When Moe’s Original BBQ opened in downtown Tuscaloosa in early 2010, I was skeptical. I avoided it for some time, as I’m fairly confident the saturation of barbecue restaurants in Tuscaloosa will weed out substandard joints. I decided I’d try it if it could pass the T-town test. Over a year later, Moe’s was still going strong, and I was curious.
Driving by for that year and a half, I was always confused by its ever-shifting atmosphere. Moe’s has a bit of a split-personality: restaurant by day and bar by night. This division is also represented by the layout of the establishment: bar on the right side, restaurant on the left. The “About” page on Moe’s website advertizes “Alabama-style” barbecue and claims UA as its alma mater, but the first five Moe’s were opened in various parts of Colorado. The mountain atmosphere carries over into the Tuscaloosa location, as the wood interior and ski décor (a lift seat and black diamond signs, for example) are reminiscent of every ski lodge ever. Eleven HDTV’s are staggered throughout the restaurant and bar and are usually set to various sporting events. The bar also advertizes Colorado craft beers, but they’re only available in bottles. The only tap I’ve ever seen there is for Bud Light, and the liquor selection seems pretty standard. I’ve only ever been to Moe’s during meal time, but from what I can tell of the night scene, it looks too undergrad/frat-heavy for my taste. There’s a stage in the corner for live music Thursday-Saturday nights, and when the weather is nice, they open the giant garage-style windows on the front façade to give the place more of an outdoor-ish atmosphere. Of course, you can always sit on the patio.
The menu is fairly simple. Sandwiches (pulled pork, chicken, turkey, and catfish, I believe) come with 2 sides and a drink for $9. Platters (pulled pork, chicken, turkey, catfish, wings, ribs) come with 2 sides a drink for $10. I’ve only ever tried the chicken sandwich, but it’s so good, I can’t bring myself to order anything else. I’ve been told the pulled pork is worth coming back for as well. The chicken is tender and covered in a tangy almost orange-colored barbecue sauce. “Tangy” and “peppery” are what come to mind when I try to describe it. This chicken and thin-but-not-quite-vinegary sauce is then topped with Moe’s marinated slaw, which is unlike any slaw I’ve ever had. Since I’m not a fan of cole slaw, that’s a good thing. Instead of the chopped and creamy slaw I’m used to (hating), Moe’s uses larger pieces of cabbage and a vinegary sauce that compliments the rest of the sandwich exquisitely. The crunch of the cabbage and the combination of the barbecue and slaw sauces really add something to an already good sandwich. Finally, the slaw is topped with a few slivers of cooked bell pepper and a few slices of pickles. This layering of tastes and inclusion of little touches (such as the bell pepper) prove that Moe’s is about more than throwing sandwiches together. They’ve thought long and hard about what makes good barbecue and what best complements that barbecue—and the payoff for all that time and effort is well worth the $9 you’ll pay for it. And I haven’t even gotten to the sides!
Moe’s keeps several sides on the menu permanently: baked beans, marinated slaw, potato salad, chips, and banana pudding. I’ve not had any of these, however, because their “Special Sides of the Day” are always so enticing. The yams were delicious and just sweet enough to border on dessert. I get the macaroni and cheese every time I go there. It’s baked until it nearly dissolves in your mouth with at least two kinds of cheese and plenty of butter. The skillet corn is also fantastic with the same kind of flavor complexity (sausage and celery, namely) I described in the sandwich. I’ve also seen black-eyed peas, peas and corn, and greens on the “Special Sides” chalkboard. On my last visit, I tried the coconut pie, which (as you can tell by the picture) comes in a little cup. It tasted fine, but was easily the least impressive thing I’ve had at Moe’s so far. I imagine the banana pudding served the same way and is probably better, but I’m not a big banana pudding fan so I haven’t tried it.
Finally, the sweet tea is sweet—as tea in an Alabama barbecue joint should be. It’s not the sweetest in town, but it’s not far from it. You may want to half-and-half it with the unsweet if you you’re not a disciple of the “a little tea with my sugar” tradition like I am. Overall, Moe’s really knocked my socks off the first time I tried it and has continued to impress me in the three or four times I’ve eaten there since. You won’t catch me partying there on a Saturday night, but those yams and skillet corn make Moe’s a constant candidate for lunch or dinner every day of the week.
Bar open until 2am; 3am on Fridays