Dreamland Barbecue in Jerusalem Heights

When I was in culinary school in Alabama we made regular roadtrips to Dreamland Barbecue in the Jerusalem Heights section of Tuscaloosa. Back then Big John Bishop was in charge of the meat and could get a rack of ribs off the hot, wood-fired grill in under an hour.

And they were some of the finest I’ve ever eaten.

Their company slogan was “Ain’t nothin’ like ’em nowhere” and truer words were never spoke. The big, meaty, spare ribs were nearly black with fire and heat, and shellacked with a hot barbecue sauce that’s one of the finest ever wrought by man.

Back then a sign hung in the restaurant stating “No Fries, No Slaw, Don’t Ask” and Bishop was true to his word. You could get ribs and light bread and that was it.

But Big John passed, and with him the pride of smoking good meat wafted off into the pine trees of Tuscaloosa County.

This was my final report from Dreamland Barbecue:

On a recent trip through the great state of Alabama fortune led me to Dreamland’s Tuscaloosa location [Archibald’s was closed]. I’ve eaten at Dreamland periodically since I was a sprout and always had good and sometimes great barbecue there.

Pitiful.

I order a rack to go with the intent of sitting down for a spell and eating a few bones then taking the rest on the road to gnaw on as I made my way to the Appalachians.

The counter man handed me my box and I actually thought for a moment they’d forgot to put the rack in it. You could’ve slapped a first class stamp on it and dropped it in the US mail to ship it.

It was light as a feather.

The bones themselves had very little flesh on them. The flavor was good, nice and smoky but the paucity of the meat and chewiness of what there was, was inexcusable for a smokehouse with the stature of Dreamland.

On the return trip a couple weeks later I hit Archibalds and got a rib sandwich that put Dreamland to shame. The paper plate groaned under the weight of the big, meaty bones sauced in Paulette’s wonderful, vinegary concoction. It’s nice to see at least one Tuscaloosa area institution’s still at the top of their game.

Meanwhile across town it’s a sad state of affairs at Dreamland these days.

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