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Fork In The Road An Ol' Southern Tradition
by Kathleen Walls
The Old Greenbrier Resturant

There are those restaurants you go to because they have a sparkling decor. Then there are some which are just conveniently located in the heart of a metropolitan area. Sparkling crystal, white table and chefs with a delightful accent are fun but when you are looking for good down-to-earth barbeque in north Alabama's Tennessee Valley the place to go is Old Greenbrier Restaurant located on Old Hwy 20 between Decatur and Huntsville.

Here you will find the pace of an earlier era. before the dawn of McDonalds and Burger King when food was really cooked and served "your way." The simple building housing some of the world's greatest barbeque was erected in 1952 by an enterprising cook named Jack Webb, It was originally a take-out for the workers and owners of the surrounding cotton fields and old mill. but became so popular he build some tables and became a full-fledged restaurant. In the early days country musicians would sit on the roof of the building, and sing to bring in the crowds passing along what was then the main highway between Decatur and Huntsville

Today, it is owned and operated by the Evans family. No one is on the roof except an occasional bird stopping by in the hopes of picking up a few crumbs of hush puppies. The highway is no longer a main thoroughfare. Outwardly the building has changed. It is now often referred to as "Old Greenbrier Restaurant." It has been enlarged several times but the original rustic decor and even some of Webb's original tables still remain. The acres of cotton fields and the cotton mill across the street are still there. What is most important is that the original great barbeque still remains. It has fed hordes of hungry farmers, cotton gin workers, aerospace engineers, and lately weary travelers since 1952.

A typical tableful at Greenbrier

The pork plate is considered by many to be the best anywhere. It's slow cooked from, the tenderest shoulder meat. The catfish rival the pork however. It is hand raised in a pond remaining from the days before public water lines when the restaurant's well's would go dry and they had to hand-carry water from the cotton gin to supply the restaurant.

Of course, the other main dish choices, pork ribs, chicken, shrimp, hamburger and others are delicious as well. My personal favorite is the Barbeque Chicken. You can choose all white meat for a slight extra charge.

Everything is served with these steaming hot long hush puppies—placed on your table at once—french fries and cold slaw. I'm not a big slaw fan but theirs was good enough that I ate a whole bowl. You have a choice of sauces, the usual as well as the unespected. The most notable one is the mayonnaise and black pepper concoction used on chicken in the area. It's odd but good, a bit tangy. Then there is the traditional vinegar hot peppers sauce if you like it really spicy. Naturally they have tartar sauce for the catfish.

Pecan pie is my favorite desert here and do try one of their special twenty-five cent self-serve soft ice creams.

Judge Horton's home

Along with the Ol' South surroundings there is a touch of the darker aspect of that old south. Just down the road from the restaurant. On old plantation house dating back to pre-Civil War days can be glimpsed. This was the ancestral home of a almost forgotten Alabama judge who set the southern ideals of honesty and justice above racial prejudice and peer pressure. Circuit Judge James Horton, Jr. was the presiding judge in a re-trial of one of the nine Black teenagers accused of raping two white women on a train. When it became obvious to Judge Horton that one of the victims was lying and that the evidence did not add up, he overturned the guilty verdict of his jury and attempted to provide at least the one young man who stood accused of a heinous crime he most likely did not commit. The nine defendants, one only 13 years old, became known as the "Scottsboro Boys" and although one of the defendants did go to prison, Judge Horton saved him and the rest from execution or lynching. Haywood Patterson, the young defendant who throughout the trial had proclaimed his innocence, stated, "His decision made me feel good.  I saw that there could be white folks in the South with the right mind."

Needless to say the next election, the judge was defeated. Judge Horton knew when he ruled thusly, he was tossing a brilliant career as a jurist away but for him justice was more important than popularity.

As we dine on the finest old southern food, we may contemplate that we could use a few more real old southern gentlemen like Judge Horton, who place honor above party affiliations and profit, in power today.

Old Greenbrier Restaurant
27028 Old Hwy 20
Madison, AL 35756

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