If there’s any doubt that Birmingham is a barbecue town, consider a comment on reddit, “Looking at buying a house near the Dreamland’s in Southside.” How many cities do you know where people buy houses based on proximity to barbecue places? Or how many cities are united in a truly ecumenical approach to barbecue? Consider:
Sam Cohn organized a trip to that particular Dreamland outpost for a group of us the evening before our Indian Springs School 50th high school reunion. I recall Sam as always quick-witted and funny during high school. He was bound to do well, but I never pictured him on a scholarly path. But he’s now a professor of medieval history at the University of Glasgow (and currently a Fellow at the University of Edinburgh), and an expert on working class conflict in early Renaissance Florence and, more recently, on the historical impact of plagues. I wouldn’t have thought of Sam as a linguist either, having heard his French accent during high school, but he has mastered French, Italian, and Latin — although when he met his future wife (I think I have that right) in Italy, she switched the conversation from English to Italian because, clearly, he was not a native English-speaker. Not BBC English, anyway.
The Southside Dreamland is big and noisy and friendly.
Dreamland as I first knew it (the one on Jug Factory Road in the Jerusalem Heights section of Tuscaloosa) sold only ribs accompanied by white bread and sauce, and potato chips. And drinks, including beer. Dreamland now is a chain of barbecue places in Alabama and Georgia, and they offer barbecue (i.e., pork) and sausages and chicken wings and barbecue nachos and even a dang quesadilla, as we say. But the stars of the show remain the ribs and the sauce with white bread.
So that’s what I ordered.
And the ribs were good. Sometimes Dreamland can let you down. They have multiple locations now, and you really can’t maintain top quality control on a consistent basis in every link in a chain of barbecue places. But they get the essentials right, including using brick pit and cooking over low, direct heat.
Large as the chain is, their ribs range from good to very good, and their white bread with sauce remains one of the world’s great appetizers.
The Southside Dreamland is on 14th Street South, plunked down in an historic residential district. Here’s an exterior shot —
Zoning takes a back seat to barbecue in Birmingham. And who could complain? It may add traffic and noise. It may create parking nightmares. But it’s a magnet for potential home-buyers. It perfumes the neighborhood. It sells barbecue. It’s not the best barbecue place in Birmingham, but it’s a good meal, well worth a visit — maybe even worth buying a house.