One cold January day, an invitation to travel to Birmingham, Alabama popped into my inbox. Two days of activities hosted by Delta Faucet and Southern Living Magazine, paired with the promise of warmer weather- it was an easy sell. I might not know anything about living in the south, but I love Southern culture and cuisine. Southern barbecue has a special place in my heart, partially because it is rare to find great barbecue in the Northeast and Midwest so the opportunity to dine on true Southern barbecue is a big treat. Needless to say, I had high expectations for SAW’s Juke Joint, and understandably so – Southern Living chose the restaurant.
Shortly after arriving in Birmingham, I joined seven fellow food bloggers, and several Delta Faucet and Southern Living staffers for a Southern style feast at SAW’s Juke Joint. The theme of the evening was “deconstructed” which meant that we got to get involved with assembling our dinner. We were welcomed with a deconstructed cocktail. This idea is so simple and it would be easy to pull off at a party. Lemonade, Club Soda, Blackberry Puree, Gin, Rum, Boubon, Vodka, and Tequilla were arranged on a table, and we got to mix our own fizzy blackberry lemonades and then add in a spirit of our choice.
One we each had a drink in our hands it was time to start eating. We started with fried okra with a tomato aioli and wings. The okta was sliced in half vertically, not small round discs, because bigger pieces are easier to dip. The batter was thick and gave a nice crunch, the okra was fresh and not the least bit slimy. I tried to make fried okra once, it isn’t as easy as you might think. It was impossible to have just one taste of the okra, we kept going back for more.
And oh my goodness those wings. They were smokey and sweet and had a nice barbecue flavor. They were lick your fingers clean delicious. Delta Faucet’s slogan is #Happimess so they wanted for us to get messy while we enjoyed food that we loved. Mission accomplished. I had peeked at the menu at my place-setting, and knew that three more courses were on their way, so after three wings I needed to start saving room for everything else.
Look, I am a state that borders Canada, so don’t make fun of me, but I didn’t even know that white barbecue sauce existed until SAWs! Oh, and I created a new hashtag: #WhiteSauceOnEverything. I would have brought a case of it home, but it needs to be refrigerated and wouldn’t have made the trip to Chicago. The heavenly white sauce was drizzled over the wings, but my love affair with white sauce was just beginning.
politely snacked on stuffed my face with wings we chatted with Robby Melvin, the Southern Living Test Kitchen Director, who develops dozens of recipes for Southern Living each month. While food bloggers are usually thinking 3-4 weeks ahead, Robby and his team plan recipes 3-4 months ahead of time. We got to pick Robby’s brain to learn how his team sources seasonal ingredients months before their peak, how Southern Living follows food trends while remaining true to the South, and how recipes are developed and tested. After some Q&A on the patio, we moved inside for the rest of our meal.
You may have heard that I have a thing for tacos, and when I was told that the next course was a taco course my ears perked up. Southern BBQ tacos? Yes please. We got to pick our protein and I chose pork. The fall apart tender pulled pork was served on a taco over a spicy jalapeño slaw that had a good kick of heat.
Our main source was one of SAW’s signature dishes, Pork and Greens. The dish was served deconstructed, which mean that I got to play with my food.
We were instructed to first create a layer of cheesy grits, then add the greens on top, spread the pork over, pile on the crispy fried shoestring onions, and finish with a healthy drizzle of barbecue sauce. I chose the white sauce because it’s magical. It does have dairy in it, making it white, and it is creamy, but still has the deep barbecue flavor you expect in a traditional barbecue sauce.
As a New Englander, I don’t fully understand what grits are or how they are made. I do know that I am a big fan. Especially when they are cheesy. They were the perfect base for the mountain of awesomeness on my plate. The greens were cooked in what seems to be the true Southern way, in bacon grease, and they picked up lots of that flavor. The pulled pork was just top notch and it made me long for SAWs to open a Chicago location. The fried onions were a fun topping, and the white sauce pulled everything together.
Banana pudding keeps popping up in my life, and I am actually learning to like bananas. The banana pudding was served deconstructed and this was so fun because everyone approached the assembly a bit differently. We were given Vanilla Wafer cookies, a container full of pudding with whipped cream, and a banana. Some people artfully composed their dessert, layering bananas and pudding over the cookies. I kept things simple. I added the bananas to the pudding, and dunked the Vanilla Wafers .
At the conclusion of our Southern feast, Bushwackers in paper shot glasses were distributed. The beverage should probably be renamed to properly convey that they are actually a chocolatey frozen cocktail. It was definitely something that I will try again next time I am in the south. It was a bit sweet, and a little creamy, and it had a nice chocolate and coffee taste.
SAW’s describes itself as being an “upscale dive” and it is a fitting term for the place. It is bare bones, but full of Southern charm. Many of the walls are covered in chalkboard paint and have the menu written out on them. To keep things casual, there are no plates or silverware, everything is served with plastic silverware and in styrofoam (perhaps not the most environmentally friendly decision).
Fun fact: American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, and Birmingham native is part owner.
I had a wonderful time at SAW’s Juke Joint and it was a fun way to be welcomed to Birmingham. SAW’s Juke Joint is located at 1115 Dunston Avenue in Birmingham, Alabama. SAW’s also has locations at 1008 Oxmoor Road in Homewood, and at 215 41st Street South in Birmingham.
Have you tried white barbecue sauce before? Do you agree with #WhiteSauceOnEverything