Driving on Old Shell Road, it’s hard not to notice the billowing clouds coming from the roadside smoker as you head west approaching University. Locals expect it. Newcomers are sure to find the diminutive inferno luring them into the parking lot of Mobile’s barbecue mainstay, The Brick Pit.
Owner Bill Albrecht has had the smoky hot spot pleasing ‘cue lovers for over a couple of decades with the low-and-slow method of cooking. So low and slow, in fact, that some of the meat smoked in “Big Red” (you guessed it, the smoker) gets the treatment for 25 to 30 hours. Nearing a reported 500 pounds of meat daily, I would say Big Red earns his money.
The Brick Pit has received plenty of local, state and national recognition over the years, making many barbecue lists in magazines, newspapers and websites as well as the occasional television show, such as “Man v. Food Nation” on the Travel Channel. A clip of that program shows Albrecht and Big Red as they team up to smoke a substantial amount of pork straight from the butchering. The Brick Pit uses no dry rub. They believe in smoke as the flavor component using a combination of hickory and pecan to do the trick.
The result is something that sticks with you as the flavor comes through in every bite.
Closed on Sunday and Monday, it’s rare I get a chance for an afternoon lunch at this institution. This week when the opportunity arose, I decided it was time to take Special Agent 549 with me to investigate.
We pulled the late-model American-made sedan with blue plates into the gravel parking lot right past the burning smoker. Entering the building, which looks pretty much like an old house, we walked through the dining area with its glorious graffiti to the back counter where we ordered a sample of almost everything.
We sat at a table and amused ourselves by reading the window sill, walls, ceiling and more, taking in who loves whom, what football team is the best and a latter-day interpretation of John 3:16 that certainly was not word for word from the King James version of the Bible. I will say the graffiti is almost as amusing as the quotes plastered to the walls of Wintzell’s.
Only a couple of minutes later our food arrived with a smile. We enjoyed it in stages. Smoked BBQ chicken plate ($9.95) came with beans and potato salad. It was Agent 549’s idea, and though no one asked if we wanted white or dark, we got white. I am certainly partial to the “Dark Side” (“Star Wars” pun intended), but the white meat was absolutely fine. This quarter of a chicken was slightly charred with the spicy version of their barbecue sauce straightening it out.
Sides-wise, the beans are really good; there was a little pork fat in ours. The potato salad is a good mix of mayo that is non-offensive. I’m told the beans are cooked in the smoker. I don’t know about the potato salad.
Ribs are a must here. The Smoked Rib Plate ($9.95) is worth getting dirty over. I love the tips a little crispy and the thick portion tender. Pulling apart the meat, I found the layers of flavor to my liking. Another helping of the beans were in order, and of course you can’t have good barbecue without coleslaw.
The chicken was good, the ribs were good and certainly two people shouldn’t be eating more than what we had, but we needed desperately to try the pulled pork. Our best option was to split a Brick Bites Slider ($4). Of course, it was as we expected. A treat of a sandwich with the same sauce, not too spicy, and a great route to take at the Brick Pit. You may even save yourself some napkins.
In South Alabama, and I am guessing elsewhere, the only dessert to serve with barbecue is banana pudding. Here they have Mrs. Waits’ Homemade Banana Pudding ($3.50). Made from scratch every day, you can see why this would be a favorite. It was worth splitting, and the only problem was the fight for the vanilla wafers.
Barbecue joints fall in and out of favor. Sauces become trendy. Side items change perceptions. But if the meat is quality and you can taste the smoke in the flavor, then you have to admit they’re doing something right.
In the case of The Brick Pit, we’ve seen more than a couple of barbecue restaurants pop up within two miles of the Old Shell location. So far these have been little more than a flash in the pan. The Brick Pit has outlasted the hype of others with a very simple menu. If I were a betting man, I would lay money it will be around for a long, long, time.
Whether others come and stay or go, this place should be here. No further investigation necessary, but you might want to investigate for yourself.
Open Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. until 9 p.m.
The Brick Pit
5456 Old Shell Road