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FIVE

FIVE opened in the spring (I believe) of 2011 and remains one of Tuscaloosa’s newest restaurants. Its premise is simple enough: the menu gives you 5 appetizers, 5 entrees, 5 signature drinks, 5 white wines, and 5 red wines to choose from. This system is slightly complicated by their 5 brunch entrees on Sundays and a daily special each night.

I heard about FIVE a while back, but it’s pricier than my usual dinner spots, so it took me a while to finally make it there. To give you an idea of the menu’s options, the drinks include old fashioneds, strawberry lemonades (with rum), and a pineapple-jalapeño margarita that I really wish I’d tried. My strawberry lemonade was good but nothing too impressive. They also have a small selection of beer but only in bottles.

The appetizers—or “snacks,” as they’re listed on the menu—included baked avocado, Asian chicken, and gyoza. Our table ordered the avocado and Asian chicken, and despite being a dollar cheaper, the chicken was the larger and more filling, I think, of the two dishes. The chicken was fried popcorn-style and drizzled with a ginger sauce that struck a nice balance between tangy and sweet. I don’t like avocado (I know, I’m missing out), so I didn’t try the other appetizer on the table, but it was stuffed with bacon and topped with a spicy sauce that by all reports was appropriately named.

FIVE’s 5 entrees are a cheeseburger, panéed chicken, a bone-in pork chop, a ribeye, and fried shrimp. Each entrée comes with a small salad (mixed greens with a little feta, slivered almonds, dried cranberries, and a vinaigrette dressing) and is paired with a particular side. Our waitress intimated, however, that switching out the sides wasn’t a big deal, so don’t make your decision based on which side you want.

My pork chop was, honestly, pretty average. It wasn’t close to being bad, but it was perhaps a bit dry and just too plain. When your menu is limited to 5 specially-crafted entrees (and you’re charging an average of $18 for each one), I expect each one of them to be something special—something I can’t get anywhere else. I’ve had better pork chops for a few bucks cheaper down the road at Carmelo. On the plus side, the pork chop came with Bahamian mac & cheese, which was probably the best thing about dinner. I don’t know that I’ve ever had Bahamian mac & cheese before so I don’t know what it’s usually like, but this was baked and served as a carefully-cut square from a casserole dish. The baked consistency was perfect, and the layers of flavors—I’m guessing a combination of sweet and hot peppers—came through and mixed with the cheese and noodles beautifully. (I forgot to take pictures of the entrees, so you’re just getting ones of the appetizers. Sorry!)

My fellow diners ordered the fried shrimp and ribeye entrees, both of which came with fries (the cheeseburger does as well). They had been to the restaurant before and both seemed to enjoy their food thoroughly, but I’m a little thrown still by the lack of side options (and french fries, although I’m sure they’re good, strike me again as being too basic for the premise of the restaurant and its prices). Since you can apparently exchange them for the mac & cheese or the garlic mash that comes with the panéed chicken, I guess it’s not that big of a deal, but a few more side options (maybe two more—you know, to make 5?) would be a nice addition. The nightly specials I mentioned earlier include red beans and rice on Monday nights, and at $12, it’s the cheapest entrée they have (the nightly cheeseburger is $13). Lobster ravioli is available for $20 on Wednesday, while Saturday offers a surf and turf (filet and crab) combination for $30.

Our service was good. We showed up at 6:30 on a Saturday night and were seated immediately and were well taken care of for the rest of the evening. Our waitress was friendly, especially when one member of our party randomly asked her what her favorite movie was (I’m not sure I trust her taste in films though).  When she brought our checks, she also brought a plate of (delicious) sugar cookies—one for each of us. I didn’t realize until then that the menu includes no desserts, which seemed strange. Given that the night was already a bit of a splurge, I would have probably shelled out a little more money for a nice cheesecake or some bread pudding.

Overall, my first experience at FIVE was enjoyable but not one that I’m dying to repeat (and if I do, I’m trying that panéed chicken). I’m glad Tuscaloosa has another nice restaurant option downtown, and a lot of people seem to really love it. For my taste and pocketbook, however, I can get a nice atmosphere and food that I like better for the same price or cheaper at a few other places in town (Carmelo and DePalma’s immediately spring to mind, and I’ll also be trying Epiphany soon).

