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In the late ‘90s, Greg McNair and I were working on a documentary in Huntsville. It was the first one I ever directed and I was stoked about it. Being that far from Tuscaloosa and having a full day of shooting ahead of us, we stayed in town the night before. While scouting out the best local joint for dinner, someone recommended Greenbrier. “They serve barbecue and catfish.” Excuse me?! Pulled pork barbecue and catfish on the same plate? That was all we needed to hear.

At that time, The Greenbrier Restaurant was in the middle of nowhere. I’m not sure Greenbrier is even a town or if it’s just a place. You’d take Exit 3 off I-565 and cross the train tracks. There it was, sitting on this country road with nothing in sight but a little church the other side of the street. The rest was cotton fields, acres and acres of cotton fields. But this place was a well-established destination. Pictures of country music stars making their way to and from Nashville hung on the walls and we saw our own celebrity that night. Kentucky head basketball coach, Tubby Smith, walked in with a couple of assistants. I imagine he was in Huntsville recruiting Marvin Stone, although we didn’t speak. So someone else gave him the same recommendation we got, “If you gonna be eating dinner around Huntsville, make it Greenbrier.”

One of the best things about Greenbrier is the heaping basket of hushpuppies they drop in front of you as an appetizer. These little darlings are homemade, fried with a thin, crispy exterior that leaves the inside pillowy soft. You’ll ruin your meal without proper self-control and they have no problem bringing you more throughout the meal.

The real star on the menu is the fried catfish. Whole catfish are available but I always get filets. They’re breaded in a light coating and fried til they’re golden and crispy on the outside. The meat is white and tender and the full flavor of the fish is front and center. I don’t go searching for catfish, but it’s hard to imagine anything better than what Greenbrier serves up.

The pulled pork is smoky and has good flavor, but it’s the style that needs sauce. I preferred their pork sauce, a vinegar base with a mild taste that enhances the flavor of the meat. It’s a neat trick in that a lot of sauces cover the actual flavor of the pork, but this version builds the flavor. I found a little bit of slaw with the sauce-soaked pork was a delicious mix that added crunch and sharpness. There’s also a thick, heavy rib sauce but you better like Worcestershire because it’s prominent.

All plates come with slaw, which is a finely diced cabbage in a vinegar emulsion. It’s amazingly tasty considering how simple it is and offers a welcome break and palate cleanser from all the heavy, fried foods. You also get your choice of fries, baked potato, or, interestingly enough, sweet potato. I went for the trifecta and ordered the fries, which were battered and crispy. One thing’s for sure, this place knows how to fry.

Returning to Greenbrier brought back a lot of memories. It’s been there for around 70 years and is a true throwback to a different time. Although the building itself is surrounded by technology and modern manufacturing that’s claiming much of Madison County’s farmlands, it holds true to its roots. Simple, southern staples that comfort and nourish wonder about the old days.

Bonus points:

Sauce on the table

Sports on TV

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