Bob Sykes, Bessemer, Alabama

Greg Hawley is another Indian Springs friend, but not from my graduating class.  He’s much younger, smarter, and better looking — if that’s not damning with faint praise.

sykes greg

Greg is yet another Indian Springs lawyer, a big time litigator, eminent in the Bar, but also the sort of lawyer who gets pro bono awards.  I met Greg through his pro bono work on voting rights issues, and we keep in touch.  Greg currently is in a litigation boutique, Jones and Hawley, but Doug was just elected to the US Senate, and there’ll be some changes.

I try to get together with Greg when I’m in Birmingham, and we recently met to have lunch.  But where?  Greg suggested Bob Sykes in Bessemer as a good place off the beaten track, and Rusty’s, another off-the-track place in Leeds based on advice from a local barbecue enthusiast.  I went with Bob Sykes since it was their 50th anniversary, and since I’d just been to Rusty’s with Jean Webb.

Bessemer is an industrial suburb in the far west end of the county, created out of thin air in 1887 as the site for eight steel mills; thus the name Bessemer after the gentleman who developed the Bessemer Converter.  The city grew rapidly with the mills, and has declined sadly since they left.  There’s still a major pipe mill there, but that’s about it.

Back in the 1980s, we (the Justice Department and I) filed a lawsuit against Bessemer challenging the at-large method of election and the city’s aggressive whites-only municipal annexation policy.  I spent a lot of time there, and was no stranger to Bob Sykes.  I was confident in my case because one of my key witnesses had been Willie Mays’ high school coach.  Also, one of the victims of the city’s refusal to annex black residential areas was Bo Jackson’s Momma.  The city ultimately settled the case by changing the election system and annexing Ms. Jackson (and thousands of others). The annexations also added a lot of vacant land to the city that has since been developed commercially, with a water park and the sort of stuff you get near a major interstate junction.  It’s keeping the struggling city alive.

But back to barbecue.  Bob Sykes is on the otherwise undistinguished Bessemer Super Highway (US 11), and does a land office business.   There are some other barbecue places in the Bessemer area, notably a Full Moon in the development out by the interstate, but Bob Sykes is the place you want.  It looks appealing, doesn’t it?

sykes exterior

Greg got the pork plate with potato salad and fried okra.

sykes greg plate

I got the pork plate with slaw and macaroni and cheese.  I thought about getting the fried okra (and about getting bag of Golden Flake potato chips), but I’m on a diet.  Besides, the okra was fried in flour rather than corn meal.

sykes pork plate

The pork was very good, pit-cooked pork with that outside meat that you can only get with a brick pit. Greg enjoyed his pork as well, and spoke highly of the potato salad and okra. The macaroni and cheese also was very good.  It had a peppery taste that everyone who makes macaroni and cheese should consider emulating.  The slaw was excellent, lightly dressed and crisp.  The sauce is well spiced, but it’s just a tad on the sweet side, at least for for my vinegar-centric taste.  I really think the pork is great by itself, easily good enough that it doesn’t really need sauce.

Bob Sykes is a great place, and well worth a stop if you get even a little hungry around Bessemer.  Ask for the sauce on the side.


And while you’re at it, click “follow” on our front page to receive blog posts in your email box.  Or bookmark us and check in from time to time.  If you’re planning a trip, you can “Search” the name of the city, state, or country for good restaurants (in Europe, usually close to sites, like the Louvre or the Van Gogh Museum, that you’ll want to visit in any event).  Comments, questions, and suggestions of places to eat or stories to cover are very welcome.  And check out our Instagram page, johntannerbbq.


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