It’s in a section of town that steps back in time, with small, single story buildings overrun by the larger houses that have grown up around these structures. Old, in the style of a town center. Still, it’s fashionable these days, repainted and fresh, and in this segue back to the first half of the twentieth century is the City Cafe.

It has an exceptional online reputation for being an inexpensive “meal and three” shop. Lines will form, waiting for seating. According to users of Urban Spoon, it can take as long as 20 minutes to get a meal around lunchtime. So when we arrived about 11:30ish on a Monday just after New Years, I counted myself lucky that only 7 or 8 people were ahead of us.

The deal is this: you basically wait and watch for one of the booths to open up, and when it does, you sit in it. Staff will then come by, clean up and then take your order.

Service is fast and efficient. Prices are dirt cheap. Meal and 3 costs $5.10, and you don’t have to get 3 vegetables.

I wish I could say we had no issues with the food, because so many other components of the experience were appealing. But my daughter had issues with the flavor of her catfish and my wife felt her chicken was a bit too salty. The bigger issue for me was the catfish, which either had an odd spice or was a little old that day. I couldn’t be sure. I had salmon croquettes, and they were good. So, our experience with the entrées here was hit or miss. Choose carefully. Vegetables were excellent, and made in the southern style.

Verdict: Good sides, hit or miss main dishes. Choose carefully, and you’ll be rewarded.

City Cafe
408 Main Avenue
Northport AL 35476
(205) 758-9171

City Cafe on Urbanspoon

Dreamland BBQ creates huge amounts of controversy in Atlanta, Georgia. Opinions of this restaurant are very mixed. I was waiting to try this restaurant in Alabama where a number of reviewers have said it is a better restaurant and chain. We were traveling recently, trying to beat the cold weather into Atlanta when we saw a Dreamland sign in the Tuscaloosa area. I have coworkers who love Dreamland in Tuscaloosa so we decided to take a look and see.

It turns out there are at least two Dreamlands in the Tuscaloosa area. There is the original one on 15th street (off exit 73 from I-20), and another in Northport, a suburb of Tuscaloosa (off exit 71-B from I-20). These are my impressions of the Northport restaurant.

The restaurant is good looking. There are photos of famous football players and there are autographs all in a square near the bathroom: Gene Stallings, Jim Nabors, tons of Bear Bryant memorabilia. The restaurant itself has a kind of sports bar look to it. Above our table were football helmets: Alabama, UGA, etc.

White bread and an orange barbecue sauce came out first. Ribs and the rest of our order came out soon after. The ribs were covered in sauce but clearly had a smoke ring. Flavor was normally provided by the sauce, which I’d rate as very good. There were spots where the ribs had no sauce and in those I could taste smoke flavor. If I go back, I’m going to see if I can get the sauce on the side. Rib type are the large Saint Louis style ribs, and the serving size was plenty given the cost.

We had hot wings here and they were large, meaty, excellent. I’d rate the wings sauce as excellent. They had very good baked beans and a decent pulled pork sandwich. I had the sausage sandwich and I’d rate it as very good, the sausage tasty and spicy. My daughter loved her mac and cheese, said it was very cheesy.

Plusses include the smoke pit open to view. Anyone that wanted to could see how their ribs were being cooked, the wood being used, the smoke flowing through the meat. Watching the pit master is part of the charm here. Minuses are the delivery of the ribs covered (drenched really) in sauce. Dry and sauce on the side would be better, in my opinion. I suspect you can get them that way if you ask. As this was my first time at any Dreamland BBQ, I didn’t ask.

Service was not only good, the waitress was very personable. The service was good enough my wife was commenting on it for quite a while. Serving size, given the price, was good. There were plenty of leftovers and we would have taken them all had we been close to home.

Verdict: Given mixed opinions about this eatery in GA, was surprised by the quality of the ribs. Highly Recommended.

Dreamland Barbecue
101 Bridge Avenue
Northport, AL 35476
(205) 343-6677

Dreamland BBQ on Urbanspoon

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