My Silver Fox is a Morgan County boy, a card-carrying River Rat, and a ’66 graduate of Decatur High School. He “speaks” Morgan County. And the culinary route to his heart goes through Big Bob Gibson’s Barbecue with all of the smells and memories associated with it. When we lived in Ecuador, especially after several meals in a row of “interesting” foods, we would often play a game with each other. “Close your eyes. Pretend like you’re sitting at Big Bob’s. Describe what’s on your plate. Are you eating a pork sandwich with chips or are you biting into a chicken quarter drenched in white sauce? What pie are you going to get for dessert?” We would drool and laugh and add a stop there to the itinerary for our next visit home.
Ask thousands of people in North Alabama what comes to mind when they anticipate Memorial Day Weekend, and they will say “Balloons and Big Bob’s!” They are referring to the Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic held at Point Mallard Park in Decatur, Alabama, and to the world famous smoked pork, chicken, ribs, beef, and turkey from Big Bob’s Barbecue.
This year’s dates are May 23 and 24, so you’re not too late to head in this direction. You can see the schedule of events and photos of all the balloons planning to participate by clicking here. If the weather cooperates, you can view early morning and late afternoon balloon races, and spectacular balloon glows when the sun goes down. The Decatur Art Guild will host an Arts and Crafts show during both days, and various musical artists will perform (one of my favorite groups is Natchez Trace). On Sunday night the event closes with an amazing fireworks display.
You should expect to park at Point Mallard and walk several blocks, but you might go early enough to find a closer spot. Naturally, you can pack a picnic and tailgate, spread a blanket on the ground, or luck up on an available picnic table. But, now that I’ve put the Big Bob’s notion in your mind . . .
You can choose to eat-in or drive-through for carryout. Big Bob’s has great coleslaw, potato salad, and baked beans, but my, oh my, the pies!!!! Coconut and chocolate with their mile-high meringues are probably the top sellers, followed very closely by lemon icebox and pecan. All are made in-house and worth every calorie. In this part of the South, you can expect to find both white and red sauce, as well as the hot sauce. If you haven’t tried white sauce on barbecue before, give it a try, especially on chicken. Eat like the locals for a meal or so.
The Festival organizers and participants hope and pray for no rain and oh-so-slight winds. Many of the events happen no matter what, but you won’t see the balloons flying unless the officials determine that conditions are safe.
It’s usually pretty warm, so dress comfortably and slather on the sunscreen. I hope to see you there. I’ll be the one with my mouth open gaping at the gorgeous balloons or wiping a telltale trace of meringue off of my upper lip.
(The wonderful balloon photos in this post were made by my friend Shirley Boster Hallman. They were actually taken at Calloway Gardens last year, but most of the balloonists there also participate in the Decatur event. Thank you for sharing these, Shirley.)