces, and served with slaw and sauce on a bun), and Chipped on the Block (pulled from the butt and minced, served with slaw and sauce on a bun). The local breweries also have a distinctive East Alabama flavor. Folks come for the ales, stouts, and ciders.
905 Short Avenue, Opelika
Just about everybody in town ends up at this squatty brown brick building across from the Opelika Police Department at some time. This spot has done more for the tastes of East Alabama ‘cue than probably any other. The guy who started it all, Chuck Ferrell, learned to cook barbecue as a child following the South Carolina mustard style. He brought that to his own restaurant when he opened it in 1976 and put his own distinctive touches on it. Chuck has retired now, and a young pit master runs the show. The new generation at Chuck’s have pledged to keep it the same. Sandwiches arrive with mustard sauce, a pickle slice, and slaw — a cabbage and mustard concoction that’s vinegary and sweet. That’s pure East Alabama style.
Price’s Barbecue House
345 South College Street, Auburn
You don’t have to be an Auburn fan to enjoy the chipped pork sandwiches at this spot across the street from the campus, but it doesn’t hurt. This well-established house of porcine pleasures caters to anyone who wants pit-cooked ‘cue in a tangy but not overpowering mustard sauce. If you prefer yours naked (that’s without the sauce, folks), just ask. Like many ‘cue joints, this one dishes up a fine breakfast, as well as a broad menu of barbecued chicken, Brunswick stew, salads and slaws, and yes, even peanut butter, chocolate, and lemon pies.
704 North Railroad Avenue, Opelika
This brand spanking new brewery just opened in the Lebanon Arts District of downtown Opelika. It’s the kind of place you can pour yourself into after a big chipped pork plate. The old warehouse houses a production facility and a taproom and lounge for the craft beer emporium. The brewers offer up three year-round beers plus a cider and seasonal samples from the taps.
7505 13th Street, Suite A, Phenix City
East Alabama’s newest brew house and features an acclaimed hearty stout. Catering to the crowds coming off a day on the Chattahoochee River’s whitewater, the craft beer production plans to ramp up operations just as fast as the water flows across the adjacent fall line.
The state’s reputation for barbecued ribs came from the back roads around Tuscaloosa. First in the tiny community of Jerusalem Heights, a brick mason started a store where he also sold his wife’s ribs. By the end of the day, they were always sold out of those ribs. Soon, that’s all he made, and his dream restaurant was born. Across the river just a couple of miles as the crow flies, another family started cooking ribs in the backyard. Word got out and the family had folks knocking on their door following the trail of smoke. Meanwhile it took several decades for the craft beer movement to start up here. Yet when it did, Tuscaloosa became one of the state’s hot spots for small batch brews.
5535 15th Avenue East, Tuscaloosa
Meat candy. That’s what Dreamland ribs are. They’ve kept lovers of barbecue pigsicles coming back since the late 1950s. The original location developed devoted fans who traveled across the nation and beyond just to eat at this storied spot. During the University of Alabama’s televised football games, the network announcers bragged on this little place run by Big Daddy and Mrs. Lilly Bishop, a place to belly up to a platter with a slab of ribs and a stack of white bread before the kick off. Viral marketing was born. In the Bishops’ heyday, Dreamland became known as the place for ribs, white bread, and soda. People still seek out this particular location as a ground zero for rib mania in Alabama. Nowadays, servers deliver complimentary appetizer plates of white bread and that same sauce that Big Daddy developed. The menu has changed too. Now the Original Dreamland includes sides of beans, slaw, potato salad, and even banana pudding. They’ve also added smoked sausage and chopped pork sandwiches. But the atmosphere remains akin to decades past. Televisions blare from the walls where hundreds of car tags and t-shirts, and autographed dollar bills hang. There are fun signs (including the infamous “No farting” one over the door) to look at, when you can stop concentrating on the dreamy ribs.
1211 MLK Blvd., Tuscaloosa
In a tidy neighborhood across the Black Warrior River from Tuscaloosa, a revered family practices daily devotions of smoking ribs. George and Betty Archibald built it. Back in the days when Bear Bryant was coach, that other rib joint got all the publicity from the newscasters covering the Crimson Tide. But the locals kept Archibald’s to themselves. That’s where the saying got started: “Visitors go to Dreamland; locals go to Archibald’s.” Archibald’s just never went in for the publicity, preferring instead to focus on the food. Barbecue aficionados believe this is the altar of Alabama’s holy smoke. The years took their toll on George and Betty, but not the barbecue. The family still turns the ribs and butts with a family heirloom— a hoe handle with a long metal fork crafted on the end. They use mops to moisten the meat with Archibald’s finely tuned orangey-red elixir as it cooks low and slow. You can buy that same sauce by the gallon here, too — many folks end up taking it home when Archibald’s run out of ribs, a daily occurrence.
15th Street, Tuscaloosa
Druid City led the way for Tuscaloosa brew houses. Today, their craft beers are sold all over the state. When in town, the taproom and patio welcome you to sample their fresh brews, such as the light-yet bitter Tuskaloosa Stout and the super quaffable Riverside Saison.
2216 University Boulevard, Tuscaloosa
The brewers at Black Warrior know food and beer are great pairings, so they invite you to bring a rack of ribs from Dreamland or Archibald’s along on your visit. Then you take your time sipping the Strawberry Blonde with malt sweetness and tart strawberry, the extra dark Angry Brown Ale with three kinds of hops, or the Blonde Ale, a lovely golden color with a twinge of citrus. If you can’t get to the tasting room, Black Warrior is served at restaurants in Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, and Huntsville.
1605 23rd Avenue, Tuscaloosa
Open since the fall of 2015, this business is a family affair, inspired by the grandfather of Jeremy and Jeremiah Donald, who taught them how to make muscadine wine on a Choctaw County farm. The Donalds are partnered now with Quintin Brown and offer awesome craft beer. Check them out.