Thursday, August 27, 2015

Last Chance at Summer – Ideas for an Arkansas Labor Day Weekend.

Summer has slipped away, and the kids are back in school.  What can you do on the last three day weekend before the school year fully kicks in?

Last chance to enjoy a wet weekend.  While Magic Springs Theme Park in Hot Springs will remain open for the weekends through the month of September (and for Magic Screams in October), Crystal Falls will dry up after September 7th.  So this is your last chance to go for a dip in the wave pool or float the lazy river.  It’s also the last open weekend for Wild River Country in North Little Rock, Holiday Springs in Texarkana and many other water parks around the state.

Last chance to view great art.  Well, you can always see fantastic art at the Arkansas Art Center, but it’s the end of the 57th Annual Delta Art Exhibit.  Artists from across the region were hand-selected to be featured in this show.  While you’re there, check out the Inspired By Nature exhibition, and since you’re in town anyway, go check out the Dinosaurs Around The World exhibit at the Clinton Presidential Center.

It will be thundering in Clinton over Labor Day weekend, as the National Chuckwagon Races take place.  Every Thursday through Monday of Labor Day weekend, thousands come to view the 150 teams that will hitch up their horses and drive those chuckwagons to see who’s the best and who’s the rest.  Some 20,000 came out last time, and there are vendors and concerts to boot.

There’s a special weekend tribute to Grandpa Jones at the Ozark Folk Center.  Grandpa Jones was an old time banjo player and yodeler who once performed at the Grand Ol’ Opry.  From Thursday through Saturday the park will be filled with the sound of banjo music, culminating with a performance of the Riders in the Sky on Saturday night.

It’s your last chance to catch the Arkansas Travelers this season at Dickey Stephens Park… and best of all, they’re facing off against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.  Join Otey and the boys for one of three games Saturday, Sunday or Monday on the shore of the Arkansas River.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Tommy's Pizza Is Worth A Significant Detour.

When I was young and inexperienced, I could not imagine a single food item worthy of a major detour.  After all, it was enough just to get out and try a place from time to time.  If I wasn't on the way to some place, I seriously had to consider whether it was worth it to drive X number of miles for a meal.

But then I tried Tommy's Famous... A Pizzeria, and that went out the window.

Since then, so many times over the years, I'll find myself in Ash Flat or Viola or Mountain Home or Heber Springs and think "Tommy's isn't that far out of the way.  I need a Tommy's pie," and I'd drive some convoluted route to get to town and dine in one of those really dark, peachish-orange booths.  So many times. But why?

I could say part of it was Tommy.  I'm going to paraphrase what I wrote about Tom Miller in my second book, Classic Eateries of the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valley.

Tom Miller knew Elvis.  I don’t mean he met him happenstance.  I mean he actually worked security for The King in Vegas, baby, all those years ago.  “The groupies scared me,” he mentioned one night as we were paying up.  “A lot of folks say it was Elvis and all the people around him that were scary, but what was really scary were those fans.”

There’s a novel to be written about how little Tommy Miller made it from being a young boy who visited the Mountain View area in between Eureka Springs and everything else during his summers as a child, and what got him out to Las Vegas.  Along the way he had a sojourn in Skokie, a suburb of Chicago, and a short stay in Taylor… which even Grav describes as a “damn scary place.”

I wish Tom had written that novel.  Unfortunately, that never happened.

He decided to start a pizzeria in 1991.  By this point in time, he'd settled in Arkansas's Ozarks in the Mountain View community, where the water is clean and the world is quiet.  His little pizza joint in an old house just west of the downtown square became one of those places you knew to stop at before you left Mountain View.

He was a lion of a man, and he would growl when he talked, a friendly growl, as if he were some version of the Not-So-Cowardly Lion.  He called a lot of people "kid," though somehow I was always referred to as "girl."

Tommy died May 6th of 2014.  His kids kept the restaurant open.

Man, all the times I've been in there... like President's Day in 2014.  Tommy grumbled at me about the photo that was in the book, the one my editors chose.  It's the last image in that book, and I hadn't noticed they'd just shown some hands throwing a pie in front of a Dr. Pepper sign instead of something that actually made sense.  But he grumbled about it happily.  We talked about a Canadian TV fellow I'd sent to him for a travelogue.

There were times we eeked in right before closing, and times we'd get there at lunch and kick our own butts about it (Tommy's opens every day at 3
p.m.).  Until recently, it was a cash-only joint, and there have been runs to the ATM and days where we'd count out what we had in our pockets and socks to make sure we had enough.

