My Huntsville, Alabama Chow Log
Hi all. I just got a new job and a new house in Huntsville, and went through the boards yesterday to figure out where to eat today. I'll be moving December 1st (from Pittsburgh, PA), and wanted to go nuts on barbecue to see what's what. I saw a lot of posts scattered throughout regarding Huntsville, and I'm going to consolidate all my posts here because it's a smaller area that doesn't have it's own category like some cities and states. I'm going to sample the hell out of this place and share my experience and opinions here. Dissenting opinions are welcome and valued, as this will be decidedly one-sided. SORRY if I smack-down you favorite place! I will gladly revisit if you insist it's normally good. I'm not a food critic, I just love food, and am critical.
Two names that kept coming up for local BBQ were David Gibson's on Bob Wallace Ave, and Dreamland on University Drive, so I tried them both today. Separate reviews follow, as will future reviews as long as I live here. I'm going to hit everything that many of you have suggested.
I hope I enjoy.
For lunch I went to Dave Gibson's on Bob Wallace Ave, and probably will not return. I ordered the half pork, half beef plate with hush puppies instead of fries. Because she asked me which I wanted with it, and there was no mention of included sides on the board, I ordered a side of coleslaw. I saw immediately that it comes with potato salad, baked beans, and of course, coleslaw. Maybe she thought I just really like coleslaw, or maybe it was the fact that we had to ask each other to repeat what was said every sentence, but I think she could have mentioned that it came with slaw.
There was no separation of the little meat there was, and it all was the same gray color, and same dryness and chewiness. So I have no idea if I got what I asked for, but it was not worth going back to ask. I am a fan of vinegar-based BBQ sauce, so it's not like this was just not my preferred style. The vinegar at the table was delicious and spicy, but the separate sauce was nothing special. Like a molasses or corn syrup base. Any sauce recipe I've made myself has tasted much better, and that's wrong for a place with so much history and supposed pride.
There was a BIG PLUS to the meal, and that was the coleslaw. It was the vinegar-based kind that I love, and it was the same great vinegar that was on the table. It could very well have been homemade. But rest of the sides were definitely not.
The hush puppies were rock-hard and flew everywhere when I tried to cut one (stabbing with the plastic fork would have broken the fork). The potato salad was the usual yellow, 5-pound grocery store tub kind, and tasteless. The beans were as good as any canned baked beans I had camping in Boy Scouts - no homemade flair at all.
If this is the best of all the Gibsons' barbecues, then I can't see how the others are in business. I was the only patron under 70, I think, so maybe it used to be really good and the old faithfuls keep coming back. Not a smoker to be detected in the kitchen, nor in the meat. It appeared through the window that there was some sort of wood-fired grill.
Overall, poor food at a poor value.
For dinner this evening I went to Dreamland on University. With a picture of someone like “Big Daddy” Bishop on the sign, I figured it had to be good. The first thing that hit me was the smell of the smokers – like memories of my grandparents' wood burning stove – I love that smell. Anyway, I got there around 7:30 PM, so the smokers had been shut down by then. I was disappointed that there was no sample platter, or half and half of anything, but I saw right away that the portion size allowed someone with a healthy appetite to order two at a decent value still.
I started with a pork sandwich, a side of baked beans, and a side of coleslaw. The sides were pre-made crap from a bucket or bag – awful. The slaw is mayo-based. Homemade slaw is so easy too – that's what's disappointing. But I guess being a chain establishment, you'll have that.
The pork was excellent. A full half-pound mixed with just a little of their sauce, and an extra ring of sauce around the sandwich that would make it tough or at least extremely messy to eat with your hands. So I discarded the bun top and dug in. Moist, smokey, and delicious. The sauce is an excellent vinegar-based sauce, and I'd consider buying some if I don't try one better.
Because of their motto aimed at the ribs: “Ain't nothing like 'em – nowhere,” I had to try some. I got the rib sandwich, which is just four ribs and not really a sandwich. Lots of meat and smothered in the delicious sauce, but unfortunately I do not agree with the motto. I've tasted many ribs like these that were dry and tough. The taste was there – smokey and tangy – but the texture of the meat just didn't live up to its history. I've had marinaded and grilled ribs that were juicier and more tender.
But the overall experience does warrant a return trip. I'm hoping that if I go earlier the ribs may be fresher out of the smoker and more tender. Overall, friendly service (another language barrier, but friendly...do I really have that much of a Yank dialect?), good food, and a good value. I just noticed that my shirt still smells like the smoke. I will revisit this one in the coming weeks.
Tim's Cajun Kitchen
On my way back home to pack my belongings, I stopped my Tim's Cajun Kitchen because coming from Redstone Arsenal (Gate 10) to 565 it was right there at the interstate entrance, convenient, and I vaguely remember eating there when I was stationed in Huntsville years ago, and I didn't dislike it.
