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Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint

Stop for



Cahaba Heights


One way to classify barbecue joints is where they strike a balance between quality of food and quality of experience.  A lot of small places are only about the food.  They may not even have a dining room and the ambience is whatever they have on hand.  Larger chains try to sell a brand, which can mean lesser food quality and overpricing.  Rarely do I find a good balance between the quality of food and the restaurant experience.  Martin’s strikes the perfect balance of both.

Martin’s is a chain, which always makes me skeptical at first.  I watched as their building was raised in Cahaba Heights where an old service station used to be.  With extensive landscaping and an open design, I was leery of it being a mirage, a misty vision with no real substance.  It took me needing to hang around the area for an evening meeting before I made the move.  It turned out to be one of the happiest visits I’ve ever made to a barbecue restaurant.

The thing that most impressed me about Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint was the vibe.  The couple in line ahead of me had three small children, all of them redheads.  They would pitch the youngest an imaginary baseball and he would take a wild swing with his invisible bat before dashing six feet and back.  There were young couples talking while their kids played in the courtyard. Another couple was there with three generations of family as they celebrated news of their pregnancy.  An older man was celebrating a birthday with his family, obviously adored by his grandkids.  Everyone was neatly dressed, respectful, and keenly focused on each other.  There was such a sweet spirit that the food became secondary.  It was uplifting, joyful, and safe.  In a way it felt like one huge family celebrating life.  Strange but absolutely wonderful!

The food at Martin’s wasn’t to be outdone.  The pork shoulder was colorful, flavorful and impressively moist.  It was smoky with a delicate balance of flavors that obviously took time to create.  They claim to smoke their pork for 20 hours and it comes through in the gentle texture, aroma, and chew of each bite.

Martin’s has also made me a fan of vinegar based sauce.  Theirs is probably apple cider vinegar and pepper based.  It doesn’t slap you in the face with hot pepper, rather it finishes with just the right amount of heat on the back end.  It’s a really smooth blend that gives the meat a velvety, luxurious feel without covering the meat’s flavor.  It’s a beautiful harmony that felt so indulgent that I could have carried on with it all evening.

The mac n cheese came highly recommended, and it delivered with lots of flavor.  The base is a firm noodle, with a smooth blend of cheeses that delivers a strong flavor with smoky hints.  The baked topping added a mild crunch for another textural element.

The baked beans were more like a chili.  They’re in a rich tomato base with huge chunks of peppers and meat, blended with traditional chili spices.  It was unexpected and a very creative, tasty take on a classic side.

Martin’s is like its own island.  It sits on a busy corner but feels a world away from the bustle of a busy neighborhood.  There’s music playing, a large dining area that flows to an outdoor patio and picnic tables, and a style that any restaurant would envy.  Better than what the restaurant brings, is what the people bring to the restaurant.  It’s the best mix of everything and that’s a rare find.

Bonus Points for:

Sauce on table

Sports on TV

Fountain Coke products

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