But why?  After all, it's just a pizza, right?

Well, no.  There's nothing like a Tommy's pizza, not around here.  No one else combines that sauce and that cheese and that crust and takes the time to make it right, sliding it into a hot oven on a paddle, these days.  No one else has the confidence to tell people to sit down and be patient and
wait 20 minutes for a pie to come out.  Locals know you don't go to Tommy's for fast food, because unless you want a Coke you are just out of luck.  It's done when it's done.

Tommy's does barbecue and it's all right, but if you
go to Tommy’s and you don’t want pizza, well, I can't help you.  A calzone is acceptable, but what you really want the full pie.  The Detroit-style crust, slowly baked.  The thin Chicago-style hybrid sauce free of any chunks.  The thick yet stringy cheese blend.  It comes out as molten lava, and if
you're getting yours to go, you need to make sure not to shift it or you'll end up with Mount Cheese on one side of the disc. And unless you ask for something special, you will get your pie cut in squares.  And that's fine.

Which brings me to our latest visit. Grav and I had worked our way from Eureka Springs to Viola, taking care of business along the way.  As we were getting ready to head back to Little Rock, we weighed our Sunday night choices -- go by way of Ash Flat and Batesville and Bald Knob to reach Highway 67-167 and the route home, or take a while longer and head to Mountain View?

One mention of Tommy's and our route was set.

We whistled through the curves and hills through Pineville and Calico Rock.  As soon as we had cell service we called to make sure Tommy's was open.  But the answer?  Only for the next ten minutes. It was nearing eight.

Grav dejectedly ended the call.  Then it hit me.  Take out.

We called back and ordered our favorite pie (beef and green olives, half pepperoncini) and rejoiced.  Yes, that was cool.  We rolled on into and through Mountain View and made it right before the clock struck eight.

Of course, we had to wait, and that was OK.  We read through the guestbook... the last visitors were apparently from Korea! and looked around.  Nothing has really changed at Tommy's, except now there's a big photo near
the door by Bob Fleming from several years back.  The family hasn't done a thing to the menu.  It's still as comfortable as it ever was.

It took a little while, and others came in to pick up calzones and pizzas to go.  At one point, the sole pizza guy behind the counter lamented that at this rate he would never go home, but he kept on taking those orders all the same.  And the place smelled like tangy pizza, bread, a little barbecue.  We didn't mind the wait.

That is, until we got our pie.  Once photographed on the bar, we grabbed a handful of napkins and the proffered tub of parmesan cheese and retreated to the car, where we hadn't even gotten our seatbelts on before the box was open.  I actually
pulled away a corner for want of the flavor, cheese dripping and dangling everywhere.  It was then that we realized we hadn't ordered drinks, so down the road we went to Sonic, and once our drinks were ordered we started pulling away the
slices, devouring those squares right out of the box onto paper plates, licking our fingers and laughing.  The carhop who brought us those drinks looked a little confused.

Stopping was hard, but eventually we had to go, with home so far down the road.  Was it worth winding through roads full of construction in the middle of the night?  Yeah.  Was it worth arriving home after midnight?  Sure.  And the last of that pizza was claimed before noon.

Tommy's Famous... A Pizzeria is not fancy food nor is it fine dining.  But it is unique, a flavor that I've only encountered one place.  And you need to try it.

Tommy's Famous... A Pizzeria
W Main & Famous Place
Mountain View, AR 72560
(870) 269-3278
Website


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Wagon Wheel's Comfort Food Sustains in Greenbrier.

Arkansas, if it were to have just one sort of restaurant to represent it, wouldn't be shown as a barbecue joint. Nor would it be an Ark-Mex joint, or a Chinese buffet, a sandwich shop or drive-in.

If you were to pick one restaurant that bears the hallmarks of the overall average of all Arkansas restaurants, it'd look like the Wagon Wheel.

The 25+ year old establishment on the south side of Greenbrier ticks all the boxes when it comes to things our local joints are known for.  Whiteboard of specials? Check. Hearty breakfasts? Check. Burgers? Check.  Fish on Fridays? A half dozen or better vegetables to choose from? Friendly waitresses?  Check, check, check.

The Wagon Wheel is not fancy. It is frequented by the locals, who bring in their families after church on Sundays and who come grab a bite during their lunch hours weekdays.  The local high school kids can be seen packing booths on weeknights.  It is also a common stop for people heading north on US Highway 65 towards region north, a local joint with substance as an option to the few chain restaurants that line the strip through town.  The lot is often packed, especially on Friday nights.

