We flew to Tuscaloosa for a quick spring break visit, and boy were our arms tired. We were also hungry. Luckily we dined on some pretty solid down home food. First on any dining hit list in Tuscaloosa should be Dreamland Barbeque.
Dreamland has earned national recognition as a barbequed pork rib Mecca. The restaurant has since franchised and spread out over the south, but the shiny new locations are missing the soul of the original dive location in Tuscaloosa. We hauled the whole Duncan crew up the tiny winding road into Jerusalem Heights to find the shack that has held Dreamland for the last 50 years.
Ordering up barbeque in a dilapidated old shack just feels right, and kitschy, old, dark interior enhances the cultural experience. I remember my brothers and I getting endless juvenile amusement from the "No Farting" sign that is still posted over the front door. Aunt Che' remembers the old days when pig pens lined the outside of the restaurant, and you could catch a glimpse at the unfortunate racks of ribs-in waiting.
On to the meal: the pork ribs were delicious, but not quite as legendary as I remembered. The reputation of a great place can set the bar so high that some disappointment is inevitable, I guess. Don't get me wrong. We still had a great meal and experience on our pilgrimage. The unique vinegar-based sauce tasted addictively great as always, and I burned through many a slice of complimentary Sunbeam bread sopping it up.
The great thing about eating bbq ribs is that this is a messy unpretentious experience. There will be sauce on your face, sauce on your hands, sauce in your hair, and sauce on your shirt. Nobody cares. The important thing is to eat and enjoy the ribs, not to win a beauty contest. At the end of a meal at Dreamland, the sauce-soaked paper towels litter the area amid piles of picked over rib bones. It's a great experience, even if the ribs aren't exactly world class any more. The banana pudding is a must try as this is a perfectly executed example of this classic southern dessert.
Next up: seafood on the shores of the Black Warrior River: dinner at Wintzells' Oyster House.