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My introduction to Dreamland came in 1990 when I started Alabama as a freshman.  We kept hearing about it so we decided to give it a try.  Back then only the original location existed and it was one step above a shack.  The inside had 6-8 tables, all pushed close together, with the pit on the far end of the dining room.  Our server was a large woman, barely able to squeeze between the tables.  She asked us, “Whu chu want?”  Not knowing any better someone asked, “What do you have?”  She said, “We got ribs, man!”   So that’s what we had, ribs and white bread.

The slab we ordered came out on multiple layers of cheap paper plates, topped with wax paper to keep the sauce from soaking through.  I remember the ribs being a smoky brown, glistening and steaming hot, smothered in that Dreamland sauce.  The smell was powerful.  It seemed to travel right through the old factory and onto my tongue.  It was the greatest harmony of the senses I’d ever experienced.  

Eighteen years old and I had no idea barbecue could be that good.  It was an awakening.

Dreamland’s fame had already grown way beyond Tuscaloosa’s city limits and even the state line.  During the winter of 1993 I was wearing my Dreamland t-shirt in Provo, Utah when a total stranger introduced himself by saying, “Hey, I’ve been there.”    Turns out he was from Georgia and he and his dad had made a special trip to Tuscaloosa because they’d heard how good it was.

In 1994 I took my siblings.  I took my wife before we got married.  She’ll admit she was scared pulling up to the building but loved the food.  When I worked for public TV at UA we’d always go to Dreamland for lunch on the last day before Christmas break.  Our chief engineer would always get there early to claim the seat beside the wood-burning stove.  My infatuation led to so many good memories.

We need to be honest about something.  The reason people go to Dreamland is for the sauce.  Used to all they served was ribs.  Now there are lots of options including pork, chicken, sausage, and their signature ribs.  Really it doesn’t matter what you choose because it’s the sauce that makes the meal.  In that hot, steaming sauce is where the Dreamland experience is had.

I consider Dreamland sauce the godfather of all barbecue sauces.  The Dreamland slogan is, “Ain’t nothin like em nowhere!”  What that’s really referring to is the sauce.  I’ve never found a sauce like it. It’s always served steaming hot which makes me think they simmer it to meld all the flavors together.  It’s bold with a spiciness that awakens your taste buds and covers your whole tongue.  It awakens your taste buds with a sensation that is unique to itself.  You simply have to try it to understand it.

These days I get the Tips and Chips, boneless rib tips covered in warm sauce and served with house made potato chips.  This preparation is much neater and less work than having to clean the meat off the bone yourself.  The chips are incredible.  They’re golden, crispy, and really well seasoned.  They deliver big flavor which stands up to the sauce.  I think they’re the best potato chips I’ve ever had.

Dreamland is such a cool place to be.  My last few trips have been to the Southside-Birmingham location.  The décor reminds me of the original site, and the vibe still reminds me of that old fashioned dining room I first visited over 30 years ago.  Check out the below photo of the pitmaster from my latest visit.  He struck that pose all on his own when he saw me sizing up a picture.  I love it!  And just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with making a meal out of warm Dreamland sauce and sliced white bread.  I’m just sayin!

Bonus points for:

Coke products

TV with sports

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