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 65 – Melvin’s Place of BBQ Huntsville, Madison County
No sign. No name. No indication
that this place in a fairly run down inner-city subdivision of Huntsville next to a cemetery, is a BBQ
restaurant, than the smoke that is coming from a mobile barrel smoker at the
corner of the premises. You park either in one of the two parking spots on a
gravel patch beside the house, or on the street. In the courtyard of the
L-shaped building are some camping-canopies with well worn out leather chairs.
A few orange traffic cones adorn the pavement. The entrance to the dining room
is a simple red door. The dining room is surprisingly big, and not surprisingly
dark. There is one camping table with six camping chairs, half a dozen of those
well worn leather chairs along a three foot high wall, and a counter with an
old office chair behind it that has an old shirt lumped over it that says
“Melvin’s Place of BBQ”. Next to the counter stand an old TV, and some buffet
gear. On the other side of the room, beyond the three foot high wall that
separates this area from the dining area, and where it is really dark, there is
a small stage with some musicians gear on it, several other camping tables,
more buffet gear and other things. On the walls, there is one picture of a
1960s era soul band, and a framed article of the Huntsville Times about this
Some would call it a dive. Some
would even call it a dump. Others would call it authentic. I would call it all
of the above.
To be very clear – it is not a
dirty place, not at all. It is just well worn, odd, eccentric, cobbled
together. The owner, Melvin, is a very nice old man, with a serious passion for
BBQ. When I asked him about his secret how to cook such a marvelous BBQ, I got
a fifteen minute lecture. No, actually it was more like a sermon, with fire and
brimstone, and preaching and praying.
Melvin does not believe in wood. He
uses whatever is on hand – hickory, pecan, cherry, it doesn’t matter. The
secret to get the flavor in the meat, he told me, is the rub, not the wood. He
does his own rub and his own BBQ sauce – actually, he has nine different
sauces, and each of them makes the chicken taste differently in combination
with the rub. Melvin also does not believe in smoking the meat for hours. He
has better things to do than fire up the smoker in the middle of the night, he
said. Forty-five minutes is sufficient for a chicken - that is his believe. He
also does not turn the meat halfway through the process, nor does he poke it
with a thermometer, lest the juices would drip out. With all that, he is the
most unorthodox pitmaster I ever met. But his chicken proves him right – it is
I had heard so many good things
about Melvin’s chicken that I broke with my rule to have pulled pork at each
new BBQ place. The plate, rather the Styrofoam box, came loaded with two slices
of regular toast (untoasted), baked beans, potato salad, and a two drumsticks
and a chicken breast. The chicken was sitting in a puddle of his BBQ sauce
(which of the nine different varieties, I have no idea), that apparently oozed
out from the skin. The skin was a bit leathery and not crisp at all, but the
meat under it was the most tender, juicy, flavorful and, yes, divine chicken I
ever had. It had a very nice smoke aroma, too – something you do not
necessarily expect with a smoking time of only forty-five minutes. The potato
salad was top notch as well, being a mayonnaise based, fairly sour, concoction.
The baked beans were okay, but nothing to write home about. They swam in a thin
liquid and had some vegetables and meat in it, but the taste was really nothing
With a can of soda, I paid eleven
bucks (the lecture was priceless, yet at no cost), which is more than can be
usually expected in such a location. But it is well worth it, and I can only
suggest that you let the, well, ramshackle environment and the very interesting
interior design of the restaurant not deter you from what would become a
defining moment in your live – when you take the first bite out of Melvin’s
chicken. It is just divine!
BBQ No 45 – Jim’n Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q
During my occasional travels, I
try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I
just really, really like that stuff ...
Finally, I had to see what the fuzz is all about. Jim’n
Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q is a growing chain of BBQ restaurants that wins awards
left and right. Most recently, it was listed as the Number one BBQ chain in
America by USA Today, which had to say “If you're going to open a chain of barbecue
restaurants in the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and
Colorado, you better make sure that your product is on-point.”
What started in 1985 in Birmingham,
Alabama, has spread now to 33 locations in the
states mentioned above, with two more restaurants coming soon to Colorado.
Alabama, as the nucleus of
the whole operation, has 14 places where you can dine at a Jim’n Nick’s – I was
at their Montgomery
restaurant, on my way home from a Biscuits Baseball game at beautiful Riverwalk
Well, first of all, their address is somehow screwed up –
had I trusted my GPS, it would have led to a place two blocks from there.
Fortunately, I saw it in the corner of my eye when I passed it and was able to
turn around immediately. The restaurant is one of those typical “family
oriented” buildings that could be used by various different chains after one
another. The inside, too, is rather unassuming – the typical red faux leather
booths, wooden tables, pipes under the wooden ceiling, wooden pillars and
beams, and brick walls with a few posters as decoration. All very clean, very
nice, and very bland.
And nice was also the food. The meat of my pork plate had a
nice smoke aroma, it was tender and juicy, and fairly lean with just a bit of
fat that could be easily put aside. It was not pulled, but rather chopped, and
it also came already smothered in sauce – as everybody knows, that is a total
no-no in the BBQ world. Granted, their original sauce - a concoction based on
vinegar and pepper, yet with some more ingredients in it to make it thick and
red - is quite tasty, with a hint of spiciness. But please don’t drown your
meat in it – that is my, the customer’s job, if I chose to! Their other sauce
is called “Habanero” and is obviously supposed to be the hot cousin. While is
has a bit more kick to it, I would not dare calling it a “hot sauce”, because
for that it lacks some serious punch.
As sides I had baked beans that were not too sweet and also
had a little spiciness, and a very well made tangy potato salad.
While nothing of the meal was really outstanding, nothing
was an abysmal failure, as well. It was nice BBQ in a nice atmosphere … with a
hefty check at the end. Almost eighteen bucks for the plate with a sweat tea,
holy moly, that is what I would call steep. I had much better BBQ in a more
authentic environment for not even half of that. So, my resume is: Nice but
overpriced. At least here in the BBQ belt - they might have more success with this concept in Colorado.