Casual Tradition in Tuscaloosa

Archibald’s

1211 Martin Luther King Blvd

Northport, AL 35476

In a small, almost shack-like house down Watermelon road lies a humble barbecue joint that you’d never notice if you hadn’t been told about it—but if you live in Tuscaloosa or Northport, you probably have. Archibald’s has been a Tuscaloosa staple since opening in 1962, with food so renowned that a photo of the original owner, George Archibald, hangs in the competing Jim n Nick’s Bar-B-Q. Today, Archibald’s is run by George Archibald Jr., but the style and recipes remain the same. In 2013, Archibald’s made #6 on USA Today’s list of “America’s Tastiest Ribs,” and it has been featured on ESPN, in Southern Living Magazine, and in the New York Times. The workers will happily remind you that Alabama legend Bear Bryant relied on Archibald’s for his barbecue needs. In fact, the entire establishment is a family affair. Two offshoots, both called Archibald & Woodrow’s, are also run by the family and offer more options, such as macaroni and cheese, hot wings, and catfish, but the original boasts all of the nostalgia and credibility of an Alabama classic.

Archibald’s doesn’t feel like a restaurant so much as a neighborhood barbecue. The small building, with chipped paint and black smoke stains, holds a cramped counter area, a wood oven built into the back, and only f
our tables; however, there are several picnic tables and a second oven outside, creating a casual and amiable atmosphere ideal for tailgating or enjoying a spring afternoon. The food is served from the counter in Styrofoam containers to emphasize this relaxed attitude and simplify outdoor or takeout eating. The workers are all exceedingly friendly, happy to chat and to provide the extra napkins you’ll probably need when you dig into your dinner. Catering to Tuscaloosa and Northport natives as well as students, Archibald’s is exactly what you’d imagine of a hole-in-the-wall joint in a town that lives for college football and good barbecue.

 

Because the meat is smoked with hickory in brick pits, the process starts early and ends a few hours before their closing time of 8:30. This schedule makes for great meat, but it’s a bit problematic if you show up for dinner at 7:30 on the day of a basketball game, as I did. The already limited menu was cut down even further by the fact that they had run out of ribs, chicken, and banana pudding. With no other options, I (and the three friends with me) ordered the pork sandwich dinner: a box with a luscious pile of sliced pork swimming in bright orange sauce, three slices of white Texas toast, baked beans, and coleslaw. The “sandwich” part is up for interpretation, as the bread comes on the side, so I started with a few bites of pork on its own. The perfectly smoked meat—tender and moist, but still firm—was complimented by a thin, tangy vinegar sauce unlike anything I’d ever tasted (it was so good that I dipped my extra bread in it once the pork was gone). In sandwich form, the food was a bit messy, but well worth the struggle. The baked beans were sweet, thick, and simple, providing an excellent contrast to the acidic taste of the sauce. The only mild disappointment was the coleslaw—expecting fresh flavor, I was instead met with more vinegar as the liberal inclusion of pickles overshadowed the slaw’s other ingredients. It was not unpleasant; as a pickle lover, I very much enjoyed the slaw, but it did not provide the balance I was searching for. For under $10, it would be difficult to find the amount of meat included at most establishments, so the inclusion of sides and the remarkable quality make this a fabulous deal for students and locals alike.

A few days later, I made a return trip (early in the afternoon!) to try some of the dishes I missed out on. The ½ Chicken Sandwich is not, in fact, half of a sandwich—it’s half of a chicken, again served with sliced bread. The chicken, though, was just as enjoyable as the pork had been, with a crisp and flavorful exterior and a juicy, tender interior. The banana pudding is a devilishly sweet and creamy follow-up to the meal. Enough has been written about Archibald’s ribs to fill several blogs, but I will mention that the meat is as soft as I’ve seen, and a single bite erupts with smoky flavor accompanied by the somewhat surprising but always enjoyable kick of orange sauce.

Archibald’s creates incredible, unique barbecue for low prices. The setting is relaxed and friendly, but the shop unapologetically relies on their food for all of their business. The small menu and limited seating are not major problems for such a renowned community staple, and customers who would complain can simply visit the offshoot restaurants, which compensate for both lacks. Archibald’s is a place to get great barbecue—no more and no less.

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