Tuscaloosa’s sweet, smoky love affair with Alabama favorite

Sweet, tender, tangy, smoky, juicy, spicy and slow-cooked – that is what a first bite of barbecue brings to many tables all throughout Tuscaloosa. Traditionally, patrons can expect a slab of ribs, a pulled pork sandwich or just a loaf of bread and sauce. For most in Tuscaloosa, that is all they need.

Photos of Dreamland Bar-B-Que patrons from 1958, who came to stain their shirts and leave a mess of bare bones on their plates, line the walls of the Tuscaloosa barbecue staple. They start every meal with bread and sauce, which may seem simplistic to some but is still successful and keeps customers coming back after 55 years.

Dreamland’s relationship to the UA campus is manifested by tailgaters whose spread is not complete without a rack of ribs smothered in Dreamland’s famous sauce. Stacey Lewis, the catering manager at the Dreamland location in Northport, Ala., describes the amount of slabs produced on game days as “in the thousands.” This is counting the catering done for areas around campus, sales at Bryant-Denny Stadium and in-store sales.

Perrin Lowrey, a sophomore and member of the Blount Undergraduate Initiative, said he is proud of Tuscaloosa’s barbecue culture.

“Barbecue here seems to be a societal and outdoorsy food that typifies the culture T-town identifies with,” Lowrey said. “Students come here from different places and to have barbecue here is a good experience.”

A gravel road in Northport leads to a small building with smoke billowing from the top. Give the door a good yank when you go in, and let your senses take a ride. Archibald’s BBQ was opened by George Archibald, Jr.’s father in 1961.

“At seven years old, I was moppin’ the floors for my daddy,” Archibald said. “I was born and raised down the road here, and when I was nine, I started to learn how to do the barbecue.”

Archibald’s BBQ is famous for their ribs, pulled pork sandwich and George Archibald’s mother’s vinegar-based sauce.

“The kids will take that first bite and their eyes will get big and white, and when that rib is done, they won’t let the bone go,” Archibald said. In 2009, Archibald’s came in second place for Good Morning America’s best barbecue challenge.

“We had to send the meat frozen to New York,” Archibald said. “That’s why we got second.”

Archibald’s customer has been passed down through generations of alumni, just like the business.

“I would be glad for [students] to come here, and we will continue to do things right,” Archibald said “I always enjoy seeing the students.”

Jim ‘N Nick’s Tuscaloosa location was opened in May 2012, but the restaurant shines as a major player in the local barbecue culture. In 1985, Nick Pihakis and his father, Jim Pihakis, opened up a place in Birmingham, Ala., known for its “low and slow” cooked barbecue. Now, the name has grown into 30 restaurants in seven states. Jim ‘N Nick’s still uses local produce and prides themselves in their continued tradition of a “mom and pop” restaurant style.

Nicholas Pihakis, the son of the founder Nick Pihakis, is the third generation of the barbecue name.

“A lot of people try to use barbecue as a verb. Barbecue is a noun. It is something that is cooked low and slow with a lot of love and soul – and it is full of passion,” said Nicholas Pihakis.

On gamedays, Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q brings their truck to the quad and, with catering, normally sell 500 pounds of pork and 40-50 racks of ribs. Jim ‘N Nick’s has also been a major component in the community. They contributed to the Tuscaloosa half marathon and the dragon boat races and continue to be a partner with Druid City. After the tornadoes of April 27, 2011, the corporate office sent a food truck to Tuscaloosa to hand out food for those affected by the storms and those helping clean up.

In Tuscaloosa, barbecue is celebrated as a cultural tradition and will continue to be enjoyed by those who choose to step into the doors of places that may not look good from the outside but whose food is delicious on the inside. Just remember to ask for napkins.