There ain't no bad BBQ in all of Bama.
It's all good ... some more good, some less good.
A darn shame, though, that one's lifetime is too short for visiting all the BBQ places there are between Huntsville and Mobile.
So I decided to scale it down to a more manageable quest - 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).
And that is my Great North Alabama BBQ Quest.
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.