The t-shirts for Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q read, “You can smell our butts for miles”. This was certainly the case on Friday, October 10, as their giant meat smoker nestled up to Alabama Chanin’s front entry and sent out the signal for our final “Friends of the Cafe” dinner of 2014, featuring chef Drew Robinson and Nicholas Pihakis. The two were in town—along with members of the Fatback Collective—to provide lucky diners with an exclusive, elevated barbecue experience.
Good People Brewing Company provided craft beers for each course. The Birmingham, Alabama, based brewery showcased a few of their “Ales from the Heart of Dixie.” There may not be a dinner more currently in demand across the United States than beer and barbecue; on this night, we had the best of best.
Cocktails were provided by The Little Donkey, a Mexican-inspired restaurant rooted in Southern soul food and based in Homewood, Alabama. “The Donkey’s Daddy,” our cocktail, was made from Barton’s Whiskey, El Jimador Blanco Tequila, house made hibiscus syrup with clove, allspice, cinnamon, and touch of fresh lime. “It just tastes like fall,” said Drew as he taste-tested the first batch.
Surprisingly, the barbecue experts served a vegetarian appetizer. Mushroom tamales wrapped in corn husks, paired with Good People Pale Ale kicked the dinner off on a light, earthy note. The first course of Pickled Gulf Shrimp and Jones Valley Teaching Farm Kale Salad with Green Goddess Dressing went nicely with the Good People Bearded Lady.
The next course was a walk on the wild side for those who never stray from the traditional pork sandwich. Rabbit Rillettes, Cider-Braised Cabbage, Cochon Mustard, and Grilled Bread provided a rich and delicate balance of tender fat and acidity. The accompanying Good People Snake Handler offered a pine and citrus aroma that held up to the rabbit and cabbage.
Fatback Pig Project Porchetta and White Oak Pastures Guinea Hens roasted over the fire with Chimichurri, Salt Roasted Potatoes, Creamed Turnips, and Arugula may be one of the most beautiful meat dishes I’ve tasted in quite some time. Paired with Good People’s IPA, it covered virtually all the culinary bases: smoke, fat, spice, meat, crunch, cream, and salt.
Alabama Sweet Potato Hand Pies or “Handies” and a Coffee Oatmeal Stout were served for the dessert course at 9:15. They were just like the ones you’d pick up at a local gas station or the county fair (only better). I know some guests left with more than one.
All of this was, of course, to benefit the Fatback Collective Fund, which Nick and Drew co-founded and are completely committed to advancing. The fund has helped businesses rebuild after devastating losses and notably aided famed pit master (and fellow Fatback Fund member) Rodney Scott rebuild his restaurant in 2013. It presently serves as a fund to help restore restaurants that may have experienced unfortunate accidents like fires and storms.
As we mentioned before, community collaboration is a top priority for Jim ‘N Nick’s. Nick and Drew have been building bridges all across the South, seeking to develop and sustain quality food relationships between producers and providers. They continue these efforts as part of the Fatback Collective. The Fatback Collective, according to their stated mission, “challenges the status quo, builds alliances, and supports farmers, artisans, and progressive causes. Fatback includes chefs, restaurateurs, thinkers, writers, and entrepreneurs who gather often to invest energy and intellect to forge stronger communities. Through the Fatback Fund, members raise dollars to assist imperiled businesses and organizations that are rooted in place and rich in culture.”
It was an honor to have these two— and the Jim ‘N Nick’s staff—cook in our kitchen. It was also a supreme honor to have Nicholas’ father and company co-founder Nick Pihakis as a guest in our dining room. “It looks like we need to open up a Jim ‘N Nick’s in Florence.” he stated. The dining room applauded and cheered, “YES!”
Photography by Angie Mosier and Christi Britten.