[natalie]

FIVE is located at 2324 6th Street in downtown Tuscaloosa, a block east of the Bama Theatre (next to the Shirt Shop).

Monday-Wednesday: 5pm-11pm
Thursday-Saturday: 5pm-til
Sunday: 11am-3pm (brunch) & 5pm-9pm (dinner)

Alcove International Tavern

Those of you who have read my reviews of other bars in town know that I prefer my drinking holes a little off the beaten path. I’ll take a few drinks with friends in a quiet bar with a ballgame on over a crowded joint with a crappy band any day. The only problem is that quiet bars can be hard to find in Tuscaloosa, especially on a Thursday-Saturday night. Solution: The Alcove (which was recently named to Men’s Health’sBest College Beer Bars in America” list).

First, when I say the Alcove is “quiet,” I mean “quiet compared to other bars in college towns.” On afternoons and weeknights, the place is usually pretty empty (which I find refreshing, of course), but the place fills up nicely on the usual going-out nights. There are two distinct differences however between a crowded Alcove and almost any other crowded bar in Tuscaloosa: 1) It’s a 21+ only bar and is a little out of the way, so the patrons tend to be a little older, a little more sober, and a little less rowdy; 2) It’s Tuscaloosa’s only non-smoking bar (smoking IS allowed on the front and back patios though), so non-smokers like myself don’t have to worry about watching our clothes and sheets the next morning.

The more mature crowd is complemented by a fairly roomy interior—it used to be rather small, but they bought the vacant suite next door and expanded what was a shotgun-style layout into a broader two-room space. The Alcove has four TVs (if I remember correctly): two decent-sized flat screens over the bar, one huge TV in the second room, and another flat screen on the back patio—all of which tend to be on sports, especially if there’s any kind of UA Athletics event going on that day. The back patio is enclosed and also has some tower heaters to keep things comfortable even on chilly nights.

The bar itself is impressively stocked in both the beer and wine department. Perhaps the best thing about the alcove is its twelve ever-changing beer taps. Personally, I think beer tastes funny out of the bottle, so I love the Alcove’s variety of draught beer. Some are local (I see Birmingham’s own brewery, Good People, on tap there a lot), some are imports, and some I’ve never heard of (the bartenders are excellent about making recommendations and letting you try samples if you want to try something new). The season, of course, affects which kinds of beers they keep the most of, but they do a good job of keeping a little bit of everything available. Even in the middle of winter, for example, when there are more porter/stout taps than anything, I can always find a wheat or an ale for myself.  The taps rotate fairly regularly, and they use their facebook page to let people know what’s getting phased in and out.

The Alcove’s cooler of bottled beers is also rather extensive. Their website includes an extensive menu of their bottled beers, liquors, and mixed drinks (they have a special listing of unique “Island Drinks” made with fruit juices and liquors, lemonades, lemon-lime soda). Tuesday nights are Jazz Night with a little ensemble that sets up by the front door. They used to do a Gourmet Monday night as well featuring fruit drinks made/garnished with fresh fruit from Snow’s Bend Farm in Coker. I hope Gourmet Mondays return now that spring is here.

One thing worth noting about the liquor/mixed drinks at The Alcove is that they’re the biggest pour in town. Most bars serve drinks with 1 ¼ ounces, and I’ve seen a few with 1 ½. There’s a full 2 ounces in the drinks at The Alcove, and I remember having to ask for a little more coke in my rum on at least one occasion. The prices on beer and liquor tend to be a little high, but when you’re getting the quality and quantity that the Alcove is dishing out, it’s hard (for me, at least) to complain. It’s also worth noting that it’s worth carrying some cash when you go to the Alcove, as they add $1 to all credit/debit charges. If you’re having several rounds, you probably won’t even miss it, but if you just want a beer and are already disappointed about having to pay $5 or $6 bucks for it (plus tip), that extra dollar on your tab might sting a bit.

