by Alex, Nottingham
You’ve got to start every day with a hearty breakfast right? So before we headed north we heard about a place called Salem’s Diner. As soon as we walked through the door you experience that famous southern hospitality, everyone is so friendly, this place was a true American diner.
This place is known for its Philly Cheesesteak – according to some people it’s better than what you can get in Philadelphia. One of the dishes on the menu was appealingly titled “Trashcan”. This was a mish/mash of everything, sausage patty, hash browns, chopped onion, cheese… with a “lid” of over easy eggs.
You get the picture, this stuff was really good. Remember the Philly Cheesesteak? We ordered two to share because we can’t visit this place and not try the best of the best! An order for 2 went in, 5 came out! Definitely didn’t have the stomach capacity for that, a few bites was enough though to realise how immense this Philly Cheesesteak was though. Liam ate his, mine and 1/2 of Scott’s. We had a trashcan for breakfast and Liam proved to be a human trashcan himself!
Time to head north. We jumped in the car and headed up to Decatur. On our way north we passed a road side BBQ shack, Little James Bar-B-Q. It looked pretty cool so we had to drop in, mainly just to escape the discomfort of the unevenly distributed air conditioned SUV (caused by the driver thinking he’s funny). Rather than escaping it, we just moved into the insanely hot smoker room at the back of this shack. This place housed some serious smokers which we toured with the lady manager.
The heat and the smell hits you so fast, but she didn’t know what wood they used for their ‘cue, and they only smoke during the day which seemed odd. She said they cook their butts until 7pm, but close at 8pm. Ehh! Anyway, we grabbed some food and hit the road, heading over to a swimming hole in Guntersville state park.
Garish swimming shorts adorned, we released the bellies amongst the local college kids who clearly frequented this area more than we had. They were scaling cliffs to jump 20m into the bottom of the river. Rising to the challenge, one or two of us pale Brits managed a circa 5m jump rocks into the water (Scott tells me it was at least 10m!…). I was too much of a pussy to do that crazy stuff. Matt tells me his jumps were higher than everyone of us us. Such bravado.
This swimming hole was a thing of natural beauty and needed to cool us down as the temperatures were in the mid nineties. We sat down, soaked up some sun and enjoyed the ‘cue we grabbed earlier from Little James, soaking in the beauty of the American landscape. We didn’t manage to get any photos of the grub from Little James. And rightly so, it was awful. The ribs were mullered and wet, the beans way too sweet and the pork dry as a nun’s…
Spending more time driving about was actually really amazing, getting the chance to see more of Alabama and taking the long back roads for all of us was a true highlight. The perfect soundtrack from 21 Days Under The Sky keeping us in good spirit, (if you’ve not seen this film, go watch it right now or find the soundtrack).
“You can see why the Americans love their country”. – Scott Munro
Before we could hit the last joint, Matt had “tummy trouble” and needed some pharmaceutical assistance from the drive thru at a WallMart. We were about to hit the last BBQ joint of the day, Big Bob Gibson’s.
This was exciting for all of us, alike to the other joints we had been told great things about this place. Scott has his cook book, so he wanted to get there and get stuck in. Continuing tradition, a little bit of everything, the best bits and the speciality plates. The best dish? The greens mixed with ham hock, beautiful bitterness to them. The absolute best yet. However they paled into insignificance compared to the Brunswick stew (we have our own take on it in our Let There Be Meat recipe book) cooked fresh on site with them making 15 gallons a day!
Paul, the manager, took us in to the smoke room which was like Disneyland for us. They had 3 chicken and rib pits which had been built in with the restaurant back in ’75 – imagine the taste that these bad boys deliver. To complement this they then had an additional 3 smoke pits for everything else. It was AMAZING! Paul’s ‘cue knowledge really was something else, one the bits we took from our chat with him was how to smoke brisket with Sasafras (root used to make root beer) so that you end up with with amazing tender brisket that tastes of root beer… yes, we will be trying this in Red’s.
All the days eating had been done, time for beer and bourbon! As the elders hit the beds we young ones hit the bars for live music and a few drinks. We some interesting people and I’m pretty sure a guy named Chris tried to get Leaton to go back to his house in Maddison… apparently he had spirits and beer we could have. We passed on that and walked back to the hotel for some shut eye.
Seriously enjoying this trip and today has been incredible. The views, the food, the people and of course the drink.
Can’t wait until tomorrow.