Soul Food in Suburbia: Saw’s BBQ
By P.J. McKendrick • December 9, 2017
1008 Oxmoor Road
Homewood, AL 35209
When I arrived at Saw’s Barbecue, I wondered for a moment if the car-installed GPS had taken me to the wrong address. Eventually, I caught the rectangular iron sign for the restaurant with my eyes. Everything I had heard about Saw’s told me that it’s an authentic barbecue joint that Birmingham-area natives are proud of. I guess when I think of where authentic barbecue is found, I don’t think of downtown Homewood, Alabama. The small commercial area is nested within what appears to be a bustling residential neighborhood. That being said, Saw’s Barbecue doesn’t stray from the typical barbecue experience. The restaurant’s owner, Mike Wilson, has managed to embody the soul food atmosphere that many folks crave nearly as much as good soul food.
Saw’s Barbecue is situated in a row of local businesses that occupy an entire block. Squeezed in between a large pizzeria and a sandwich shop, the entrance to the establishment is easy to miss, even on foot. While closing in on the business, I could see through its glass windows that it was nearly empty. For a restaurant that only seats forty people at the most, I didn’t find this to be a good sign but my experience only got better from this moment on.
Inside Saw’s, the restaurant is decorated with sports memorabilia, road signs, and a few photos of country chefs barbecuing. There’s little space where the walls are visible, and the ambience is similar to that of a well-crafted man cave. The restaurant’s menu is written in chalk on a wall behind the cash register, which is about twenty feet straight ahead of the entrance. Seating is pretty tight. As I mentioned previously, the restaurant can seat perhaps forty people indoors, and that would be pushing it. There are a few additional tables outside that help accommodate potential crowds.
After much deliberation I settled on ordering a pulled pork sandwich with macaroni and cheese and sweet tea. I then made my way toward the front of the restaurant to take a seat at one of the small wooden tables. Classic blues and soul tunes played at a pleasant volume, reminiscent of the many summers I spent at my grandmother’s house growing up. Song after song, even the ones I was unfamiliar with seemed like they were the biggest hits from decades ago. As I took notice of the choice of music at play, I also began to notice the establishment steadily become busier. Less than twenty minutes after I had arrived and placed my order without waiting, there was a line of customers extending from the cash register to the restaurant’s entrance. The majority of the seating tables were then quickly occupied, mostly by parties of two or more.
The food at Saw’s is served similarly to how you might see in a fast food restaurant. After ordering, each customer is given an order number. When the food is ready, the order number is called out so that the waiter can identify the plate’s recipient. My order number was called about twenty minutes after I ordered, which gave me faith that my food had been prepared with some diligence. My pulled-pork sandwich and macaroni and cheese were served to me on a rectangular Styrofoam plate.
At this point in time, the restaurant is now packed. A diverse group of patrons are patiently standing in line for the neighborhood’s best southern cooking. I am goofily taking pictures of my food while trying not to salivate on myself. All of Saw’s barbecue food is served straight out of a pit oven. The pulled pork steams visibly as it is first served. Saw’s original BBQ Sauce gives the meat a juicy, glistening appearance which truly does match the taste. The pork itself is very tender and makes each bite feel effortless. The thin sauce compliments the sandwich perfectly, giving it a hint of sweet flavor. The macaroni and cheese has a unique, sweet flavor as well. The actual macaroni is very present in the dish, as there seems to be the perfect ratio of noodles and cheese. As much as I enjoy this side dish, it’s served warm but not hot. I’d love to be able to taste it at its full potential.
As I finished the last bites of my plate at Saw’s Barbecue in Homewood, the restaurant was packed. Families, college students, and people who appeared to have just finished a hard day’s work were all squeezed in this small hole in the wall. The line to order had grown bulkier with larger parties now coming through, and every few minutes or so the cashier would tell customers to reform the line so that the staff could move more swiftly in and out of the kitchen. Her demands were loud and effective momentarily, but the line always morphed out of shape after a few minutes. When it did, she would repeat her commands. In so many restaurants this cashier’s tone and demeanor would’ve been cause for customers to complain or even leave, but the employee’s vigilance feels natural in this setting. It is what I would describe as quintessential soul food service, and one more reason that Saw’s offers an authentic barbecue experience.
While Saw’s Barbecue is in a location that made me question its authenticity, my doubts were proven to be completely wrong by the restaurants ambience, food and unique style of service. I would absolutely recommend Saw’s to anyone who is in the Birmingham area, especially to folks who are looking for genuine barbecue. With food at a competitive cost and service that gets the job done, Saw’s is a restaurant that I definitely plan on returning to.