Yes, I can drink for cheaper at a couple of my other favorite spots in town (The Downtown Pub and Egan’s, namely), but the quality of the atmosphere and the drinks at the Alcove often allow me to overlook the few extra bucks I’m going to spend there. I’m thrilled that they received some national recognition from Men’s Health because the Alcove has been trying hard for several years now to give Tuscaloosans something they can’t get anywhere else: a relaxing, smoke-free place to drink that’s invested in promoting local talent and businesses.

[natalie]

The Alcove is located at 730 22nd Ave, which is at the intersection of 22nd Ave and 8th St. It’s 2 blocks behind Tuscaloosa City Hall and directly behind the courtyard/clock tower/fountain of what’s apparently called Government Plaza.

Monday-Thursday: 4pm-2am
Friday: 3pm-3am
Saturday: 3pm-2am

Innisfree Irish Pub

If you live in Tuscaloosa, chances are you’ve at least seen Tuscaloosa’s version of an Irish Pub, Innisfree. Until a few years ago, it was nestled right in the middle of downtown (where the Grey Lady is now) between The Shirt Shop and Epiphany Café. Now, it resides in a new home on University between Hooligan’s and the new federal building. The move from Greensboro Ave gave Innisfree two things: more than double the space they had before and closer proximity to campus (and student drinking). If you’ve driven by on a Thursday-Saturday night, you’ve probably noticed the throngs of students (and limo cabs) covering the parking lot and outdoor patio area. While I certainly understand and appreciate that the move was a profitable one, as a crotchety graduate student who’d rather drink alone than with (or near) a rowdy group, I miss the smaller, older, quieter crowd from the pub’s downtown days. That’s just me though.

I’ve never been in an actual Irish pub and can’t offer comparisons between Innisfree and the real thing. From what I can tell, proper Irish pubs are looking more and more like our re-creations of them as they attempt to conform to the expectations of the tourists they want to draw in, so perhaps comparisons are a moot point anyway. Based on my experience with “Irish” pubs stateside, the process of naming them appears to be pretty simple. You either name it after a stereotypically Irish-sounding name (preferably one that starts with a “Mc” or an “O”—McGuire’s, Pat O’Brien’s, and Silky O’Sullivan’s come to mind) OR name it Innisfree (which the resident Irishman of the English department tells me is pronounced “Inn-ish-free”—now you know; spread the word).

Although I swear I’ve seen an Innisfree (say it with me: “Inn-ish-free”) in just about every city I’ve been to, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa are the only locations for this particular joint. Innisfree refers both to a fictional Irish village made famous by the 1952 John Wayne Film “The Quiet Man” and to an actual but uninhabited island in a large lake. The pub appears to have had the latter in mind, as W.B. Yeats’ “Walden”-esque poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is printed on the back of the menu.

The menu, sticking to the literary theme, offers a variety of burgers named after 20th-century Irish authors: the aforementioned W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, and George (Bernard) Shaw. There’s also a TS burger, which I can only assume is named for a contemporary of these authors, T.S. Eliot, but as Eliot was born in St. Louis and lived most of his life in London, I’m yet to figure out his Irish connection. In addition to burgers, Innisfree carries a fairly standard array of “pub grub:” fish and chips, wraps, fries, messy chips (their version of barbecue nachos), and a decent bread pudding. They also have a daily meat-and-three (vegetables) lunch special that’s not on their regular menu. Update: I recently had the fried fish with green beans, mac and cheese, and sweet potato fries, and was rather pleased with my meal. Nothing terribly special, but really good nonetheless.

As far as the quality of the food goes, it’s good, though perhaps not quite good enough for the price. The burger I had was tasty enough (it had a bit of a charred taste, which I don’t really care for but some people like) but far from one of the best in town (see Hooligan’s, The Oasis, and Rama Jama’s). The burgers come with fries (I get sweet potato fries, which are good but nothing special) and costs about $9. My favorite thing to order is the messy fries, which are actually an appetizer. They run about $8-9 as well, but it’s enough food for two people to make a meal of. Kettle-style chips covered in pulled pork, a sweet barbecue sauce, melted cheddar cheese, jalapenos, and sour cream. They’ve very different from Big Bad Wolves or Bryant-Denny Dreamland barbecue nachos, but if you’re having withdrawals in the off-season, Innisfree’s version is quite good and will certainly hold you over.

