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Heards BBQ & Soul Food

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BOOM!  That’s the sound of my mind being blown!  Think all-caps, bold text, solid colored with a hard drop shadow in a thought bubble.  The old Batman TV show has nothing on this.  POW! BAM!  WHAM!  This was a knockout from a tiny restaurant in a most unsuspecting place.  I’ve been watching Heards for a long time and was waiting to make my move.  Even with my eyes wide open, I was blindsided.  There was no way to prepare for the onslaught on my tastebuds.  This was an encounter of superhero proportions.

I learned about Heards from a co-worker whose wife is also a barbecue fan.  Jumping in the car and driving two hours on a Saturday to try a new barbecue joint is common for them.  It takes that kind of commitment to get to Maplesville, a very small town on Highway 82 between Centreville and Prattville.  I’d been through Maplesville multiple times traveling to Selma and other bbq joints that are among Chase’s favorites.  I’d even seen Heards building, but the only sign was a bbq banner waving on one of those flimsy poles and the place was never open at night.  (That’s because they start serving at 11am and they go home when the food runs out.)  Talk about a super disguise!  Small town, unmarked building, never open, it’s the perfect set-up for something villainous.  Thankfully, something superhuman is being done for the benefit of all mankind.

I was privileged to meet Roman Heard, quite unintentionally.  A giant of a man, he’s gentle and affable.  We spoke briefly and he recognized The Alabama Barbecue Chase from following our posts.  I couldn’t find enough accolades to heap upon him and he was super gracious.  Humility is an attribute that the gifted wield effortlessly.  Roman and the Heard family display that in abundance for those who visit their little joint, flattered that anyone would pay them for doing what they love.  Love is exactly what you get, in everything they serve.  Feel the love, taste the love, love me tender, love’s what makes the world go round…or, perhaps, the world of Alabama barbecue revolves around Maplesville.

It's been a while since my last OMG moment, but that’s what happened with my first bite of barbecue.  How do you get that much smoky flavor, a beautiful bark, and keep the inside moist and tender?  I don’t know!  But Heards does.  Each bite was smoky, had a beautiful color and wonderful chew, and juicy without being greasy.  That’s a high-wire act because it’s easy to dry meat out or leave it a little slimy.

The house sauce is red, mild, and on the thinner side.  It is thick enough to cling to the meat, although it’s not heavy or heavily sweet.  I’m growing more and more fond of these sauces that are a good blend of tomato and vinegar bases.  Not too sweet, not too sharp, just a beautiful compliment to meat that could be eaten without sauce in the first place.

One fun thing about Heards is that their menu changes daily.  While they always have barbecue, their sides can vary day to day.  One tip, if they have mac n cheese, GET IT!  It’s a baked version with a firm noodle, rich, thick and with massive cheddar flavor.  The more I dug in the more cheese I found, and I love that crispy layer that bakes onto the top.  It’s 100 percent indulgent and their mouth-watering version is an explosion of flavor.  If you love mac n cheese, this one will rock your world.

I also chose fried green tomatoes, which I love in the first place.  I even make my own during the summer when our garden is cranking out all varieties of tomatoes.  I’ve eaten them across the state and while there are restaurants famous for this Southern treat, none are better than Heards.  These beauties were crispy outside and warm and soft on the inside.  To me the coating seemed to be a type of cornmeal batter that was well seasoned and fried up golden brown.  They were juicy but not greasy, which was some sort of magical stunt.  Reflecting on them, they seemed light and didn’t weigh me down afterwards like fried foods can do.  I’m telling you, something magical is happening in the Heards kitchen.

I was further mesmerized by a slab of cornbread that was both coarse and creamy at the same time.  It’s made with a yellow meal and baked thin but is soft, moist, and buttery without adding extra butter.  Everything I ate had the best qualities, even if those qualities seemed conflicting.  Everything was in harmony and I was in hog heaven.

In case you need one more testimony from the Heards fan base, there was a lady at the counter that regularly drives from Centreville to get neck bones when they’re on the menu.  She said they’re tender and meaty and worth every bit of her half-hour drive.  While mainly a carry-out joint, there is a screened-in patio with four tables and sixteen chairs, just enough to host the rotating crowd of blue-collar workers and passers-through.  I was invited to come back on a Saturday because I had to try the ribs.  But Roman warned me to get there early.  He said if you’re there at 11 you’ll get some, if you’re there at 1 you might get some, and if you’re there at 2 you won’t get any.  Barbecue for breakfast…sounds like a hero’s breakfast to me.

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