Last time I counted, there are about a 469,000 BBQ places in this town.
When I worked at Maynard Cooper the lunch bunch took me to a different one for lunch every day for two years, and sometimes for breakfast, too. And there are as many variations, from Texas-style to North Carolina, in addition to scores of different recipes from sweet home Alabama. In this town, you even have barbecue made by Italians and Greeks. I could go on and on.
But the point is--how can a new barbecue place possibly bring anything different to this barbeque mecca? About a month ago, Southern Legacy opened on Highway 150 near the Galleria with the answer.
For all the Southern, regional, ethnic, and international styles of Birmingham BBQ, SL did bring something that is new--with a smokehouse dry-rub style.
The model is Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City. Well you may say that’s not southern, but it was a border state with rebel sympathies, and wait till Missouri joins the SEC. But for the most part the show-me people follow the tradition-you have heard of KC Masterpiece, after me was too sweet, and settled on a Naked Pig, brewed nearby in Gadsden, which had a nice mildly bitter bite.
Brew at the ready, it was time for some barbecue meat. And true to the meaning of the word, SL had a lot to choose from. BBQ should cover every part of the pig. In fact, the word comes from barbe a queue, which means from beard to tail, in French. So instead of the regular all. Besides, SL scoured the region for their culinary influences.
Southern Legacy did bring something that is new to Birmingham– a smokehouse dry-rub style.
When I perused the menu and saw it had gumbo, I decided to test the new restaurant’s regional range from KC to Cajun country. That could be a dead giveaway for a pretender who tried to do too much. And with the first bite I was profoundly struck by the difference in taste, texture, and savor. I use that word because the difference first hit me before the food reached my mouth, in the smell, as if it had a nose--like a wine.
The shredded chunks of chicken were so tender, but also had a strong smoky savor. Usually there is a tradeoff between tenderness and flavor, but this chicken married the two. Next I delved into the smoked sausage, which was not at all rustic but composed of surprisingly high quality meat, the kind of sausage Lady Di probably used to eat. The gumbo itself had a soft medium consistency and mild but persistent spice that complemented the smoked flavor of the meats. Tabasco optional. So I knew right away I was onto something pretty stupendous. This dish is highly recommended.
SL has a small wine selection but they feature their brews. They have a wide assortment, including many on draft- -which, for me, is always the way to go, given the choice, for flavor and freshness. I tried my first Stella on draft, which for pulled pork, I tried a brisket in place of a shoulder or butt.
It came on a Z-Man sandwich, topped with crisp onion rings. The pieces of smoked brisket reminded me a little of roast beef, as if I were dipping a Monte Cristo. The way it was piled, thin sliced, it reminded me even more of smoked meat, if you have ever been to Montreal and eaten in a smoked meat joint, where they pile up stacks of meat, the whole meat, and nothing but the meat, eh! Anyone for some curling after a pile of smoked meat? No, we are talking Southern legacy, not frozen North lumberjacks rejected from the French effete.
Specifically, of course, the southern style hails from Kansas City. One difference is the smokehouse preparation instead of cooking the meat in a pit. In the pit the meat is moved around over hot coals and slow cooked over lower temperatures. This causes lots of differences in taste and texture. With the smoking operation, trapping the indirect heat at higher temperatures, the cooking is more uniform and the ribmeat (you didn’t think I would go review the restaurant without trying some ribs on top of the sandwich--though some might think me a pig) is a consistent pink.
The other thing that is different from typical Alabama bbq is the dry rub used to prepare the smoked meat, which gives a little grainy texture and flavor to the ribs but also holds in the moisture as the meat cooks for hours at higher heat.
Instead of using hickory or mesquite, SL uses white oak, and the smoke flavor truly permeates the meat.
SL developed three sauces specifically to complement he white oak smoke and the quality meat. And they don’t go by hot mild and medium, or mustard and vinegar. There is the Bubba Sauce, that has a vinegar base common to North Carolina. But it has a strong flavor that complements the smoked meat. Just like you have to do for the balsamic on your salad, be sure and shake up the vinegar--I mean Bubba--sauce.
Legacy is the regular sauce in which everything is cooked. It is right down the middle with the sweetness and spice, but with surprising lingering complexity.
There I go with the wine comparisons again.
The third sauce is the Sweet Heat. I was ready to be blown away, but when the heat I braced for didn’t come I almost fell down. But then the heat came on and kept coming. It has quite a long and persistent finish.
A word on the sides:
I tried a spicy Mac n Cheese. Bacon added a crunch to smooth white cheese and spicy jalapenos.
The beans were not baked so much as reduced to a barbecue pulp. They actually carry the smoked flavor and marry well with the meat.
The onion rings I mentioned before were crisp and delicious.
On the ambience, no country music. In fact, it sounded like the smooth contemporary tunes from my yoga class. “Give me everything tonight,” and “All the other kids” etc etc. It has a spacious bar and plenty of happy hour tables to handle the brew crowd, with booths in the bar area and a whole other dining room. SL has the food ready, but is prepared to handle the night, drinking crowd.
At the end of the day, Southern Legacy kept a very difficult promise, to bring something new, as well as delicious, to Birmingham barbeque.