Speaking of the off-season, one thing about Innisfree that makes me smile every time I go in is a digital countdown clock above the bar. The last time I went in, it was steadily counting down from 193 days 1 hour 48 minutes and 47 seconds with a poster above it that reads: “YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS.” And it’s true. I do know: it’s the countdown to kickoff 2012.  The rest of the walls in Innisfree are covered with all kinds of Irish kitsch, proverbs, and paraphernalia: signs that read “God created liquor to keep the Irish from conquering the world” and “Beer: So much more than a breakfast drink!”; a chalkboard countdown to St. Patrick’s day, Boston Celtics stickers and jerseys, and lots of Guinness logos and signs.

The bar keeps a good variety of beers on tap, and as far as I can tell they don’t rotate: Sam Adams seasonal, Sam Adams Boston Lager, Smithwick’s (pronounced “Smittick’s”), Newcastle, Harp, Bass, Magic Hat #9, Guinness, Stella Artois, Blue Moon, Sweetwater Blue, and Sweetwater 420. The liquor selection is also pretty extensive. The place itself is quite large with at least three different rooms (I’ve honestly not even seen the entire building), a large outdoor patio, and plenty of large tables, booths, and bars at which to sit. There are large flat-screen TVs on just about every wall (three hang over the main bar) and dart boards. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a pool table in some part of the bar I haven’t ventured into yet. The music (which I think is a Pandora station) entertains me more than anything at Innisfree: ‘90s nostalgia abounds. It’s always (at least in the afternoons when I tend to stop by) some combination of Counting Crows, Three Doors Down, and Nine Days (remember that band? Yeah, me either).

Finally, multiple posters inside advertise a weekly “Bloody Mary (or Irish Mary—not sure what the difference is) Bar” Sundays from 12-4. It’s apparently something like a buffet setup where you create your own Bloody/Irish Mary.  I’ve not tried it yet because, honestly, if I need a Bloody Mary on a Sunday, I’m not going to be in any condition to drive to Innisfree to make it. Still, it’s a neat idea.

As I said, I’m not one for crowds, so I tend to avoid Innisfree during party hours. It’s on my way home from campus though, and at 2:00 when I haven’t had lunch yet and a lot of other places are closed, it’s a nice, quiet spot to stop for a beer and some messy chips. If I’m feeling particularly productive, I can settle into a booth and get some lesson planning done before heading home for the day (where I’ll inevitably take a nap instead of working). It’s far from my favorite restaurant in town, but let’s be honest, Innisfree is a pub. It isn’t trying to be the a great restaurant. And I do think it’s one of Tuscaloosa’s better bars. It’s a good space and atmosphere that gives the kids the good time they’re looking for at night and gives me exactly what I need to relax in the afternoon.

[natalie]

Innisfree is located at 1925 University Blvd, halfway between downtown and the Strip (between Hooligan’s and the new federal building).

Monday-Thursday: 11am–1:45 am
Friday: 11am–2:45 am
Saturday: 12 pm–1:45 am
Sunday: 12pm-9:45pm

Little Italy Pizzeria

Every once in a while something comes along that changes what you know about yourself. These somethings aren’t usually restaurants, but who am I judge? I, for example, have never lived outside the deep south and knew myself to be a fan of thick crust pizza—that is, until Little Italy set up shop in Tuscaloosa and I discovered that I’m not nearly woman enough to handle a real thick crust.

Little Italy’s thick crust is, as I imagine all Napolitan crust is, immense. I’ve only ordered it once—a slice, to-go—and it completely filled the meal-sized Styrofoam box it had been stuffed into. It’s certainly filling, but the thick crust proved to be too much bread for my taste. Little Italy is one of the only restaurants where I order thin crust. I despise Pizza Hut’s cracker-like thin crust, but LI’s thin, Sicilian variety is much more flavorful and (strange as it sounds) crust-like. Ideally, I guess I’d prefer some middle-ground between the two types of crust, but for less than $2 a slice, I’m not going to complain.