The first thing to noticed was the huge selection of good import and micro brew beers. I got there right after the lunch rush, so they were out of over half their homemade appetizers and ala carte items. I ordered an all-appetizer lunch because I wanted to sample a little of everything: chicken/sausage gumbo, chicken/sausage jambalaya, shrimp etouffee, and breaded alligator bites.
Overall I was pleased, and most everything is, or seems to be, homemade (no way to know without checking out the kitchen, but that isn't going to happen).
At first, the etouffee and gumbo seemed way too salty, but once I mixed it up with the rice it was better. The gumbo was not the absolute best I've ever had, but quite good. The jambalaya has moist sausage and shredded chicken, and was not too dry at all. A little of their outstanding pepper sauce, and it is a great lunch.
Alligator is my favorite all-time meat., so I had to order the appetizer bites. Definitely big enough for two or three people to share. As served, there is way too much breading, which traps way too much fryer grease. No reason it couldn't just be a light dusting rather than a thick batter. As the breading is pretty much tasteless, even with the good dipping sauce, it ruins the experience. The good news is that it peels off quite easily. Stick a fork in one end and scrape it all off with a knife, and your left with a tender, juicy chunk of alligator tail. Delicious even without condiment.
I really wish I could have tried the green bean casserole or boudin, but they were out. The place is busy for lunch so get there 11-ish with a crowd, or later when they have better seating, but less menu items. In their defense, when i asked why they were out of so many things, the waitress said there was an unusually busy lunch - otherwise the kitchen is normally prepared.
Friendly wait staff - just wish mine were attractive as the once painted on the wall in caricature. I jest - they are quick , attentive, and have a great sense of humor. For those asking where to go for lunch while passing through, consider Tim's.
I've never been to that Gibsons on BW but I've been to a few other Gibsons places.
Big Bob's in Decatur is very good. Great ribs and pork and the chicken is dipped in their white bbq sauce. White bbq sauce is native to that area of the country only. Pretty much only Madison County.
Little Paul's (Gibson) across from the hospital is a favourite of my wifes. I like it but I usually get the Brunswick Stew.
It's too bad you didn't like your Dreamland experience that much. I love the ribs. We were there last weekend and I had an excellent rack. Everyone's meals were great.
I have been unimpressed with the Gibson's on Bob Wallace and I'll second Davwud's suggestion to go to Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur. Different owner - much different experience. On the way there, you'll see (at Exit 3 on I-565) Greenbrier restaurant. There are two of them - one visible from the highway, the other down the road a bit. The visible one is run by the original owners of the place down the road. Each place has its fans. At both, the hushpuppies are fresh and delicious. I recommend squirting just a little bit of the white sauce on the hushpuppy. If I ate as many of those as I'd like and as often as I'd like, I'd be as big as a house.
I've only been to the Huntsville Dreamland once. It was right after it opened and I think that either I'd been spoiled by the Birmingham/Tuscaloosa experience or they just hadn't worked out the kinks. Based on your review, I may have to give them another chance.
As for Tim's... I'm salivating just thinking about it. Definitely go back and have the boudin. They do really nice plate lunches (meat and three) and their bread pudding is pretty tasty, although not as good as mine. ;-) Mine is cranberry bread pudding with an amaretto sauce (instead of the traditional raisin/whiskey or rum).
When you get finished immersing yourself in smokey, saucy BBQ's deliciousness, there are several other great restaurants in town. My favorites: 801 Franklin, Jazz Factory, Pauli's, and Vinotini (tapas). For sushi, Phuket used to be fantastic but went so far downhill I haven't been back. Surin (a smallish chain) is now my go-to place for sushi.
I used to whine about living in a culinary wasteland but Huntsville (and Madison) have really come a long way in the past several years.
I haven't been to Wild Rose yet but will definitely give it a try.
I've been to Blue Plate Cafe once and really enjoyed it. Getting a parking spot is quite difficult if you get there after 11:00.
Just down the road from Blue Plate (at that weird intersection of Governor's, Clinton, and some other odd street is The Bandito Burrito Co. I love that place. I've been going there for years and the food is consistently good. The picadillo, green bean burrito, and chicken chile verde are among my favorites. They also have a decent beer selection (for a hole in the wall place in a sketchy neighborhood).
Thanks for the tip! I'll be sure to check it out.
Oh, and Bomberman... I forgot to mention Soul Burger. One of the best burgers in town. If you're leaving the Patton Rd. gate on RSA, go down to Bob Wallace and take a right. As you approach Triana Blvd, it will be on your right in a tiny strip mall - I think they're next to Little Caesar's Pizza. If you miss it, you can turn right on Triana and access it through the parking lot on your right. Be sure to tell them it's your first time...
re: Ima Wurdibitsch
Glad you mentioned Surin - been driving past it every day for 2 weeks now, and could not figure out what it was exactly. Been putting it off, but now I'll go. As for my Phuket experience, well, I'm behind in posts because I just got cable installed today. Not good. Giving Dreamland another shot at lunch to be fair.