By Grant Smith
A smokey, pungent haze fills the air, shimmering in the sunbeams as the sun draws low in the western sky. Passing an eclectic assembly of gentleman and outlaws, you approach the counter of the terra-cotta dive. Sweat drips down your brow as you examine the chalkboard menu. Beef brisket or smoked pork? Mexican Coke or a local brew?
It might seem like San Antonio, but you are still in Richmond. Where the outlaws are patched-denim scooter gangs and the gentleman are downtown businessmen on a late lunch break. You are at Alamo BBQ, “a little bit of Texas right here in Virginia.”
Chef Paul Hubbard and Chris Davis opened Alamo BBQ on May 15th, 2009 after redeveloping an old derelict gas-station in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood; transforming the structure into the southwestern influenced outdoor cantina and barbeque pit standing today.
Hubbard, a native Richmonder, had cooked in fine-dining in restaurants across the city. “I cooked fine dining my whole life, until I discovered the art of BBQ,” says Hubbard. When Davis and Hubbard got together to implement their plan, they put it all on the line. Davis worked two jobs and lived in a shed behind the building during construction. It was “a leap of faith” for the young, aspiring entrepreneurs— in more ways than one.
At Alamo’s inception, the locale was more “wild west” than it is today. In the early 80’s crack and heroin invaded Richmond’s east end. Many middle-class families left the Church Hill neighborhood and homes were deserted and businesses lost financial solvency. “It was still a rough neighborhood six, seven years ago, but it’s so close to the city. I saw a lot of potential in it” says Davis.
“We didn’t make any money the first year, the second year we made a little bit, and the third year… I made more money than I’d ever seen in my entire life,” Hubbard says reflectively
The explosive popularity of Alamo BBQ sparked a tremendous revitalization of the historic community of Church Hill— spearheaded by Richmond’s vibrant culinary community and facilitated by a concentration of economical and available property. The number of critically acclaimed restaurants in the Church Hill neighborhood continues to expand. The Roosevelt, Proper Pie Co. and The Dog and Pig Show are supported as essential pilgrimages for the reverent foodie.
“A lot of people thought we were crazy when we decided to open in Church Hill. Since we opened it has changed night and day with the amount of restaurants and house renovations,” says Hubbard. In May, 2014, USA Today named Church Hill in the list of the nation’s top 10 up-and-coming neighborhoods.
Getting back to the beef, Alamo BBQ continues to offer an inexpensive endeavour into some of the best barbecue and tex-mex cuisine in the country. Fox News awarded them 8th place in the “10 best ribs in America.” Zagat named their Cuban BBQ sandwich the 2015 top sandwich in Virginia. “It is the perfect combination of juicy BBQ pulled chicken with a tangy, pickled kick,” the Zagat review concludes. These awards only begin skim the surface of the establishment’s meaty menu.
“My personal favorite is the Big Grilled Burrito,” says Alamo regular Joey Coscia. “You can choose any choice of their BBQ meats, or grilled tilapia. The extras are when you hit the goldmine though, when you can get jalapeño mac & cheese on a burrito, you know you’re in for a good time,” said Coscia. Other unique options include the Texas Trainwreck, which involves a layer of BBQ baked beans and jalapeño mac and cheese with your choice of meat, wedged between two pieces of homemade cornbread. Both of these exciting options only cost $7.50.
Earlier this year, Alamo acquired an ABC license to sell beer. They offer bottled local brews as well as an assortment of import and commercial brands. Alamo is also one of a noteworthy few that offers the glass bottles of Mexican Coke, made with real sugar.
The breakthrough BBQ joint sits on a crossroads between Jefferson and 21st. Patio seating provides ample observation of the blossoming residential community. Just across the street resides Jefferson Park. A short stroll might be necessary after being stuffed with addictive BBQ.