That’s right. TWO dollars per humongous slice. $1.80 for Sicilian and $1.90 for Napolitan to be precise. Each topping (and there’s 27 to choose from) is an additional 40 cents. With their prices and portions, Little Italy is easily the best value on the Strip. It’s the only place I have to worry about hitting the $3 credit card minimum. They have 2 lunch specials: A) 1 slice with a side salad and a drink or B) 2 slices with a drink. Both are $5. The salad that comes with the first special is reasonably sized—it’s fairly small, but not disappointingly considering it’s only a side salad—and is quite good. The inclusion of cucumbers, cheese, and a few slices of pepperoni made for a nice touch. My slice, for the record, was pepperoni and banana peppers. Mmmm.

I would like to emphasize that the pizza is resting on a dinner-sized paper plate.

Since Little Italy is an order-and-pickup-at-the-counter joint, there isn’t much to say about their service, but what experience I’ve had with the staff has always been pleasant. The cashiers are friendly and willing to offer suggestions if you’re unsure of which crust or toppings to get. The dining area is spacious (though the lunch crowd on the Strip can still overwhelm the place) and clean. There’s a bit of a wait time, but it’s not unreasonable by any means—simply a consequence of made-to-order slices.

The only time I choose another pizza place over Little Italy is when I’m ordering in bulk on my own dime. Their whole pies run between $9.50 and $16.50 depending on size and crust (the Napolitan crust only comes in slices and 16” pies, by the way), and extra toppings run from $1.25-2.00 each. This can get pricey when you’re ordering for a large group, and even though the manager on duty will give you a discount if you let him know you’re going to be buying in bulk, the discount they offered me on eight large pizzas was still over twice as much as Hungry Howie’s $5.55 carry-out special on large pizzas across the street (Hungry Howie’s isn’t as good as Little Italy but still beats the pants off Little Ceasars’ $5 deals if you’re looking for cheap pies). In addition to pizza, Little Italy also has hot subs, cold sandwiches, calzones, Stromboli, and a variety of pasta dishes (mostly variations of spaghettii from what I can tell).

Update: I am now slightly obsessed with their Eggplant Parmesan Pasta, which is advertised on one of their exteriors signs as a $5.95 special. The spaghetti and massive amount of breaded eggplant smothered in cheese is enough food to satisfy even the heartiest of eaters. I’m fairly certain that I’d be sick if I ate that much food in one sitting, so I always make two smaller meals out of it (and considering I only paid $6 for it, that’s a cheap two meals!). I usually order chicken dishes and I’m not sure what led me try the eggplant instead, but I’m very glad I did.

I remember how excited people were a few years ago when word of Little Italy’s imminent arrival began to spread. The pizzeria has not disappointed those native Tuscaloosans looking for a good, cheap, and filling lunch or the displaced northerners who had been deprived for so long of proper pizza by the slice.

[natalie]

Little Italy is located on the Strip at 1130 University Blvd, Suite 6, between Swen and Firehouse Subs.

Monday-Thursday: 11am-2am
Friday-Saturday: 11am-3am
Sunday: 11am-10pm

Pearl Garden Chinese Restaurant

If there’s one thing I love more than crab angels, it’s drive-thru crab angels. That’s right, those delicious little pouches of cream cheese and imitation crab wrapped up in a crunchy wonton handed come into my possession, and I never have to leave my car. All of this is made possible because Northport’s Pearl Garden knows something other Chinese restaurants don’t: At some point or another, we all need our Kung Pao Chicken to go.

Pearl Garden has a drive-thru AND is on my way home from campus, so I stop by for Chicken Fried Rice pretty regularly. Chicken Fried Rice is pretty standard and I’d imagine it’s pretty hard to screw up, though I find I prefer Pearl Garden’s to Swen’s. I always order a small ramekin of what PG calls “Hokkaido’s Shrimp Sauce,” which is fantastic pink sauce you get with your shrimp or chicken at any hibachi grill (I think it costs $1 extra).  I’m obsessed with the stuff. I’ve also had their hot and sour soup, which is quite good (sorry egg drop folks–I can’t bring myself to try the stuff, so I can’t report on PG’s). The only thing I’ve ever been disappointed with there is the egg rolls. They’re just blah. I usually just skip that part of the order/meal.