In fact, Wagon Wheel is one of the very few places in town not tied to a chain that operates past two in the afternoon.  And any hour of the day, there are constants -- fresh baked breads in the form of biscuits, rolls, cornbread and toast made from bread baked fresh at the restaurant; hot coffee; daily specials put up and taken down; a cooler full of pie. Owner Michael Lawrence is often in attendance, checking in at tables to make sure folks are doing well. There's never a Sysco truck outside; when something gets low, someone makes a store run or they get some squash or tomatoes from someone growing them nearby.

I've made many, many, many stops in at the Wagon Wheel over the years. Breakfasts are always a thing I have to prepare myself for... after all, my favorite omelet on the menu is the mushroom omelet, which is more molten brick of mushroom-studded Monterrey Jack cheese wrapped in a thin egg crepe than omelet.  Biscuits come with a choice of sausage or chocolate gravy, and the chocolate gravy at the Wagon Wheel is the color of milk chocolate. Hashbrowns, you get two options, shredded or cubed potatoes, and you should get the shredded stuff.
Ask for some onions in your hashbrowns, they're cool with that.

The hamburger steak isn't just a patty out of a frozen bag, it's a hand-patted ground beef slab on the plate.  You should get that with onions too, by the way.

They'll do anything you want with an egg, with the double decade experience of fine diner griddle cooking in that kitchen.

The burgers... well, Wagon Wheel prides itself on good burgers, and they come in so many combinations -- from the Cowboy, a long sesame seed roll filled with plenty of hand patted and seasoned ground beef, Monterrey Jack cheese, sautéed peppers, pickles and onions with mustard; to the Wagon Wheel Delight and its unusual combination of mushrooms, green onions and sour cream; to the
Fresh Mushroom burger with brown gravy and grilled onions; the Razorback with bacon and cheese; and even the Hotty Burger with Pepper Jack and jalapenos.  High quality beef, well chosen combinations and big flat plank fries... easily the best burger in Greenbrier.  The onion rings, hand-battered and nicely seasoned, are always a better choice on the side.


And then there are the fried mushrooms.  You would be hard-pressed to find better fried mushrooms in Arkansas -- hand washed, prepped, sliced and battered when you order them,
somewhat salty, served with ranch dressing.  The crust, the mushrooms themselves, so good.

So the other day, Grav and Hunter and I were on our way back home on a Sunday morning and we decided to stop in.
Somehow, despite all the other hundreds of restaurants Grav and I have experienced, I've never brought him to the Wagon Wheel, but I have rectified that now.  We ordered said mushrooms while we tried to muddle through our hungry brains for what we would stuff ourselves with.  We'd all missed breakfast, and here it was eleven in the morning, and we were famished.  Those mushrooms were succulent, tasty and in a blink of an eye, gone.

The restaurant filled up around us, as local churchgoers came in to have a post-sermon meal.  The board was covered with the specials of the day -- fried fish with slaw and hush puppies (Hunter attempted to order a plate of hush puppies but we stopped her), stuffed chicken breast, country veal, mashed potatoes, pintos, carrots, macaroni and cheese, green beans, yams, squash, corn, slaw and okra.  Service was laid back, Grav's tumbler of Coca-Cola was huge and my coffee was very black and very hot.

Hunter changed her mind about six times on what to eat, going from pancakes to chili with cornbread to a BLT to the previously mentioned plate of hush puppies to salad to what she settled with, the kids plate of chicken and fries, which she wiped out quickly with barbecue sauce.

Grav and I had similar plates.  He wanted chicken and went for the chicken fried chicken, the usual menu item.  Our waitress mentioned we had to come back for the fried bone-in chicken when it was on special.  He selected mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese (which was rather
creamy) and pinto beans.  Before he even dug a fork in he grabbed the Louisiana hot sauce, which he usually adds to beans -- but one taste of his pintos and he put it away.  Didn't need any additional seasoning at all.  The chicken and the potatoes came covered in cream gravy, the same milky gravy I love sopping up with those Wagon Wheel biscuits from breakfast.

Me? I knew what I wanted -- the chicken fried steak, which should be legendary.  Because Wagon Wheel is hand-battering all its battered stuff, you get the same golden crust as what you find on the mushrooms.  The beef is perfectly seasoned, and I still don't really know why they
serve it with a knife, since you can slice it with a spoon.  I also chose mashed potatoes and mac and cheese, and picked up some fried squash too... Hunter loves those and I like to share with her.

