We rolled into Tuscaloosa around lunchtime today, and, deciding to eschew Archibald and Woodrow's, one of our favorite barbecue haunts and rated in our top 10, chose Dreamland Bar-B-Que instead. Dreamland has 8 locations in Alabama, but the Tuscaloosa restaurant is the original, and, some say, the best. O.K., our friend Kurt says it's the best. Kurt is a fellow road warrior, and one of those guys who can talk about everything from where to find great Thai food on the road to who has the best barbecue sauce, so we trust his opinion, and end up sharing lots of food info with him.
The Tuscaloosa location looks great from the outside...a glorified shack with a thick plume of smoke rising up from the back of the building, and lots of cars in the parking lot. Most of the room is taken up by large farmhouse style tables, but booths for 2 line the walls, and we grabbed the last free one. Our waitress asked us if we'd been there before, and when we said we hadn't, she explained, while pointing to the menu written on a sign above the bar, "We only do ribs and sausage with three sides; baked beans, coleslaw and potato salad." That makes it easy to order, and we like the focus of places like this, which aren't overly concerned with offering people a large menu, but do one or two things really well. We ordered a full slab with sides of baked beans and potato salad. She brought us our iced teas with a plate of white bread (Wonder style white bread is de rigueur all over the South) with a little cup of their barbecue sauce. We tucked in, dipping the bread into the sauce, and were very pleased by our first taste. Dreamland's sauce is thin and perfectly smooth, with a complexity and heat that immediately put it in our top ten in this category. It is tangy and vinegary when it first hits the palate, but this quickly gives way to an agreeable heat, followed by a surprising tomato richness. Very good. The ribs, unfortunately, did not deliver the same awesomeness. There are two issues we had with them. First, they were too chewy, especially tough at the rib tip end, and second, they tasted as if they had grilled them over charcoal to finish them, and this flavor overpowered the pork and smoke taste we so admire in the best ribs. A couple of them were literally black and inedible. The sides were very good, especially the baked beans, which were simple and delicious. However, ribs are the point of barbecue, and we just can't recommend them. If you're ever in Tuscaloosa, which is barbecue central, there are lots of places to try. Go to Archibald and Woodrow's...you won't be disappointed.