Archibald’s is a tiny place. There’s a barbecue pit, a refrigerator, sink, a Formica-topped bar and five bar stools inside a building of white-painted concrete blocks in the backyard of Mr. Archibald’s residence.
If you come with a crowd you can eat on one of the picnic tables outside–if it’s not too hot and humid. Otherwise, you’ve got to order to go.
Menu items: Slabs of ribs, plate of ribs, rib sandwiches, sliced pork sandwiches. A divinely-inspired vinegar-based sauce. Served with, or on, white bread. No sides, unless you want a bag of potato chips. Pepsi products to drink.
If you’re big on side dishes, dessert and thick, sugary, ketchup-y sauces you probably won’t like Archibald’s.
If, like me, you eat barbecue solely for the taste of tender, juicy slow-cooked smoked pork flavored with a spicy vinegar-based sauce you’ll be in heaven at Archibald’s.
The flow of customers is steady throughout the day, but Archibald’s can be crowded at lunch. A few times over the years I stopped by in the late afternoon to find they’d already sold out of ribs and wouldn’t have another batch ready for a couple of hours.
During football season, the parking “lot” (such that it is), the yard and the inside will be packed. You might have to park on the side street.
Archibald’s opened in 1962. Mr. George Archibald, Jr. runs the place with his sister, Paulette Washington.
I’m something of a barbecue snob. I don’t eat barbecue from chain restaurants, even those whose customers rave about their barbecue. I’ve tried a few over the years and have always been disappointed. The sauce is usually thick and sugary and the emphasis is on barbecue as a business rather than barbecue as a “calling.” That’s true, even when the original location was opened out of the requisite dedication to the barbecue experience.
I think something is lost when a restaurant has a main dish in addition to barbecue. Slow-cooked barbecue smoked on a blackened pit over hickory wood isn’t something that you can franchise.
Directions: Archibald’s Bar-B-Cue is located at 1211 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Northport, Alabama 35476. That’s just across the Black Warrior River from downtown Tuscaloosa. Take Lurleen Wallace Blvd. North, cross the river, stay in the right lane to exit onto Rice Mine Road just as you’ve crossed the river. Take the first left. Go about a half-mile up that street and take a right onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Follow MLK Boulevard for about 1/2-to-3/4 mile. Look for Archibald’s on your right. If you get to Rose Lumber you just passed Archibald’s.
PostScript: The last few times I’ve been to Archibald’s, Mr. Archibald’s nephew, Woodrow, was manning the pit, as he was when I stopped by July 14, 2011. Woodrow had his own barbecue place for a while in the 80s, just off Highway 43 in Northport. I stopped by Woodrow’s Barbecue a couple of times because it was on the way between my hometown and Tuscaloosa. I found Woodrow’s by way of a nondescript sign on Highway 43 and followed a side road up a hill until I found it. Woodrow & Mr. Archibald later moved the restaurant to a location on Highway 43, where it operated under the name of Archibald & Woodrow’s. The barbecue at Archibald & Woodrow’s was very good, too, even though the menu was way more expansive than what you find at Archibald’s (or at the original Woodrow’s).
Special comment: I didn’t do a web search before I wrote my post because I wanted to give my own take on Archibald’s. As it turns out, most of others make similar points. Here are some links to sites that also think Archibald’s is a special place:
- Transcript of segment on Archibald’s from The Southern BBQ Trail — A Southern Foodways Alliance Documentary
- Obituary for Betty Jean Archibald, late wife of Mr. George Archibald, Sr., founder of Archibald’s. Mrs. Archibald developed the sauce.
- Review by Ashley Ferry for VisitSouth
- Story by Liz Legg for Tuscaloosa Neighbors website