Also, you should know when ordering at PG that the small portions are plenty and the large portions are ridiculous. My roommate and her fiancé share a large order of something when they pick up food from there. I always order a small Chicken Fried Rice, and it completely fills one of those big square Styrofoam to-go boxes.

In order to fairly review the place, I decided to dine in on this particular visit. The service has been good every time I’ve eaten there, and this was no exception. My food was excellent, it was prepared promptly, and my sweet tea glass was never empty (and I can go through some tea). For the sake of variety, I ordered the Princess Chicken this time instead of my usual fried rice. The menu described it as “Diced chicken cooked with onions, green scallions, and red peppers in our special sauce.” What’s not to love, right? Right. The chicken and vegetables tasted exactly like you would expect/want them to, and the sauce complemented them well. The only way I know to describe it would be as a cross between sweet and sour sauce and a red curry. I’m certain that a simple sweet and sour sauce was the base, as this was the same consistency and had the same syrupy sweet flavors, but there was definitely an extra level of spice you don’t get from sweet and sour. This particular dish was labeled as “Hot and Spicy” on the menu (and those who know me know I have a limited tolerance for spiciness), but I tried it anyway and found the hotness well-balanced and far from overwhelming UNLESS  you actually eat the red chili peppers, which I don’t recommend, by the way. I had no idea what I was getting into with this dish but was quite pleased with it.

I also ordered, of course, an order of crab angels. In addition to the shrimp sauce, I’m also obsessed with these little star-shaped delicacies, and PG has some of the best in town. I’ve often found at other restaurants that the wonton has gone stale or that the crab tastes overwhelmingly like imitation crab. The wontons at PG are always perfectly crunchy, and while I would be shocked to find out they used real crab, somehow their crab doesn’t take imitation-y. I suspect because they rely more heavily on the cream cheese base than many other restaurants. Whatever they do, it works.

There aren’t a whole heck of a lot of Chinese restaurants in town (a shortage of international cuisines in Tuscaloosa? No!). Swen is the other one I tend to frequent, but when I go there, it’s strictly out of convenience, not the longing desire for delicious crab angels that drew me into Pearl Garden tonight. I knew I couldn’t  (or shouldn’t, rather) make a dinner out of six crab angels, so I ordered an entrée as well with intention of taking a to-go box home for lunch tomorrow—a lunch I’m very much looking forward to.

[natalie]

Pearl Garden is located at 2719 Lurleen B. Wallace Blvd in Northport, just south of the intersection with McFarland/Hwy 82.

Lunch: 11am-2pm everyday
Dinner: Monday-Saturday 4pm-9:30pm; 4pm-9pm on Sundays

Big Bad Wolves Barbecue

If you’ve been on the Strip during a gameday, you’ve seen Big Bad Wolves stationed on the porch of the Houndstooth. If you haven’t stopped to check them out and try their barbecue nachos, you’re seriously missing out. Big Bad Wolves only sets up shop from Friday lunch to Saturday night on gameday weekends. Over the summer when everyone begins their “Countdown to Kickoff”, several of my friends “Countdown to Barbecue Nachos” instead. And for good reason.

First, you should know that the barbecue nachos are the only thing to order. I mean, they have other menu options (pork sandwiches and stuff), but I don’t recommend them, as you can get better pulled pork at a number of other Tuscaloosa restaurants. It’s the nachos that make Big Bad Wolves special.

Next, I must warn you not to be tempted by the Dreamland barbecue nachos sold in the stadium (I’m not sure if they’re available throughout the stadium, but they’re definitely sold in the student section). The Dreamland nachos are equally overpriced (they’re being sold at a concession stand–duh!), and the flavors just don’t compliment one another like the chips, cheese, pork, sauce, and (optional) jalapenos of Big Bad Wolves’ nachos do.

Here’s how BBW BBQ nachos break down. The chips are salty but not overly. They’re just standard yellow corn nacho chips. Round and think enough to hold up to the weight of the other ingredients. Next comes the cheese, which has a milder color (less yellow, though not queso-white either) and taste than most (Taco Bell) nacho cheese. The mildness of the cheese makes it a nice complement taste-wise to the meat and sauce but also adds a nice texture to what might seem like a strange combination of ingredients. Chips and meat, even with sauce, would be a little dry–the cheese smooths things out and helps the meat stick to the chip.

