After spending Wednesday morning with Dear, Nancy and I left to go see the Oxford, Mississippi Tanners. Before we left Birmingham, we stopped for lunch at SAW’s in Homewood, one of the many suburbs of Birmingham. The barbecue at SAW’s deservedly gets a lot of love. SAW’s is on lots of “best” lists, including Garden and Gun’s, and has been pronounced by no less an authority than Eric Lee, the Charlotte Hamburger Expert, to have the best barbecue in the world, and I respect Eric. And the mother ship in Homewood is a long stride ahead of SAW’s Soul Kitchen and SAW’s Juke Joint.
SAW’s is a small south facing restaurant. It’s crowded, with ten four tops jammed together, close by seven stools at counters. It gets to be a problem because a lot of folks in Alabama, not least me, have been Supersized. Fitting two big guys, or I should say people, into seats at each of adjacent tables can be an issue. There also are three roomier two tops for the lunatics who want to sit outside on a south-facing wall in Birmingham in the summer. You go to SAW’s for the food, not the atmosphere.
To the food: Nancy ordered a pork plate with potato salad and cole slaw.
She liked the pork a lot — who wouldn’t — but said the potato salad was overdressed, and had no celery, only pickle relish. The slaw on the other hand, was good with a nice vinegar taste. As you can see, the cabbage had been riced, but it was still crisp.
I ordered a pork plate with their “todays special” vegetables, pinkeye peas and baby butter beans.
Actually, as you can see, they were black eye peas, which was a big disappointment: pink eye peas are much better than black eye. Otherwise, the peas, like the butter beans, were perfectly acceptable, but a definite letdown after the truly outstanding succotash and greens I’d had at Demetri’s the day before. The cornbread was excellent, however, the perfect vehicle for the pot likker from the vegetables. It was not at all sugary, and had excellent texture and flavor. Win.
I like the pork at SAW’s. It is, as I said, very tender and moist and has a good flavor. The outside meat, however, was, well, insipid, lacking the texture that a direct heat from a brick pit gives. And they need to work on their sauce. The New York Times Magazine pronounced SAW’s sauce as the best barbecue sauce in America. The New York Times is a sorry guide when it comes to barbecue, and, calling SAWs’ the best barbecue sauce in America is the sort of arrant nonsense you get more and more frequently throughout the New York Times these days. Actually, SAW’s sauce is underwhelming. It’s bland, really, and doesn’t add much to the meat, which is great without it. I would remember to order the meat without sauce on my next trip if the sauce had enough character to be offensive.
But those are quibbles. Really good meat, the outside notwithstanding, is a pearl of great price, and the sauce really doesn’t make a difference. I’m not yet with Eric Lee — SAW’s has some very specific room for improvement — but it’s a Top Place by any measure, and you definitely should give it a try.
For those wondering why “SAW’s” is capitalized, it actually is not a name but an acronym. Owner Mike Wilson was nicknamed Sorry Ass Wilson in his youth. Whatever earned his that nickname, he’s overcome it.