During a recent work trip, I found myself flying from Detroit down south to Mobile, Alabama near the Gulf of Mexico. The warmer temperatures, the laid back lifestyles, and the assortment of good barbecue all came included with the trip. The visit allowed me to venture off the beaten path and experience something out of the ordinary. From pulled pork to baked beans and from brisket to fried okra, only the south seems to have the ability to make everything on your plate taste just a little better. And those smaller smokehouses dotting the country backroads will always have better barbecue than those corporate joints in the mall parking lots of big cities.
Mobile, Alabama was wafting its usual barbecue aromas throughout the countryside which made this a very edible visit while socializing with the overly hospitable locals. As per the usual in my recent travels, I ask the hometown folks where are the best places to eat. After all, they’ll be the folks that know and with this visit down south they pointed me towards two of the finer Mobile barbecue establishments: Smokey Q’s Bar BQ and Dick Russell’s Famous Barbecue.
Smokey Q’s Bar BQ – While not necessarily too far off the beaten path, this little smokehouse is located within the confines of a beautiful southern neighborhood. Spanish moss drapes the mammoth Cypress trees which in turn camouflage the two storied, black railings of the mansions lining Government Street.. The entrance has a neon Saucy Q’s sign, an old black smoker, and Miller Lite posters in the window to signify it’s validity as a restaurant. And this not being a corporate conglomerate makes it a silver lining here in Mobile. Once inside, you are met by a few young ladies at a counter who point to the menu behind them plastered on the wall sporting low prices and big plates of southern cuisine.
A lunch order of a pulled pork sandwich comes with two sides and a drink. The sandwich comes out mounded with finely chopped smoked pork butt, crispy onion rings and smoky baked beans. A cup of the house BBQ sauce sits next to the plate on my tray as I eyeball the tray of chicken wings that somebody else just ordered on its way out of the kitchen. The menu boasts fried fish, beef brisket, chicken, shrimp, and ribs. Each of which followed the wings out of the kitchen and were distributed among the many tables around me as my lunch was slowly devoured. Be sure that the next trip down to Mobile the ribs will be attacked and a side of wings will be taken back to the hotel for further research purposes. The pleasant staff, the wonderful food and the great atmosphere definitely keeps this joint on the radar for lunches in the future.
Dick Russell’s Famous Barbecue – Located more towards the southern tip of Mobile, this restaurant puts the southern in down south. A sweet little lady with a southern drawl and wearing a Dick Russell t-shirt greets you at the door and seats you promptly. The top half of the kitchen staff is visible behind the counter and the smokers are in full force drifting the aromas of barbecue throughout the customer filled restaurant. The décor is a little bit backwoods mingled in with aviation toys due to the Brookley Aeroplex located nearby. The menu offers an eclectic array of southern classics including breakfast specials of homemade biscuits or stuffed omelet’s, a different daily lunch special all 7 days a week and large dinner plates of ribs, pulled pork, chicken, chops and even seafood. They even offer a barbecue baked potato loaded with grilled peppers, tomatoes, onions, your choice of barbecue meat and topped with cheese, sour cream and chives.
As I ordered the beef brisket with fried okra and baked beans the waitress informed me the already hefty meal also comes with two large cornbread muffins (not sweet cornmeal muffins) and a plate of homemade banana pudding. The brisket was slice thick and covered in the house barbecue sauce, the okra was fried to perfection and the beans were smoky with chunks of meat scattered within. The cornbread muffins were used to sop up the leftover bbq sauce and beans while the whole thing was chased with another Miller Lite. How else should this lunch be finished off other than the plate of homemade banana pudding? Delicious. The waitress then kindly asked if I needed anything else which I responded either a wheelchair to get out of the booth or a cot to sleep off the meal!
Southern cooking has a way of making you feel at home even though far away. It’s comforting, it’s nourishing but most of all it’s just damn good. The corporate barbecue joints popping up around America these days do offer some good smokehouse classics but it’s always those off the beaten path that take the time and effort to deliver quality smoke meats and sides. Someone once said, “…you should take time to stop and smell the roses…”, however in southern Alabama that should be altered to say, “…smell the barbecue!”.
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em and don’t forget your bib!