Dreamland Barbecue is an Alabama Institution, But How Do They Stack Up in 2023?

Name: Dreamland Barbecue
Date: 7/22/23
Address: 1427 14th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35205
Order: Rib sandwich (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: The only other real opportunity I previously had to try Dreamland Barbecue was on a drive when I passed through the state via I-20 on my way from Charlotte to Austin in 2009. Even though I was somewhat aware of Dreamland, on the longest day of driving (a 12-hour leg from Atlanta to Fort Worth) I prioritized driving time over scenic stops. It wasn’t until 14 years later that I was back in the state and had a chance to finally try their supposedly legendary ribs.

After a fantastic burger and some beers at Back Forty Beer Company, I knew I had a short window before meeting up with Monk cousins later in the afternoon. Luckily, we were staying very close to the Southside location of Dreamland.

After the aforementioned burger and beers, I definitely didn’t want a full rack and even a half rack would have been too much. Lo and behold, the rib sandwich. A rib sandwich is not a sandwich at all – its all about portion control as John Tanner so helpfully points out in this post – and for me it was the perfect size at roughly four ribs.

My sandwich came with a smaller fifth and sixth bone and was served on their own with a side of soft white bread with a cup of sauce. Dreamland’s ribs are smoked hot and fast over direct heat and being that I got there mid-afternoon I possibly (likely?) got some ribs that were cooked in an hour or less. Assuming that’s the case, I could tell by their lack of tenderness. If I ever decide to make it back to a different location, I will try to get there right as they open to have a better shot at getting “pleasantly chewy ribs with salty, crunchy edges” as Daniel Vaughn describes it in his article from 2015.

I will say, the sauce was an entirely new one for me but I enjoyed the tanginess of it. Perhaps it is cousin to the tangy, orange-y sauce I found at Randy’s Bar-B-Q in Savannah but I am only speculating. I do wish I had grabbed a bottle to try at home with my own ribs though.

I also took home a pint of banana pudding and proceeded to eat the whole thing in one sitting a few days later back at home in Charlotte. Well worth it.

I also did try their Magic City Dog, which is a smoked hot dog, from their stall at the Birmingham Barons minor league baseball game the night before and it was a darn good ballpark dog. Would absolutely order again.

I’ll have to admit, Dreamland Barbecue was a bit of a letdown for me, even in my limited tasting of just the ribs. But I don’t think its just me. Speedy was similarly disappointed a few years back in a visit that pre-dated the blog. My cousin who grew up in Alabama and has lived in the Birmingham area for a couple of decades said he doesn’t eat there anymore because of how far it has fallen in his eyes. Sadly, I think at this point I might only try Dreamland Barbecue again if I find myself at their original location in Tuscaloosa and only right at opening.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

How Does a Recent Trip to Swig & Swine Stack Up to Prior Visits?

Name: Swig & Swine
Date: 4/15/23
Address: 1217 Savannah Hwy, Charleston, SC 29407
Order: Pulled pork barbecue sandwich with hash and rice (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Swig & Swine has been hit or miss for the Barbecue Bros in the past. Speedy visited this location almost exactly 9 years prior to my most recent visit and found it to be slightly above average (and presumably not just because Speedy’s phone at the time took mediocre photos).

I later checked out the Summerville location 3 years later and liked it quite a bit more. That location at the time had enough space to smoke whole hogs while also putting out some pretty credible brisket as well. Now, whole hog appears to be a Thursday only special (at least at this location) while the brisket continues to be on the regular menu.

Since then, pitmaster Anthony DiBernardo has since become sole owner of Swig & Swine, buying out his initial partners Queen Street Hospitality Group in 2019 while also co-founding the fantastic Holy Smokes barbecue festival, which I went to last year and hope to be back at again in the near future

Back to the West Ashley location, which I understand to be the first of the now three-strong chain. Coming off the Rancho Lewis experience the prior night, I wasn’t exactly in a particularly hungry state even after a short hike at the Morris Island lighthouse at Folly Beach. I opted for a simple pulled pork sandwich (yes, yes I know but that’s how its listed on the menu) with a side of hash and rice.

Comparing this with Melvin’s BBQ a few days prior, I like the pork sandwich less and the hash and rice more. The pork was large portion but a bit on the bland side even with some nice chunks of barked chopped in. Unfortunately it seemed as if it absolutely had to have one of the sauces from the table poured on. The vinegar sauce certainly helped the cause.

