Saturday, December 31, 2011

Smallest Town I’ve Visited

In the early decades of the automobile, Alabamians shuttling from Huntsville to Decatur traveled along highway 20. In 1952 Jack Webb decided that he needed to cash in. The small town of Greenbrier would be where he would build his take out restaurant. By hand no less. The single room building would serve BBQ, Hushpuppies and catfish. The latter stored in a barrel out back. If you didn’t see it you’d probably hear it. Jack would hire country music stars to play atop the roof to pull in the crowds.180
In many ways Greenbrier was then as it is now. Little more than an intersection along the highway. Much has changed around it though. Highway 20 was replaced by another highway 20 which was replaced by I-565. The restaurant is no longer on well water and has grown substantially in size. Jack Webb is long gone too. A string of owners have put their touches on the place but through it all, the orginal corrigated steel and wooden signs have remained. Now part of the interior décor.172
Along with the original signage that graces the dining room you’ll find some original tables, build by Webb himself. Rustic would be a great way to politely describe the interior. The concrete floor has had the paint worn off. The pannelling harkens back to a renovation from the 70’s and pictures celebrating the history of the area are scattered about the place. In one true oddity, in a rundown roadhouse in the middle of nowhere they provide WiFi. Go figure.179
The reason for our visit, outside of seeking great food in a unique and legendary place of course, is the Hushpuppies. On the list of Huntsville’s 20 Most Distinctive Dishes these deep fried cornmeal dough balls (finger shaped here) are rumoured to have been invented by hunters as a way to keep their dogs satiated. As meals were prepared a simple cornmeal dough ball was fried as a treat to “Hush the puppy.”

So with all this build up, could the food live up to the billing??

Greenbrier’s Hushpuppies are complimentary and limitless. They put them down as they serve you and constantly top up the basket.
The standard cornmeal batter was augmented with a good hint of onion. Being an onion lover this was preaching to the choir. The two BBQ sauces were excellent for dipping.170
The white BBQ sauce was good but nothing special in my mind. Conversely I loved the red sauce. Rich and tomatoey with a good smokiness to it. It was fabulous on the ribs.178
Mrs. Sippi couldn’t say enough good things about her catfish. I’ve really enjoyed the fish finger style, flour and cornmeal breaded versions we’ve had lately and this was not that. This was traditionally cornmeal breaded fillets. Don’t get me wrong, it was great but I’m less a fan of the all cornmeal breading. I really liked it but Mrs. Sippi was in catfish heaven.173
Both the chciken and ribs were perfectly cooked although lacking in that good smoke flavour I desire. The ribs in particular provided a good chew while pulling cleanly off the bone.
The sides of sweet potato and slaw were good as well. Simply done they didn’t stand out but were solid offerings. I have no problem with that. They give you some brown sugar, butter and cinnamon to dress up your sweet tater and sour cream for the regular tuber. The slaw was a vinegary concoction of pretty much just cabbage and vinegar. Quite good. 175
So there you have it. Great food at a legendary place serving a dish that has people coming from miles around. Doesn’t get a whole lot better.

You can find the “Old” Greenbrier Restaurant at 27028 Old Hwy 20 in Greenbrier (Madison), Alabama.

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You can also find them on the web and facebook.
(Old) Greenbrier Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Greenbrier Restaurant on Foodio54

Well that’s all for now folks. Have a good one.

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