Now, I know that this is a burger blog. But if you want to get people arguing in the South, and you don’t have a desire to discuss college football, just bring up who has the best barbecue. In the Birmingham area, one place usually mentioned on “best” lists is Bob Sykes Barbecue in Bessemer. For good reason …
Bob Sykes is still a family owned and run business. Van Syke’s is involved in the Bessemer community and has from time to time ventured out from the one location – to Tannehill State Park and to the now-anemic Watermark Place. But the mother-pig on Bessemer Superhighway still churns out deliciousness six days a week.* Just look for the massive pig sign out front.
* I don’t take issue with a place wanting to be closed on Sunday for religious reasons. My grandfather wouldn’t let people fish in his pond of Sunday. But it never fails, that my taste-buds yearn for forbidden fruit when it’s withheld … [Bob Sykes, Chik-fil-A].
Allow me, for a second, to chase a pig here … In general, if you are in a bind and just want a decent burger, you can find one at a GOOD barbecue place. They typically – again the good ones – take meat and the preparation of it seriously. Since they tend to get deliveries of meat to smoke daily, they have fresh stuff all the way around and make them to order.
Which brings me to the burger at Bob Sykes … First, please check any conviction that you should only get barbecue at the door, because this place has an absolutely delicious burger. And it’s not your typical one either!
The burger has a healthy dose of the smoky sauce that the place is known for. It also has a pickle on it. In a way, it’s a barbecue sandwich, but with the pork replaced by a burger patty. Oh, almost forgot to mention, that if you get it like they prep it, it will likely arrive with some chow chow (Note: I’ve been challenged about this … it could have been uppity onions, too … who knows) hidden here and there. Same buns as the barbecue cousin gets, too.
And if you want, you can get your shot of burger deliciousness in a Booth (just not a John Wilkes one).
Look, the only real problem I have with Bob Sykes … He’s a “homer.” He supports our locally grown and more historic Buffalo Rock soda distributor. Which means, if you’re looking for a Co-Cola with your meal, you’re gonna hear, “Will a Pepsi be okay?” As a consolation, they have sweet tea … and Dr. Pepper.
Another fun point of Bob Sykes, unrelated to burgers but to atmosphere: It’s one of few remaining bbq places where you can watch the fun. Walk in, and the pork is being cooked and smoked in front of your eyes. Sure, you’ll need to explain to your seven-year old son that it’s not like home, and dad just can’t go get one, and that no matter how much he asks, you’re not going to let him use the garden hose on your grill.
Bottom line: the barbecue is first rate and so is the burger!
Points are 1-10 (ten being the best)
Meat – 9.25 … Clearly hand made and hand patted. It is was done perfectly – juicy and scorched in a couple places. Not over-seasoned. It doesn’t need it.
Bun and fixins’ 9 – I guess a better bun might deliver a better product, but this one is pretty darned good. I love the sauce and chow. I also loved the pickle.
Sides – 8.0 … This could be a bit confusing, because you could get any side that typically comes with the barbecue (baked beans, coleslaw, corn …). And while I think the sides at Bob Syke’s are good, they aren’t my favorite. The fries are decent, but – no way to explain this – get cold every time I visit. And this variety of fries doesn’t hold up well when they are lukewarm.
Service & Presentation – 7 … Adequate.
Ambiance – 8.5 … It looks like a barbecue place, a family one. I like the pit in the front. It’s fun to watch.
Bonus X – +1 … There are lots of other reasons to try Bob Sykes, if you’ve never done it before. Good desserts. Great barbecue.
Rating – AA