Originally published in the Washington Post.
At Jim ’N Nick’s Bar-B-Q in Birmingham, Ala., it’s policy that every day, everything is made from scratch: the pimento cheese, the hickory-smoked brisket and the lemon, chocolate and coconut pies. As if to prove a point, Jim ’N Nick’s owner Nick Pihakis refuses even to put a freezer in the kitchen.
It makes sense if you know Pihakis. At 53, he has become a fixture on the sustainable Southern food scene. He is a co-founder of the Fatback Collective, which describes itself as a clan of “chefs, pitmasters, culturalists and eaters committed to porkfection” and he regularly pals around with the region’s culinary royalty: Charleston’s Sean Brock (McCrady’s and Husk), New Orleans’s Donald Link (Herbsaint and Cochon) and John Currence of the City Grocery in Oxford, Miss.
One thing puts Pihakis in a very different league from his cohorts. Jim ’N Nick’s, a Southeastern chain with 27 outlets, competes with restaurants such as Famous Dave’s rather than fine-dining establishments. The restaurant’s average check size is $13. A substantial portion of its business comes from customers at the drive-through.