Archive for the 'BBQ' Category

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Dreamland Bar-B-Que – Birmingham

Dreamland - Birmingham

Years ago when I first visited Birmingham, The Astronomer treated me to lunch at Dreamland Bar-B-Que. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, while he had a half slab of ribs. There was also a side of macaroni and cheese and a tall stack of white bread, if memory serves me right. It was one hell of an introduction to ‘Bama style ‘cue; one that inspired me to seek out something smokey and saucy on my visits thereafter.

Dreamland - Birmingham

Our barbecue explorations thus far have taken us to Miss Myra’s for its intriguing white sauce, to Full Moon for its famously tangy chow chow, to Saw’s for its vinegar-based mop sauce, and to Jim ‘N Nick’s for just about everything. Even with our consistent efforts, we’ve barely made a dent in Birmingham’s ever-growing barbecue scene.

On our most recent trip to the city, I insisted on lunch at Dreamland even though there are dozens of barbecue shacks left to try. It’s always been one of my favorites and sometimes, it’s plain nice to dine somewhere familiar.

Dreamland - Birmingham

John “Big Daddy” Bishop opened the first Dreamland in 1958 in the town of Tuscaloosa. According to barbecue lore, he was torn between setting up a mortuary or opening a restaurant to support his family. He prayed to God for a sign and received one in the form of a dream. While he was sleeping, God told Big Daddy to build a restaurant next to his home. And thus, Dreamland was born.

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Coop’s West Texas Barbecue – San Diego (Lemon Grove)

Coop's West Texas Barbecue - Lemon Grove

Growing up in the sleepy suburb of Lemon Grove, I would have never thought in a million years that any restaurant located here was capable of attracting a crowd, especially not one of discerning foodie types. My hometown, which is best known for its giant lemon boasting “The Best Climate on Earth,” was a fine place to be a kid, but about as far from a dining destination as one could imagine.

Coop’s West Texas Barbecue popped up in a strip mall two paces from Grandma’s house sometime last October. My family used to order delivery from the Little Caesars directly behind it and rent videos from the space next door that is currently some sort of religious facility. It’s funny to have a personal history with a strip mall.

Coop's West Texas Barbecue - Lemon Grove

The Astronomer and I drove past Coop’s a dozen times before finally gathering up the troops to try the place. Truth be told, it was favorable Yelp reviews that finally convinced us that the ‘cue here was worthy of exploration. Joining us for lunch were my mom, cousins Phil, Jimmy, Danny, Jackie, and Michael, as well as Michael’s girlfriend.

There was a small line formed at the counter when we arrived, and nearly every table was occupied. Fortunately, two tables opened up just as we were ready to sit. We jammed them together to fit all nine of us.

Coop's West Texas Barbecue - Lemon Grove

Coop, the restaurant’s chef and proprietor, hails from Midland, and everything here is prepared in true Texas fashion. All of the meats are smoked low and slow in the indoor brick pit-smoker or in the outdoor steel aqua smokers. Mesquite and red oak are used to fuel the fire and to imbue the proteins with that certain something.

Coop serves his meat sauce-less to allow the rubs and natural flavors to shine brightly. Two house-made sauces are available table side for diners to use as they please. Both are molasses and ketchup based—the one in the brown bottle is mild, while the one in the red bottle has a spicy kick.

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Bigmista’s Pig Candy

Bigmista's Barbecue - Los Angeles

A lengthy wait for a table at Canele prompted the Astronomer and me to stroll over to the Atwater Village Farmers Market to kill some time. After skipping along the aisles and nabbing samples of oranges, apples, and strawberries, we stumbled upon a man with a giant-ass smoker and a long-ass line. It turns out that Bigmista’s Barbecue is a big draw here on Sunday mornings.

Neil and Phyllis Strawder, also known as Bigmista and Mrs. Mista, launched the roving barbecue operation in 2008. They started vending at the Watts farmers market, but have since moved on to the Atwater farmers market (Sunday), the Torrance farmers market (Tuesday and Saturday), the El Segundo farmers market (Thursday), and the Echo Park farmers market (Friday).

Bigmista's Barbecue - Los Angeles

After checking out Bigmista’s menu of delights, a part of me wanted to ditch our brunching plans and instead dine on some down home goodness. Alas, I was accompanied by The Astronomer’s visiting family from Alabama who eat ‘cue on a regular basis, so only a small bite would do. I guess the ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and Moink balls (bacon-wrapped meatballs) will just have to wait!

Bigmista's Barbecue - Los Angeles

I could not resist ordering some Pig Candy ($1.50) even though brunch was moments away. It was comprised of thick slices of bacon, slathered in brown sugar and spices and smoked until the edges caramelized. Initially, it was the smoky sweetness that registered on my tongue. As I savored a little more, an intense heat was unleashed. Small, deliberate bites are the best way to approach this beastly good Pig Candy.

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Saw’s BBQ – Birmingham

Saw's BBQ - Birmingham

For our final restaurant outing of 2010, The Astronomer treated me to a meat fest of smoky proportions at Saw’s BBQ, a relative newcomer to the Birmingham barbecue scene. Joining us for the joyous occasion were select members of the Indian Springs School class of 2003.

Saw's BBQ - Birmingham

The man behind Saw’s BBQ is Mike Wilson, a North Carolina native with a diverse culinary background. After graduating from Johnson & Wales University in Colorado, he returned home to work for Dean & Deluca. He found himself in Birmingham a few years later after scoring a cheffing position in the test kitchen of Cooking Light magazine.

Saw's BBQ - Birmingham

Chef Wilson initially began experimenting with making sauces and smoking meat as a hobby. After sharing his North Carolina-inspired creations with coworkers at Cooking Light, word quickly spread throughout the local food community, and demand for his sauce and meats caught fire.

Opened in 2009, Saw’s BBQ is a tribute to the great North Carolina barbecue tradition that the chef grew up eating. By the way, “Saw” is an acronym for “Sorry Ass Wilson,” the chef’s not-so-pleasant high school nickname.

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