That right there did us all in.  The shame comes in the pies.  You get that full, you just don't get the pie... and we were good about this and didn't even take the pie home this time.  After all, sometimes you need to watch your weight.

But it's been haunting me since.  The list on the wall that day included coconut, chocolate, lemon, apple, cherry and banana split, along with strawberry cheesecake and banana pudding.  And those pies are marvelous.  The banana split pie is bananas and pineapples under whipped cream with nuts and a
cherry on top.  The apple and cherry pies are served hot if you like, and the meringue pies are solid, filling and not too sweet.  That chocolate meringue is one of my favorite chocolate meringues, ever.

You can take my mom's word on it, too. She likes it when fish is the special because it's six fillets of catfish, and there's enough for two meals in one.  I have friends that
like the shrimp dinner, and one that's a huge fan of the Trail Blazer, which is roast beef, Jack cheese and grilled onions on one of those long rolls.

Other restaurants may have that white board, make their own biscuits, serve hot coffee or a good burger or a great slice of pie.  Few do most well.  Wagon Wheel does it all well, and that's why it's a quintessential Arkansas restaurant.  The prices won't hurt you too much, either.  Give it a try.

Wagon Wheel Restaurant
166 South Broadview
Greenbrier, AR 72058
(501) 679-5009

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Chocolate Rolls, The Pride of Searcy County Arkansas.

Everywhere you go, there will be something that people say can't be found anywhere else, or something that was created right there. In Arkansas, we all know about fried pickles in Atkins and that Petit Jean hot dogs come from Morrilton. Searcy County, buried in the hollows of the Arkansas Ozarks, has its own claim to fame in the form of the chocolate roll.

Haven't heard of this one? You'll want to stick around for this.

The chocolate roll has been made by families around Searcy County for decades. I can attest to this. My brother's grandmother, Shirley Diemer, made these crumbly concoctions in her kitchen. I can remember that crusty, chocolate combination back to the age of ten. Shirley, as the rest of the Diemer clan, was from the Leslie community.

A few years ago, I was contacted by folks up that way about a possible new festival around this foodstuff. It took a few moments for me to conjure what was being spoken of... at the time, I was dithering over a description of the butter roll, a similarly named dessert confection popular in Arkansas's Delta. Then I remembered how a crust was rolled out, similar to the way cinnamon rolls were, heavily rubbed with butter and sprinkled with cocoa powder and sugar... and my memory was jogged. Ah. Chocolate rolls.

Searcy County proceeded to go about the celebration of this native foodstuff, but the word has not spread far. Ask someone outside of north central Arkansas about the dish, and you may get a confused look. No worries, I know where to get them.

See, there's this place where great pastries can be found, right in Leslie. Okay, there's Serenity Farms Bakery, sure, but I'm talking about Misty's Shell Station. Located right along US Highway 65 just north of downtown, Misty's has been serving the community for decades. Fried pies have always been a favorite here, and it's one of the sure-bet places to find Ratchford Farms jerky on the trip up north. Folks there are helpful and they give good directions.

On a shelf inside the store, right by the hot stuff counter, you'll usually find a pile of elongated chocolate rolls. They're flat, wrapped in plastic and sold for $1.99. That's a sharing piece right there, a twelve inch stick of sweet, and that stack has to be replenished about every day.

You get one of those, you have yourself enough sweet to get to Harrison or better. It's buttery, slightly crunchy, crisp and chocolatey, and regardless of its appearance it should justly be celebrated.

The festival is in March, but for now, get yourself by Misty's and try one.  And if someone will ever give me the recipe, I'll make some myself.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Barbecue Tour of Far South Alabama.

There are many places, people, even states that lay claim to great barbecue. I grew up between the forces of Memphis pork butt and Texas beef brisket, sometimes waved by the eddies of Kansas City and St. Louis. Arkansas’s own home-grown ‘cue’s descent into obscurity, that of the smoked goat, left behind only some of the famed sauces that once covered it (McClard’s and Craig Brothers’ comes to mind), coleslaw on the top and sometimes, the desire to serve one’s meat on white bread.

Nationally, we speak a language of barbecue. Many of our restaurant chains offered barbecue sauce slathered on whatever meats each serves, from Arby’s to Slim Chickens to the lowly McRib. Yet, despite generations of drive-thru customers coast to coast, our regional barbecues retain their unique accents, styles and cultures.

