Until my early 20s, I didn’t think there was life west of the Hudson River. Then I went to California and had to concede that there was life west of the Rockies. I had little idea what else was out there. One of the hidden benefits of my son’s soccer passion was the opportunity to travel all of over the South. Almost every weekend was spent traveling somewhere. One weekend, we headed to Decatur, Alabama for an Olympic Development Program (ODP) tournament. I know, you have never heard of Decatur. It’s ok, neither had I. Basically, you get to Birmingham and go another two hours north. Over the years, we had been to a number of tournaments in Birmingham and it’s an urbane city. Drive two hours north, and you are officially in the middle of nowhere.
On our way to the soccer field we drive through “downtown Decatur.” I am not sure that I would characterize a town of 55,000 as a city. Traveling with my son, the soccer player, means finding food for my hungry tiger. Looking around, I am not optimistic about our prospects for dinner.
After the games, on the way back to our hotel, we take a different route. We pass a billboard outside of an unassuming restaurant storefront. “Welcome Food Network.” What? This place did not look like a place that Food Network would frequent, so now my curiosity is piqued. But Google does not lie. Indeed, the Food Network had been to Big Bob Gibson”s BBQ in Decatur. Turns out, it’s one of the best restaurants in Alabama and they’ve won all sorts of awards. “Found where we are going to dinner” I declare.
We walk into Big Bob Gibson’s and step back in time. Red leatherette booths with Formica tables adorn an otherwise unremarkable room. Both the servers and the diners were caricatures. I think I have walked into a stereotypical movie set in the South. The smells wafting from the kitchen convinced me it isn’t a dream.
We are seated in one of the cushy, sagging red leatherettes and handed a menu. I am scanning the room, surveying what everyone else has ordered. A waitress with big hair, in a bun, covered with netting wants to take our order. In typical Mickey fashion, my son announces, “we’ll order everything but…” The woman asks us what we would like to drink. “What are my options?” I ask. She responds in this thick Southern drawl, ‘Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Fanta, Sweet Tea, Lemonade’ and the list went on with one conspicuous omission. Sheepishly, I ask if they have any beer. After all, who eats barbecue without beer. And we had just passed a liquor store on the way here so I knew we were not in a dry county. “Ma’am, this is a family restaurant,’ she responds indignantly, peering over her glasses. Ok, my New York-self has just been successfully put in my place. Normally, I would be annoyed. However, the barbecue is really all that and more–it didn’t need the beer.