Pat Martin will fight you tooth and nail if you order a barbecue sandwich without slaw at his restaurant. “If you don’t want slaw, you can have it that way, but you are eating it wrong,” he’ll tell you. “It’s a texture thing, and the acidity from the slaw helps give it balance.” With seven locations of his whole-hog-style restaurant Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint now in operation in Tennessee and Kentucky, we’d say he knows what he’s talking about too. The first in Alabama is set to open in Cahaba Heights at 3029 Pump House Road in mid-to-late fall. And you’re likely to see Pat himself there too. He plans to come to town every 10-14 days to “help the guys cook and have some beers.” Here’s what he had to say about the concept he founded in Nashville 12 years ago.
How did you get into cooking whole hog barbecue?
I went to college in Henderson in West Tennessee in 1990, and everyone there cooks whole hog. I befriended a man there, Harold Thomas, and he taught me how to cook. I wanted to open up a place. I just thought I’d do it in my 60s when I was retired, and it didn’t quite work out that way. It worked out better. I had a finance econ degree and went on with another career, but barbecue was always calling. In 2006 I put my house up as collateral for a loan and opened Martin’s with one employee in addition to myself. And that was it.
What should we order at your restaurant?
A whole hog sandwich topped with slaw. It’s the definite barbecue item in my opinion. We also have spare ribs and pit-cooked chicken, and barbecue nachos and loaded potatoes. People like our wings with Alabama white sauce, and our burger topped with brisket is wildly popular up in Nashville.
What will the new space be like?
The backbone of this brand is whole hog. We have three hog pits going in our pit room designed so people can be engaged and see what’s going on. I also want to create a cool vibe and atmosphere. We will have a beer garden with string lights, heavy landscaping, picnic tables and shuffleboard, and the hog pits will be right there amongst everything going on. I cook my barbecue with the intention of running out every day, which is what old school real barbecue joints do.
How did you end up in Cahaba Heights?
My longtime partner and one of my closest friends John Michael Bodnar lives in Vestavia, and we decided to open one in his backyard. We are really excited about it. My uncle lives in Pell City, so I have always loved Birmingham.
Can you talk some about the hogs you cook?
We butterfly our 185-200-pound hogs and they cook for 24 hours. We get our hogs from the Fatback Plant in Eva, Alabama, right near the Tennessee line. Twenty-one farmers supply that plant. What you buy at the grocery store is what you call packer meat. Those hogs were kept in cages their whole life, and most have never had the opportunity to get on their hind legs and walk around. They are just bred for meat. These are farm-raised hogs. They are walking around in a pasture and well fed, and they get to wallow around and be happy hogs. It affects the taste and fat content greatly.
What might first timers not suspect about Martin’s?
I am wine drinker, so I like to surprise people with our wine list. They come in my restaurants in Nashville and find affordable and approachable but really, really good wine. We will have beer and liquor too.