Apparently Mike & Ed’s is no longer in the Northport location mentioned in this review. As far as I can tell, they decided to let their lease on the Northport building expire and are still waiting for their new building at the 15th Street location to be built, so the Tuscaloosa area is temporarily without Mike and Ed’s. This review will be updated when I have more information.
Mike & Ed’s Bar*B*Q holds a sentimental spot in my creosote-blackened heart. It was the very first Tuscaloosa barbecue joint that I ate at. Heck, it was the first Tuscaloosa barbecue joint that I ever saw. I was born and raised in Kansas City, the barbecue capital of the world. Seeing Mike & Ed’s squat brick building, with its sunfaded sign and Formica tables and weird, rusting, cylindrical smoking room, made me all warm inside. It looked like how a barbecue joint should look like.
That charming building right by Forest Lake is no longer standing. It, like a majority of structures in the Forest Lake neighborhood, was irreparably damaged in the April 27th tornado. I was very affected by this. I even wrote a short nonfiction piece about Mike & Ed’s and other Tuscaloosa barbecue joints for the charity anthology, Tuscaloosa Runs This (free download found at tuscaloosarunsthis.com).
Now, a little over three months later, Mike & Ed’s has re-opened in a temporary building in Northport. I am thrilled to report that while things look different, the food has stayed the same. This new location is in a small wooden shack (complete with a working drive-thru! Call ahead!), with tables and a mishmash of assorted chairs stuck in wherever they can fit. It’s counter-service now. Whereas before you’d get a perky waitress to take your order and refill your cup with sweet tea, now you order at the register, get a ticket number, and pour yourself some sweet tea out of a giant white industrial trash bin/paint bucket w/ a spigot attached to it. Don’t kid yourself about ordering anything but the sweet tea here. Resistance is futile.
Mike & Ed’s sells mostly pork, and you can order it one of three ways: chipped, sliced, or chopped. Avoid the chopped preparation; it isn’t so much chopped as it is deliberately cubed, and the cubes of pork tend to dry out quickly. The chipped is the most popular; moist, very finely pulled strands of pork shoulder tossed with Mike & Ed’s house mustard-based sauce (they have a few other sauces if mustard doesn’t suit your palate: a thin tomato-based sauce with some hickory smoke to it, and a full-on South Carolina yellow mustard sauce). I tend to opt for the sliced pork; thick slices, laced with flavorful fat, with lots of smoky bark left on them. Truth be told: none of the pork options are anything better than average, but average barbecue is plenty tasty.
Mike & Ed’s serves up other meats too. Their barbecued chicken isn’t particularly special, but (surprisingly) their fried chicken strips are. The most succulent, plump, juicy chicken strips in town. For me, Mike & Ed’s best meat is their turkey. Of all the meats at Mike & Ed’s, the turkey achieves the best balance of smoke and juiciness. It’s so good that I had Mike & Ed’s barbecue an entire turkey for me that I served for Thanksgiving dinner.
My favorite thing about Mike & Ed’s, the one thing that they do that is legitimately great, are their barbecued beans. So often, even at otherwise solid barbecue joints, the beans will be an afterthought, tasting like they came straight out of a can. Not here, no way. There’s a depth of flavor to Mike & Ed’s beans that is unmatched in Tuscaloosa (or at least I haven’t found their match yet). In Kansas City, they cook the beans underneath the meats being smoked so that beef brisket drippings will fall into the beans. Mike & Ed’s takes that general principle and applies to it pork shoulder. The smoky-sweet beans are flavored with the sizable chunks of pork shoulder that drip down into them. The beans are at their best in the evening, after a whole day’s worth of meat and juice and fat has had hours to cook down into them.
There are other barbecue joints in Tuscaloosa that easily outclass Mike & Ed’s. They don’t do much at all wrong, but they don’t excel at much beyond turkey and beans. Even still, it’s always an enjoyable meal. The service and atmosphere are top-notch. I never walk away disappointed.
Mike & Ed’s has plans to rebuild at the site of their former location. A sketch of the building was posted on their Facebook page (which seems to have disappeared). It looked like a sterile, big-box looking building that reminded me of the similarly safe Northport location of Dreamland. I will be glad to see it back at Forest Lake, but I will be sad to see its barbecue joint charm replaced by a boring, antiseptic chain store aesthetic. My advice? Go to the temporary Northport location and soak up the atmosphere while you still can.