Next comes the meat. As I mentioned earlier, there’s nothing particularly great about the pork itself, but it’s certainly not bad either. You can order your nachos with or without jalapenos. I usually get mine on the side. And the best part–the icing on the cake, so to speak–is the sauce. This part you do yourself. Squirt bottles of sauce are assembled on tables near where you order and receive your food, so you can cover this beautiful creation in as much or as little sauce as you want. The sauce is what I would call Memphis-style (though Barry, our barbecue expert, might disagree with me). It’s tomato-based, fairly thin (not runny at all–just not KC Masterpiece thick), slightly spicy, but mostly sweet. One of the sweeter barbecue sauces I’ve had, in fact. I think it’s really great, personally, and I suspect that its sweetness is what pulls all the tastes together and makes these nachos work in a way that Dreamland’s don’t.

And to complete your experience at Big Bad Wolves, you should be prepared to pay $9 (in cash) for them. Yes, that’s a lot of money for some nachos, but they’re a novelty and they’re delicious. Trust me (and the good portion of Tuscaloosa that flocks to this place on gameday) on this.

[natalie]

Hooligan’s

If there’s one thing Tuscaloosa has a surplus of, it’s restaurants claiming to be “Greek” or “Mediterranean-inspired.” Fig, Zoe’s Kitchen, Tazikis, Tut’s, Big Daddy’s, and Hooligan’s are the ones that immediately come to mind. The first three are stylish “Mediterranean-inspired” cafes with good food, which I take to mean “we use feta cheese.” Tut’s Place is a solid pizza/sub/calzone/gyro joint that serves “Greek and Italian foods,” while Big Daddy’s strikes me as the most authentically Greek restaurant in town. But nevermind all that. This review is about Hooligan’s.

Hooligan’s boasts an “American and Mediterranean” menu ranging from hummus, falafel, gyros, and baba ghannouj to burgers, spuds, BLTs, and chicken fingers. My personal favorites are the cheeseburger and the chicken gyro. Hooligan’s, in my opinion, has some of the best burgers in town (along with Rama Jama’s and Oasis). They’re nothing fancy, just simple, juicy and flavorful. I order the chicken gyro when I want something a little lighter, but I don’t mean to suggest that it’s anything less than filling. Again, it’s fairly basic (chicken, lettuce, tomato, and plenty of tzatziki wrapped up in a pita), but it never fails to hit the spot. I also hear good things about their spuds. Whatever you order at Hooligan’s, get the combo. Their seasoned crinkle-cut fries are always hot and always delicious.

The only thing that disappoints me at Hooligan’s is something that most people love. The only variation of sweet tea they brew is one flavored with mint. It’s a nice twist that I’ve not seen offered anywhere else (and I’m told it’s quite good), but I’m not a fan of mint so I tend to abandon my usual sweet tea order for Coke instead. If you’re weird and prefer unsweetened tea, they have an unsweetened mint tea as well.

While I love the food at Hooligan’s, the main reason I frequent it has more to do with its convenience. It’s near campus but far enough away from the Strip to allow a little peace. A couple of TVs are usually set to sports channels, and the outdoor patio is great once temperatures dip below the 90s. I chose to go to Hooligan’s for this particular meal for a combination of several reasons. I wanted good food (obviously); I needed it quickly (I had thirty minutes to eat and get to the Bama theater for a show I was attending); and I wanted to eat somewhere that wouldn’t make me feel like the most awkward person on the planet for sitting down to eat alone. Although I’d rather endure said awkwardness that settle for drive-thru. Hooligan’s atmosphere (unless they’re super busy, which doesn’t happen too often) is just chill enough that I knew I’d be able to get my food and get downtown quickly and enjoyably.

There are plenty of places I can go in this town when I want good food or a relaxed atmosphere or quick service. There are significantly fewer places that meet all of these requirements. Whether I want a quick bite by myself or a place to relax and catch up with friends, Hooligan’s menu, prices, location, and atmosphere make it a consistent contender when I’m trying to decide where to eat.

Hooligan’s is located at 1915 University Blvd (between downtown and the Strip), next to Innisfree.

7 days a week: 10am-midnight