It’s painful when a giant falters.
Archibald’s in Northport, Alabama still puts out a good plate of smoked meat but they are no longer the zenith of barbecue in the Deep South. The reason is simple: George Archibald Jr is no longer the pit boss. Time eventually gets the best of every man.
I first sat down at the lunch counter at Archibald’s way back in the 80s. I was a schoolkid and had gotten word that there was even better barbecue in Alabama than the legendary Dreamland, and it was in the same community; Northport is adjacent to Tuscaloosa.
I rolled in there with a bunch of wild-ass ruffians that were regulars at the restaurant and soon enough I became a regular too. I ate there solid for about 15 years before I pulled up stumps and headed out to Texas, leaving my beloved Alabama.
When I first interviewed George Archibald Jr back in the early 90s I had to know what his secret was. He didn’t bat an eye and said “there ain’t no secret, we just take our time, build a good hot hickory fire and cook the meat”
Archibald’s still builds a good, hot hickory fire and they still cook the meat but the lack of patience by the new pit boss has ratcheted the quality down to mortal status. It was formerly the food of the gods.
The crackling bark that was George’s signature has lost a little bit of its crackle and the ribs are a now a mite chewy.
To be absolutely clear, Archibald’s is still one of the best barbecue houses in the region but they no longer hold true to their own impossible standard that they set prior to George’s retirement.
“How’s George doing?”
“Oh pretty good, he came in here yesterday”
I ate lunch in Archibald’s last week and asked after the old meat man. Two young men were hustling out a busy lunch service; one tending to the fire, the other taking orders and collecting money.
They were plenty friendly and the pit man stayed busy, constantly flipping the rib racks and squirting a stream of water from a hose down onto the scorching Hickory coals.
George once told me that he could get a rack of ribs off his pit in about 90 minutes; a pork butt could come off in about three hours. That’s lightning fast by Texas standards but Mr Archibald’s massive fire pit provides an absolute inferno of heat. Hickory burns hot and Archibald’s meat cooks right above the conflagration.
I silently wonder how long this new pit boss is letting the meat cook and how long he’ll work at this iconic smokehouse.
Time eventually gets the best of every man.
Tue 10:30 am – 8:00 pm
Wed 10:30 am – 8:00 pm
Thu 10:30 am – 8:00 pm
Fri 10:00 am – 8:30 pm
Sat 10:00 am – 8:30 pm
1211 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Northport, AL 35476