Heading to Tuscaloosa soon? Trying to figure out the best places to eat in the area near the University of Alabama? Whether you're looking for ribs that aren't that different from the ones Bear Bryant used to eat or a new spot with a tremendous burger, we've got you covered right here with an old classic and a new hit to check out while you're in town.
A place doesn’t need to be in business for decades to offer a tried-and-true taste. It doesn’t hurt, though. A visit to Tuscaloosa, Ala., offered two classic tastes—one from a place that has done it right since 1962 and another from a place that opened in 2014.
Archibald’s Bar-B-Que in nearby Northport, Ala., may have added a catering van and a few indoor tables to go with the few worn-out stools, but the ribs aren’t all that different from the ones Bear Bryant used to eat. The locals get mad every time I mention Archibald’s on Twitter because they’d rather the tourists go to nearby Dreamland and leave the better ribs for those in the know. Smoked over wood with no seasoning, Archibald’s ribs are carefully tended by a man with a hose who sprays them down when they get too hot. For most of the times I’ve been, that man was George Archibald Jr., who doesn’t use any thermometer except the one in his head to cook smoky, juicy rib meat that takes its flavor from the wood and comes off the bone with a slight tug.
Last week, the next generation manned the pit. The ribs remained as exquisite as ever. You can dunk them in the thin, vinegary sauce—sauce is a stretch; it’s more of a mop—but it isn’t necessary. The meat is always perfect. Unlike some other places, they don’t turn up the heat at Archibald’s to cook the ribs faster and serve more people. They cook them correctly, and if they run out, they run out. People keep coming back year after year because the quality remains the same.
The Avenue Pub
The Avenue Pub in downtown Tuscaloosa’s entertainment district has only been open a fraction of the time, but its proprietors understand that simple quality can build a loyal clientele. There are some excellent satellite dishes such as the Thai chicken nacho appetizer—nachos, shredded chicken, mozzarella, peanut sauce, Sriracha, sesame seeds, green onions—but everything orbits around the burger.
It’s a thick half-pound patty of never-frozen beef cooked exactly as ordered and resting on a fresh, fluffy bun. It comes with provolone and bacon, though it would still be delicious without them. Condiments are available but unnecessary. Like Ron Swanson’s burger proved in the taste test on Parks and Recreation, beef and bread don’t need much help. And when the place takes so much care to provide the best beef and the best bread, it produces a burger that can’t help but please anyone who embraces our position on the food chain.