The last few days of July, photographer Grav Weldon and I traveled to a sunswept plain close to the Gulf of Mexico, to experience the exotic and the ordinary, and to discover whether Alabama’s claim to having the best barbecue of any state is merited. We proceeded with suggestions from our friend Art Meripol, photographer of the fantastic new book Alabama Barbecue: Delicious Road Trips, and from our friends with Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism. And we utilized a fantastic barbecue-centric application available for free, the Alabama BBQ app.

We crisscrossed the area from Orange Beach to Fairhope, looking for places to sample and sniffing the air for those great flavors that often pull us off the road. After three days and nights and (I kid you not) 11 different meals, Grav and I came up with our five favorite spots for barbecue within 30 minutes of the Alabama Gulf Coast. What’s unusual about this list for us, is that we agreed on the exact order of each of these eateries.

Next time you’re headed south to enjoy the white sand beaches of Alabama’s Gulf Coast, put these stops on your itinerary.


1. Down South Bar-B-Q (Foley). As I write this, I am weepy because this diminutive yet ridiculously good barbecue joint apparently does not ship its products. One of our first stops on our trip, Down South
became our standard to which others aspired but few came close. There’s no dining room, just a screened-in pavilion to the side with picnic tables and fans on white sand. There’s no credit card machine – it’s a cash only joint, unless you have a local check – and the entire operation is tucked away about a block from Highway 59.

The barbecue is simple and cheap. We went for a
couple of sandwiches – the pulled pork and the sliced brisket. The pinkish pork in its tangy sauce was superb, but it was the brisket that really stole my heart… peppery, red ringed, extraordinarily tender. Great with a spicy barbecue sauce, it tastes like prime rib when paired with the horseradish sauce. That sauce… smooth, creamy, just
enough bite, I could drink the stuff. Ask Grav… I did actually shoot the remainder. The horseradish potato salad with simple red skin mashed potatoes, salt, pepper and I believe the same horseradish sauce, is a masterpiece.
Website.

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2. Hog Wild Beach and BBQ (Gulf Shores). There’s a sign right by the register that emphasizes the situation on supply at the restaurant: “when we’re out, we’re out.” That’s right – the restaurant closes down when it’s sold out of all of its pork, chicken, sausage, baby back ribs, turkey and wings.

We met our friend and Gulf Shores contact Kay here for lunch on a
Friday afternoon and sampled ribs, chicken and turkey. The ribs were good even by our at-home standards, but they paled in comparison to the turkey, which was succulent, juicy and soft and served as a sandwich with that white Alabama barbecue sauce and pickles for a remarkable combination I’m still dreaming about.

And then there was the Smoked Crispy Chicken.
Think of what would happen if a smoked beer-butt chicken and a Peking Duck had a delicious baby. This is a smoked chicken half that’s quickly deep fried to crisp the skin to ridiculous perfection. Grav is still raving about this beauty.

Cait's potato salad
deserves special mention; absurdly pickle-y, it's just excellent.  The recipe's actually posted on the wall, for those who are interested in tackling it at home. Also, the layered banana pudding here was both light and heavy, with plenty of banana pieces and ‘nilla wafers. Website.

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3. Moe’s Original Bar-B-Que (Orange Beach). The only chain on our list, Moe’s made it because it’s excellent and a block from the beach. And, of course, because it’s quite excellent.

Moe’s was founded by Mike Fernandez from Tuscaloosa, Ben Gilbert from Athens, and Jeff Kennedy from Huntsville. They all met at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, and they all
ended up in Colorado, eventually starting a barbecue joint in 2001. What? No, really. This spot was in their sights for a while, and after first Ivan and then Katrina smashed the Gulf Coast in 2004 and 2005, they bought the little shack
right off the highway and opened the first Alabama location there. Today there are locations in Colorado, Maine, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina… and all over Alabama. A couple years later they’d open one in Windmill Market in Fairhope, but that place took another
turn (which you’ll hear about below).

We were tempted on our Thursday night visit to sample the Thanksgiving Thursday, which consists of the sliced smoked turkey with cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce and white sauce on a bun… but wasn’t sure if that’d be a good review. Maybe at some other time.
Instead, I went for the smoked barbecue wings, which were glossed with that very tangy Alabama tomato-based sauce and served with white sauce for dipping. They were piquant and suckable, and eight was just too many for one sitting. The
banana pudding, by the way, was smooth and banana flavored with a little vanilla wafer thrown in.

