Downtown Mobile. It’s the only part of this city that makes me want to leave midtown. The restaurants of downtown are my favorites in terms of variety. From Dauphin and Washington streets all the way down to Royal Street, I can damage my girlish figure at plenty of dining establishments. But once you’re near Bienville Square, the weekday lunch rush approaches feeding frenzy status as downtown workers fill table after table fighting for spots to grub. One such hot spot is North Conception Street’s Cotton State BBQ.

Cotton State is an addition to our community within the past year or so. Only open for weekday lunch, the ‘que slinging hasn’t slowed down a bit. I paid a visit this past week and with every table full and despite a quick turnover I decided to grab a large helping of food to take home. After all, I was flying solo and couldn’t suffer such a large portion of a menu for you, dear reader, in the presence of other diners. No one should see one man order this much food.

I began this day’s exercise in excess with the State Dog ($6). All of the ‘dogs in this establishment are actually smoked Conecuh sausage. Go on and ask me if I have a problem with that. The State is a pretty traditional version of a hot dog with dill pickle relish, diced onions, and sauerkraut. I added a packet of mustard and devoured this thing. I was lucky I didn’t get any on my clothes, and regretted nothing about my decision to bring the food home with me. The grill marks on the bun were a nice touch.

They also offer a chili cheese, a barbecue, and a jalapeno cheese. I’m willing to bet they would custom build you the dog of your dreams though I was content with the one I ordered. The coleslaw that came as the side was delightful. There was much less mayonnaise than I normally like, but the vinegar tang was perfect.

I’ve eaten enough pulled pork in my day, so it was nice to see a BBQ Brisket Sandwich ($7) on the menu. The thinly sliced beef was piled high on a sesame seed bun with the sauce on the side. This was my first shot of sauce that day, and I’ll say it is impressively smoky. This came with fries that were well seasoned.

Speaking of fries, I had to see what the chili cheese fries ($7) were all about. The same salty fries that came with my sandwich were smothered with a no-bean beef chili and topped with nacho cheese. My regret was that my boy Lucas was slaving away in school and missing out on this. He’s a no-bean chili fan, as we discovered Halloween night when he picked all of the beans out of my chili recipe. But you know how leftover fries are. Good for hash and not much else. The chili cheese, though delicious, would not see the light of the refrigerator.

How could I say no to BBQ Nachos ($7)? You get a choice of meat, and I was still feeling the brisket. The chips were better than your average restaurant chips, and that goes a long way in my book. Sprinkled with the meat and that same ballpark cheese as the fries, this could easily be a meal. Sour cream, jalapenos and barbecue sauce were on the side.

Getting away from the barbecue side of the menu I knew the chicken salad sandwich ($5) needed reviewing. I ordered the Truly Southern Chicken Salad, which normally comes on sourdough – I asked for no bread, just the chicken salad – but received the Classic Chicken Salad. The difference being the Truly Southern has grapes and pecans in the mix. They’re the same price, and I can forgive the oversight.

This plain scoop of chicken salad was fine on its own. Made with smoked white meat chicken, you get the flavor immediately. It’s not at all dry, and not at all soupy. A great lunch would be a helping of this and a sleeve of saltines.

I have had loaded potatoes here in the past. They are nothing to sneeze at. Neither is the banana pudding with the moonpie in the recipe.

So here is my honest thought on this place: It’s very good barbecue served in non-traditional ways. The menu is a little limited because most of the real estate is the same toppings on different vessels. Brisket sandwich, brisket fries, brisket nachos, brisket potato. BBQ fries, BBQ nachos, BBQ potatoes. The side items are very limited, and there wasn’t much greenery. But remember I told you the place was packed. Why?

Downtowners flock here because these guys do just a few things, but they do them very well. It comes out quickly and nobody is in there tying up the tables and pounding beers on their lunch hour. It’s about eating and getting out, and for downtown lunch that’s usually what I am looking for. If these guys play their cards right they will keep those doors open for many years to come.

Cotton State BBQ
101 N. Conception St.
Mobile, Alabama