What’s Cookin’: No Bun Intended

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Mentone Market BBQ brings delicious Selma-inspired barbecue sandwiches to the Lookout Mountain region.

By RANDY GRIDER

Tom Emory admits when he first started serving barbecue sandwiches at the Mentone Market in 2015, he got a few puzzled looks and inquiries from some customers: “Where’s the bun?”

That’s because Tom, who owns and runs the Mentone Market in the heart of Mentone, Ala., with his wife Kristen, serves his barbecue sandwiches “old-school” style: two pieces of white bread on bottom, piled-high smoked goodness in the middle and one slice of bread on top.

“Some people have asked, ‘can we have a bun?’ and we politely tell them that our sandwiches come with white bread because that’s the way we do it,” Tom says. “It’s our style.”

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]That style is inspired by the Emorys’ geographical barbecue pedigree. They moved here 13 years ago from Selma, Ala., where barbecue joints are celebrated as part of the culture – and complementing white bread is common, if not standard.

“We missed the style of barbecue we had grown accustomed to in Selma. That’s why we do the white bread and do it this way,” Tom says.

Having spent 17 years living in west Alabama, mostly Tuscaloosa, I totally understand the “simplicity is best” philosophy. Though the move to gourmet for everything – including barbecue – is changing the way we eat, many people appreciate back-to-the-basics barbecue. Even the structure encompassing the barbecue can be rustic, modest or just a shack (one of my favorite places is a cinder-block building with the name of the joint spray-painted on the outside), as long as the smell of the smoked meat greets you in the parking lot and the taste leaves you coming back for more.

Tom says once customers come to terms with the absence of a bun, the methods of consuming the sandwich vary.

“There is a lot of different ways people eat it,” Tom says. “Some make it into three little sandwiches. Some will smash it down and kind of wrestle it and others simply eat it with a fork.”

“You can take it apart and use the bread to sop the sauce,” Kristen chimes in.

Tom smokes seasoned, dry-rubbed Boston butts on a large grill in front of the Mentone Market on a daily basis. The aroma subtly welcomes visitors to the popular gas station/grocery store/cafe along Alabama Highway 117. But the ultimate test, of course, is the taste.

“You don’t want it too smoky or not smoky enough,” Tom says. “You have to have a happy medium.”

On my first visit I opt for the pulled-pork barbecue plate with sides of potato salad, coleslaw and a cup of Brunswick stew. I try the first bite without sauce so I can really taste the meat. Moist, tender and absolutely great. Then it was time to try the homemade house sauces.

“We have two sauces,” Tom says. “One that is for the people who like the vinegar-style sauces called Tom’s Sauce. It has a bit more bite. It’s not hot, just more tangy. Then we have the Kristen Sauce that’s more sweet.”

I prefer vinegar-style sauces, but after trying both, I couldn’t make up my mind which was best. I finally land on “you can’t go wrong with either.”

The sides are great, especially the Brunswick stew. It almost makes me long for a really cold day to eat it.

A few days later – during the annual Mentone Colorfest celebration – I stop by the Mentone Market to try the barbecue sandwich. Pouring just enough sauce to gently wet the meat without overpowering it … well, it is delicious.

Mentone Market also offers a menu of other items including pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese and fried bologna sandwiches, as well as biscuits for the early morning crowd.

The grill offerings inside the Mentone Market have transitioned a few times over the decade- plus since the Emorys bought the former Mentone Superette and rebranded it. (They actually moved to Mentone on a Friday and were operating the market the following Monday.) Past menus have included croissant sandwiches, meat-and-three and short-order standards.

The core of Mentone Market business is local patrons, but many tourists find their way into the establishment when visiting the area.

On the day I first try the barbecue, three visitors from Germany also order the barbecue and sit down at the table next to me. Asked what they think of it, I get a thumbs up from the trio. I concur!

Serving the Crowds
Tom and Kristen Emory are taking their barbecue on the road – well sorta.

Tom built a pull-behind enclosed trailer, unofficially dubbed the Food Wagon, Barbecue Wagon or Chuckwagon because he hasn’t totally committed to a name, to offer catering service.

The custom catering trailer boasts a stove, refrigerator and portable sink.

“We cater for just about any event from 10 people to 150,” Tom says. “We offer catering service where you can pick it up or we come to your event and set up and serve. Whatever they want is what we will do.”

For catering, take-out or specials, call 256-634-4686; mentonemarket@ aol.com or visit Mentone Market’s Facebook page.

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