Grav’s choice of sliced smoked turkey was decadent, especially in size, with seven slices of turkey drizzled with both that tangy red sauce and
the milder but still perky white sauce. He favored this turkey over that at Hog Wild BBQ (though I felt the other way around about it) and was floored over the tenderness… as in, you could gum this turkey. We’ll be looking for Moe’s elsewhere (I think Little Rock is ready for a franchise). Website.

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4. L.A. Barbecue (Summerdale). It was as if providence itself was shining down on us… in the form of a very strong, very bright rainbow that came on when we were just a quarter mile from this location on Friday evening. Moreso, as we tried the different sauces and meats within, a double rainbow formed, and one customer claims
he saw a third arc starting to form.

That being said, we were pretty pleased with the offerings here, especially the barbecue beef brisket stuffed potato I procured. The strongly smoky beef needed taming, which it got initially under the cover of cheddar cheese
and sour cream but which was perfected with so many sauces. How many? Six – from the savory, vinegary mustard sauce to tangy and smoky Texas, a strongly sweet Southern and a white Alabama, 4-Alarm Fire to a Jezebel sauce. It was the last that really caught my attention. Its sweet green essence was undeniably tantalizing… I found
myself striping that potato with strips of the white Alabama, the Jezebel, the Southern sweet and the Texas, and still could not get enough.

Grav’s choice at L.A. Barbecue just barely can
be considered barbecue – it’s the joint’s smoked chicken salad, which retained a remarkable smoke flavor. Served up on green lettuce leaves, it was a nice cooldown in contrast to all the hot-on-the-bun barbecue we’d had on our trip. Website

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5. Mister John’s BBQ (Fairhope). Now, if you’d told me that the most exotic item on my entire journey would be Argentinian smoked beef brisket created by an elderly gentleman who’d been working with meat longer than I’d been alive, I wouldn’t have believed it. But that’s exactly what I encountered inside Fairhope’s famed
Windmill Market.

This exquisite sandwich on a bun baked by Sweet Olive Bakery was the most ridiculous fusion of meat with green chimichurri sauce, savory coleslaw, red cabbage and Alabama white sauce you can imagine… but it was also one of those things you
have to savor when you go to Mister John's BBQ. You don’t get much of a choice – the combination melts the bun and you end up going to search for a fork because, well, dang.

Grav stepped away from the sauce and went for the smoke with the daily special, a smoked meatloaf sandwich that was also quite amusing, served up
with a side of perfectly seasoned collard greens. The winner, we both agreed, wasn’t just my barbecue sandwich but the bread pudding made from Sweet Olive Bakery bread glued together with a lovely lemon-laced frosting. Writing that line just made me salivate again.

This place, by the way, took the spot originally held by Moe's Original Bar-B-Que when the
market originally opened. Moe's is great... and so is Mister John's. Website.

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On our three night trip, we also sampled a candy shop, a popsicle stand and a fruit stand – and that’s on top of the delicious breakfasts David conjured for us at Magnolia Springs Bed and Breakfast each morning. We found that everywhere we went, including all the beaches, were within a half hour’s drive. That included everything from watching the crowd at The Flora-Bama on the Florida-Alabama border to catching a sunset over Mobile Bay at Fairhope. In-between, we strolled through historic Fort Morgan in the rain, thrift-shopped in Foley, surveyed the beach in Gulf Shores, explored the back roads around Bon Secour and walked the boardwalk at the Weeks Bay Pitcher Plant Bog.

We utilized the Alabama Barbecue app, which came in very handy for finding some of our more secluded barbecue joints. It also shared tidbits of information about each of the restaurants along our way. Our next visit, I believe we’ll check out Mobile’s thriving barbecue scene using this handy application.

So when you head to the Alabama Gulf Coast, do yourself a few favors. I've given you some good tips here on barbecue joints, but you can make your own choices thanks to the good folks at Alabama Tourism.  Go do some research at the Alabama Barbecue website.  It has a lot of great stories, interesting links and information about Q - Alabama's Barbecue Legends Documentary.  And pick up a copy of Alabama Barbecue: Delicious Road Trips (boy, I sure wish my books were published looking this good!) by Annette Thompson with Art Meripol.  It makes a handy roadtrip bible for your Alabama barbecue trip.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Alabama Tourism. The opinions and text are all mine. Photos for this piece were shot by Grav Weldon and Kat Robinson.