God bless you, America. You may not be the brightest, and maybe you’re a bit of a bully, but by god you sure know how to barb a cue. And I would venture to say that the south is the most guilty of all three accusations. The real south, not the Florida south. So it’s a true blessing, an American miracle if you will, to have access to Alabama style barbecue.
Alex’s Southern Style Bar-B-Q sits amid plain shop after plain shop in a small strip mall by Ehrlich and West Village Drive in Carrollwood. The interior is very plain, with the walls yellowed by years of exposure to the massive open pit smoker. Which is awesome. Life needs more massive open pit smokers. To the right side of the photo are a couple televisions, in front of which sat a few old bicycles. I loudly inquired about their origin, and I received answer from the barbecue god himself, Alex.
Alex, the owner and operator, is a great guy. Friendly and welcoming. Comes from a big family, and you get that warm family feeling from him. He told us about his community project, “Alex’s Christmas Bikes for Kids”. Every year, Alex collects money for bicycles, both from himself and from donations, uses that money to purchase bicycles the day before Christmas, and then he gives them to less fortunate children. “Every kid needs a bicycle” he says. Truly a noble cause. He told me they’d donated almost 10,000 bicycles over their 11 years in business. You can get more information at their website.
Look at that. You could smoke a manatee in there.
The staff is just as friendly and social as Alex is, and apparently similarly generous. I’ve heard multiple stories of them giving out samples for indecisive customers to try out. Hella samples. Like, one of everything samples. I did not get any myself, so I cannot vouch for this! But… I hear tell.
So instead of getting a free sample of everything, I just ordered everything all at once. It’s called the “Big Boy Platter”, and it really is one of everything. Except wings. I had to order the wings separately. But it comes with ribs, chopped beef, pulled pork, chicken, and sausage, two sides of your choice, and a couple slices of white bread. Yes. After I ordered, I filled my styrofoam cup with delicious sweet tea, and watched on as the man behind the counter worked his magic. Magic is real.
Let’s start with the wings. Alex isn’t particularly known for his wings, so I can’t fault him for these. Not that they’re bad! Okay that was a bad start but really they were quite… okay. They were fine. Just wings. Nice big wings, fried to crispy, and you get a choice of mild or hot sauce. We went with the hot sauce, which was literally a hot sauce, like Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. It had to have been cut with something (butter?) though, because it was much more a medium than a hot wing. But I must admit that I did enjoy them, especially so when I ate them as leftovers, cold and soaked in the sauce. Not bad.
And here’s the Big Boy Platter. I apparently didn’t have the foresight to take photos of each item individually, so you may have to guess at what certain things look like. Each item is visible in this picture, though. From left to right (underneath the bread), is the pulled pork, the sausage, the chopped beef, the chicken, and the ribs. In the back are baked beans and macaroni and cheese. This entire plate comes to about 14 bucks, which was totally worth it for quantity alone.
Alex has one barbecue sauce. Just one. “What?? No options???” I hear you freaking out. Deal with it. When there’s only one sauce, there’s only one choice. Being used to places like Hungry Harry’s, which featured six different sauces, this was a bit jarring. But Alex’s sauce is one good-ass sauce. It’s a sweet barbecue sauce, with a little bite to it. The food comes pre-sauced, and there’s some more on the table if you’re interested in extra. And you can buy it for your own personal use if you’re so inclined.
(I secretly was happy that there was only one sauce… that way I didn’t have to spend my meal trying each different sauce and deciding which is best; instead I could just enjoy eating.)
Alright so let’s break it down. The sides were pretty decent. I had heard a lot of good things about the beans, so I was excited for them. They were a little sweet – mapley. Definitely some brown sugar. Thick. But I felt that they were not too special. Maybe it was all the hype. They were good though. The macaroni and cheese was pretty good too. There wasn’t a lot of cheese to be spoken of, but they were a bit cheesey, and they had some seasoning on them that gave them a bit of a spice, which I really liked.
Now let’s more from left to right on the plate. First up is the pulled pork. It was tender, moist, and juicy. Very solid pulled pork. Played well with the sauce. The sausage was incredible. I feel like I’d never had sausage smoked like this before, which may be wrong. Regardless, this was pretty memorable sausage. It was a strongly seasoned ground pork, with nice thick casing. Tender, almost to the point that it melted in your mouth. It have must been homemade. My only qualm with it was that the flavor was so strong that I couldn’t eat too much at a time. But it was delicious.
The chopped beef was my least favorite of the meats. They don’t use a beef brisket, but a different cut of meat entirely for this, which I can’t for the life of me remember. Tip roast? I don’t know. But it was not great. The meat was a bit stringy, with a kind of gross consistency (it did not ‘chew’ well). It had a very pronounced beef flavor, but was not as smokey as the other meats. A bit bland. This one required the sauce, and was not the most fun to finish. The chicken, on the other hand, was very good. It was intensely smokey in flavor, quite tender, and delicious. The seasoning used on the skin was really well balanced. It didn’t even need the sauce.
But as it turned out, king of the meats goes to the ribs. They use giant ribs, and smoke them to the point of being ridiculously tender. The rib fell apart into large chunks of pink meat, which was lightly smokey the closer the meat came to the outside of the rib, but largely tasting of beef. So good I regretted not just getting a rib platter instead of the Big Boy. It was by far their best dish.
So it was great. Alex’s Bar-B-Q was great. The guy is wonderful, the food is delicious and has a real personal feel to it. There’s a lot of love floating around that place. But not sickeningly sweet, sappy, romantic, why-am-I-alone love; humbling, positive, familial love. Like the love between a man and a fine cigar.
So check it out. Breath in the smoke. Eat some ribs. Donate a bike. And enjoy barbecue done right.