How Dreamland Got its Name
A Southern Barbecue Favorite serves up an otherworldly eating experience.
By Debi Lander
There’s a little joint in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that just seats 68, but its reputation is known far and wide. Dreamland BBQ boasts the motto, “Ain’t Nothin’ Like ‘Em Nowhere,” and I reckon that’s true.
I recently visited the place and met Jeannette Bishop, the current owner and daughter of now-deceased originator John C. Bishop and his wife, Lilly. The Bishops opened their establishment back in 1958. John had purchased the land and considered building a cafe and funeral home. He figured if the food gave his patrons high blood pressure, he’d end up burying them. His wife flatly refused that notion, so John built the drive-thru rib joint. Wonder if the name came from his funereal plans or, as Jeannette (pictured at bottom) says, “God just whispered it into his ear.”
No matter, the barbeque sauce is so renowned and tasty that a plate of white Sunbeam bread comes to every table, just so you can sop it up. The slabs of barbeque ribs are cooked in an open pit for 45 minutes or there’s smoked sausage and pulled pork. Up until a year ago, that was the extent of the menu. But, management now offers sides like baked beans, coleslaw and potato salad. Everyone eats off plastic plates, plastic cups and plastic sporks. Yes, sporks – a combination spoon and fork. Plastic bibs are available and usually necessary. A big roll of paper towels acts as a table centerpiece and comes in handy.
And, I dare not forget dessert – banana bread pudding. It’s the house specialty and mighty good, though one doesn’t have much room in their tummy after those ribs.
On game days (that means when the University of Alabama has a home football game), customers wait two to three hours for a table. They apparently don’t mind; they tailgate with beer and listen to the live music. That scene was part of “Big Daddy John’s” entrepreneurial vision. The CBS and ESPN gang love to stop by when they’re in town.
Dreamland has expanded to other Southern city locations, but they all use the same recipes. You’ll find one in Huntsville, Mobile, Birmingham, two in Atlanta and many around Tuscaloosa. These restaurants serve additional menu selections, unlike the original store on Jug Factory Road. They know a sure thing and keep it that way. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Don’t live in the South? Have Dreamland’s spare ribs, pulled pork and sausage shipped to your door.
Debi Lander is a travel journalist and photographer living in Jacksonville, Florida. She writes the food blog, ByLanderSea, where “How Dreamland Gots its Name” was first published, and has been published in Taste of the South, Islands magazine and Business Jet Traveler.