Dreamland is justifiably famous for its ribs. The original is in Tuscaloosa, just off Jug Factory Road, right before you get to the Fresh Anointing Church of God, and it had wonderful ribs and not much else. They served ribs and white bread and sauce. And beer and potato chips. It was a must stop for the TV announcers for Alabama football games, and they would always mention it in the commentary.
My first trip to Dreamland was with opposing counsel after we’d reached a settlement in a voting rights case in Bessemer. That case was notable because we got Bo Jackson’s mother (and a whole lot of others) the right to vote in city elections, and because Willie Mays’ high school coach was a witness. Bessemer is also the site of Bob Sykes’ barbecue and the Bright Star, a great seafood restaurant, but I digress. We ordered ribs and they brought white bread and barbecue sauce as an appetizer. And beer. And then they brought the best ribs I had ever had. I once took a group there and was surprised and very embarrassed that one of the group was a vegetarian. She has since found the light.
Dreamland has now expanded, first to a location Birmingham where they got all fancy and started to provide wet wipes. Now there are a bunch of locations, http://www.dreamlandbbq.com/Restaurants.aspx and, with the exception of the original, which now also serves smoked sausage, they also serve pork and chicken and nachos and such, and they have sides. You can order the sauce and lot of other stuff by mail. Dreamland has gone downhill since the founder died and it expanded, but it still can go downhill a good ways before it stops being real good. One of the new locations is in downtown Montgomery in an entertainment district near the ballpark. Despite it’s downtown location, Dreamland cooks over a pit.
On an an earlier trip to Montgomery, I had a hotel room overlooking the river and the ballpark and the smoke from Dreamland’s pit. Beautiful.
I had been before and ordered a barbecue sandwich because it was lunch and I had afternoon meetings and ribs can be dangerous when you’re wearing a tie. On this trip I ordered a rib plate, which came with slaw and macaroni and cheese.
My companion, Rick Pildes, the real smart lawyer (a law professor at New York University and a leader scholar) who had done such great job in the Supreme Court phase of the redistricting case, got a pork sandwich and potato salad.
Rick really liked his sandwich, and I was hugely pleased with the ribs. I would rate them a touch behind the original Dreamland’s ribs and just ahead of the Northport location. Smoky, meaty, flavorful and with great texture. I ordered badly, however, because the sides are subpar. The cole slaw is only so so and the macaroni and cheese is a lot like Kraft’s. If I had just ordered ribs, I would have had another rib and, I should hope, more than one slice of bread. At the original they bring a whole loaf to the table. That’s for the sauce, which is one of the outstanding barbecue sauces for ribs in the country (and thus, of course, in the world and, I presume, all Creation) – thick enough to adhere and dominated by spices other than tomatoes and molasses. It is a wonderful complement to the ribs.
The key to the good ribs and pork is a pit and an expert to cook on it. Dreamland has that.
Dreamland in Montgomery is a good stop. Especially at night, it does have a sort of entertainment district feel (in contrast to a barbecue place feel), but it also has a pretty good beer selection. And in August, it has air-conditioning that can best be described as heroic. It’s startling, even a bit daunting, when you first walk in, but after you dig into some ribs, it is just right. Go to Dreamland. Order ribs. And ask for extra bread and extra sauce and, if you’re working, ask for a bib.
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