The hash and rice was thicker than what I had at the James Island Melvin’s with more flavor. This is actually the opposite of what John Tanner experienced on his visit so take from that what you will. For me, it was my favorite part of the meal

Had I read Speedy’s review before hand, I would have gotten some smoked wings and opted for the sausage sandwich special for that day. Whoops, shame on me.

Swig & Swine seems to do a brisk catering and bulk pick-up business on the weekend as from our view on the patio we saw several cars back in, open their tailgates, and pick up large aluminum pans of barbecue and sides. I like to imagine that they were going to a fun outdoor party. On that day, they would have enjoyed a beautiful spring low country day and some above-average-but-not-quite-transcendent barbecue.

Atmosphere – 3.5 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Hash and Rice – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

Phar Mill Brewing & BBQ in Harrisburg Shows Promise

Name: Phar Mill Brewing & BBQ
Address: 105 Oakley Dr, Harrisburg, NC 28075
Order: 1/2 lb brisket, 1/2 lb pulled pork, and pork belly burnt ends
Pricing: $$

Monk: Phar Mill Brewing & BBQ recently joined the local barbecue scene after it expanded from a small craft brewery in Harrisburg to add barbecue smoked on a Jon G’s stick burner. The expansion has continued recently, having opened a second, larger location in downtown Concord in September a little more than a year after expanding to barbecue. I recently checked out the original Harrisburg location a few weeks back.

Long story short, Phar Mill shows some promise but is not quite there for me yet. For this visit, I ordered a half pound of brisket and pulled pork as well as an order of pork belly burnt ends.

The brisket came in a paper boat and was somewhat hacked into half slices. Underneath some more promising leans, a piece of fatty had stripes of un-rendered fat. Not sure what happened here, but not the most appetizing sight.

The pulled pork was smoky and had good flavor on the chunks of bark but I couldn’t tell how fresh it was since it was served on the cooler side. The pulled strands could have also used another chop or two in my opinion.

Continuing with the theme, the pork belly burnt ends had some good qualities but wasn’t quite there. The burnt ends were unevenly cut, cooked, and sauced but the flavor and smoke was there.

I want to really like Phar Mill Brewing & BBQ since they are smoking over all wood, and will definitely be giving it another chance (perhaps at their downtown Concord location) to try some of the other meats and beers. Speaking of beer, I tried the Enjoy Yourself American Lager on this visit but would like try some of their IPA and sour offerings. As for the barbecue, for now we’ll give it an “A” for effort.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Brisket – 3 hogs
Pork belly burnt ends – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

Home Team BBQ – Greenville, SC

Name: Home Team BBQ
Date: 10/2/22
Address: 815 Laurens Rd, Greenville, SC 29607
Order: 2 meat combo (pulled pork and brisket), collards, hash and rice (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: While Speedy has previously reviewed both the Sullivan’s Island and West Ashley locations of Home Team BBQ, I have never actually eaten at a Home Team BBQ myself. I’ve had drinks at the Sullivan’s island location but prior to my visit had yet to actually taste their barbecue. Home Team has very much been in expansion mode, with an additional two locations in the Charleston area plus expanding out into South Carolina with locations in Columbia and most recently Greenville. Then of course there’s their Aspen, Colorado location!

The vibe of the newest Greenville location is “sports bar that happens to serve barbecue.” They had a good tap list and were rearing to play a full Sunday early afternoon slate of NFL games. We arrived just before it got busy for Sunday lunch but the food took a while to get out to us.

Having not tried their meats but with Mrs. Monk not looking to share a big platter, I settled for the two meat combo with pulled pork and brisket. The plain pulled pork had a little bit of smoke in the bits of bark but was clearly made to have one of the many sauces added to it as opposed to eating it plain. I predictably went with the pepper vinegar and it worked fairly well.

The brisket, on the other hand, was squarely average. It was sliced thinly and the fat could have used a bit more rendering. It was also a tad on the bland side.

As far as sides went, the vinegary collards were quite good and a meal highlight. The hash and rice was a nice surprise as a side.

After my first visit to a Home Team BBQ, I find it to be what Mac’s Speed Shop in Charlotte used to be circa 2005/2006: a fun spot to watch the game, have some beers, and eat some decent barbecue. While it wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice, I would certainly visit one again.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Brisket – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 3 Hogs