Rest in Peace, Melvin Rogers

Huntsville, Alabama, was just a wide place in the road well into the 1950s, but today it’s the second largest city in Alabama, a booming, high-tech city, the home of Redstone Arsenal and the Marshall Space Flight Center (which is coordinating the next moon landing), and lots of associated industries.  They also have a biotech center, and Huntsville just landed a ginormous new Toyota plant.

With all that growth, it’s been easy to pass by Melvin’s barbecue without a glance. Melvin’s is in an unmarked former gas station across the street from a cemetery.   The only clues to its purpose are a big cooker parked beside the building and the seductive smell of pork cooked over hickory.  (I hear they have a couple of tables and umbrellas outside now.)  Inside, Melvin’s has more of a juke joint than a restaurant atmosphere.  It’s a good place to eat some pork or ribs.

Melvin Rogers passed on to his reward last month.  He was only 72.  Melvin Rogers made good barbecue, and, as this article attests, was a good man, a valuable member of the Huntsville community.  It’s sad to see people like Mr. Rogers leave us.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, about the price of change.  The invaluable Barbecue Bros website linked to an article on the passing of the folks behind some great barbecue places and other restaurants tied deeply to their communities — the sort of places celebrated by the Southern Foodways Alliance (although they’re hardly limited to the South).  That article followed John Shelton Reed’s article, Mass Barbecue is the Invasive Species of Our Culinary Times.  Too many new eateries cook bad barbecue with gas or electricity, and end up replacing the perfume of hickory and of pork fat dripping into coals with …  Liquid Smoke.  And even the best new craft places are much more expensive, too expensive to bring people from all walks of life together to break bread and talk sports and local life.  That’s a serious loss, a loss of something more and more valuable, more and more needed as we become more compartmentalized, more divided.

We pray for Melvin Rogers and the Rogers family.  I look forward hopefully to Melvin’s continuing cooking of good barbecue, and continuing to bring the good folks of Huntsville together.  Next time I’m there I’ll stop by and see them, and I hope you support them.

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