SAW’s Juke Joint — Crestline
Few things are paired well with great barbeque – a big family gathering, a street party, a milestone event. And among these has to be the coupling with great music! The opening of SAW’s third location pairs the down home tradition of authentic barbeque with live bluesy jazz, a feast for the soul, the ears and the palate! And if such an oxymoron exists as “upscale dive”, SAW’S Juke Joint fits the bill.
Since its debut in October of 2012, SAW’S Juke Joint has been packed practically every night! Yes, even middle of the week. Just driving past its location on Dunstan Avenue, you’ll see the whole Crestline Park shopping center parked with cars, and spilling out down the street. Since re-opening this establishment, in the space formerly occupied by Ore and Open Door Café, the new restaurant built on the patronage of the former restaurant, but brings in live music from regional bands on the weekend nights. Best of all, it features the well-known barbeque menu from both the SAW’s BBQ Restaurant and its sister, SAW’S Soul Kitchen.
SAW’S ownership has a pedigree that has made a barbeque/jazz setting a surefire hit. The founder of the “SAW” brand is “Sorry ASS Mike Wilson”. His partner in their SAW’S Soul Kitchen Brandon Cain is on board. And thirdly, in Saw’s Juke Joint, it’s Wilson, Doug Smith, and American Idol winner and local celebrity Taylor Hicks. In Hicks words, “ I think the concept fits the area perfectly. We all know Saw’s has the best barbeque in town, and the juke joint concept is a home run!” The three have combined their love and knowledge of Southern cuisine, live jazz music and laid-back hangouts…and have a winner!
Of the three SAW’s locations, Doug Smith says this was the easiest one to renovate and make their own. It had been a fine dining restaurant so the layout was ideal. Doug Smith is no stranger to this part of town; he owned Otey’s in nearby Crestline Village at one point, and he owned Smith’s Oysters & Steaks.
What seemed like a quick turnaround to the public was actually five weeks of preparations. Opening during football season was optimal. Restaurants are always busy in Birmingham when games are playing.
The atmosphere at SAW’S Juke Joint is all about casual and friendly. Reclaimed wood paneling, bare bulbs and metal tables and chairs suitably make for a slightly industrial feel. But after all, this place means business – food and music. Besides the décor that boasts of a huge assortment of football memorabilia, license plates from “God knows where”, and eclectic souvenirs that make you feel like you’re in a diner on Route 66, there’s the giant chalkboards that get your attention at SAW’S.
From floor to ceiling, these big boards boast of the day’s specials, the beers and cocktails that are featured, and messages from the staff and patrons encouraging everyone to bring in their contributions to the growing football fan shrine. Doug Smith reflects, “ You want people to feel comfortable and unpretentious, and you want them to be able to come in here in T-shirts and tennis shoes, but at the same time, the place has to be clean.” To keep it simple, everything is served with plastic and Styrofoam. Glass is available by request…but it is a juke joint, and this is barbeque. Asking for a bib may be more apropos.
They have created a menu featuring the best of barbeque, with highlights like grits and greens from the soul kitchen, and a few surprises. Where else can you get such an authentic sweet tea chicken sandwich or a fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Customers rave about the sides here too – the light and thin onion rings, the thick sweet potato fries, overloaded baked potatoes, fried pickles, fried whole okra, and the greens . But the signature dish may be the Carolina burger. When it arrives with a fork poking out of the top, necessary for eating, and you are handed a roll of paper towels, you know the effort you’ll put into this burger will be worth it. It’s a thick all beef handmade patty, nicely charred, topped with chili and slaw.
Other features include the fried green tomato BLT, overloaded with bacon, the smoked wings topped with signature SAW’s sauce plus a splash of white chicken sauce. If reputation and return customers measure the success of the SAW’S brand, than all three will have long histories in Birmingham. The reviews keep coming in and the food scores high on all accounts. And in Smith’s words, “I think everyone feels comfortable here, no matter what the occasion”