Old Greenbrier Barbeque

7 Jan 2012
Average Cost ($8-$14)
Outside Madison County
4 out of 5

Melanie’s Take

We are suckers for restaurants with character. Sometimes, that means that we might enjoy eating at dives that other people would snub their noses at, and Greenbrier is one of those places. Its decor (if you can call it that) is like something out of an old down-home Southern movie when people still shopped at country stores and drank out of tin cups. We love it because it provides the kind of nostalgic experience that is hard to come by in today’s restaurant climate of square plates and faux-stone exterior.

Another reason to love Greenbrier is the tasty food. People in the South have a reputation for being picky about their pork, and everyone’s tastes are as different as the types of pork that are out there. The “old” Greenbrier BBQ restaurant happens to serve up one of my favorite kinds of pulled pork:tender and moist with lots of smoky flavor. My entree, the small pork plate, was piled high with pulled pork (the small is always plenty; I imagine the large would serve the hungriest and burliest of men). To supplement its already smoky flavor, I chose the rib sauce on the table to add a contrast of sweetness. The pork is served with a standard vinegar slaw and a side. My side choice was a baked potato, which was good but sadly served with fakeout butter instead of the real deal.

The creme de la creme of morsels for us is always the hushpuppies. They are small bits of warm cornmeal goodness. Never too dry or dense, they are enough to keep you coming back for future visits all by themselves. When you eat them, make use of all of the condiments on your table, trying some on your hushpuppies; I prefer the tartar sauce with mine.

If you want refined, elegant southern food, Greenbrier won’t suit you, but if you are looking for some reliably good barbecue fare that’s a good value, add this spot to your list of places to visit.

Shane’s Take

Old Greenbrier (the dumpy one at the four way stop, not the one visible from I-565) is a poetic little Huntsville, encompassing all that Huntsville is and is not.

The air at Greenbrier is charmingly old. An old cotton gin idles across the corner while cotton fields, older houses, and small church buildings sit nearby. Painted tan cinder blocks and a simple flat roof give the building a squat, ugly stance. Inside, the interior is underlit and dated. It feels like a basement, and being sheathed in those cinder blocks it almost is. The dark paneled walls are adorned in old prints, some food safety certifications, and other various framed things that look like they were harvested from a yard sale in 1983. The booths are old, as are the tables, and both could use a good deep cleaning.

Although not in Huntsville, it feels a lot like it. The decor is ugly and tacky and the furnishings need some cleaning, but they do the job, and in most of our minds that’s good enough. The clientele, frequently a mix of elderly people, country boys, and engineers, is motley but is what makes Huntsville the neat place it is. Discussions about cotton picking and computer software are equally welcome and likely at Greenbrier, as are ethnic majorities and minorities. And this is where Greenbrier and our beloved city shine: each expertly leaves one foot in the past, grasping onto the things that make the south great (sweet tea and hospitality) and leaving behind those things (racism and ludditism) that aren’t great, while leaning into the future for the things (education and industries of concepts) that we hope will define the future south.

Likewise, the food is vintage Huntsville. On our most recent visit, I ordered the quarter chicken with fries. The chicken, like Huntsville, needed a little help to be enjoyed: it was dry (as it always is) but it tasted good, and was right nice when slathered with white sauce. The fries similarly reminded me of our town: they weren’t memorable, but I was hardly inclined to abandon them, somehow enjoying each one a little more, despite the quality never really improving.

Without hesitation, I heartily recommend the Old Greenbrier. The food is good, not great, but honest. The price is reasonable, bordering on being a bargain. The atmosphere is old but reliably pleasant. Despite being just outside city limits, its charm is pure Huntsville, and its balance between the past and the future something that few cities and few restaurants can make.

A few takeaways:

  • At your table are four sauces: white sauce, rib sauce, tartar sauce, and vinegar sauce. Use them all on everything you order. In particular, you should take a moment to disregard food safety concerns and literally inject a hush puppy with some rib sauce. It is so delicious.
  • Skip the prepackaged pies. Instead, bring a quarter or two so you can get an honor system ice cream cone for dessert.
  • The sweet tea at Greenbrier is a little weak for my taste. Sure, it’s plenty sweet, but it’s watered down!
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