Good morning: A tour of regional breakfast diners


Streak of Lean at Buddy’s Rib and Steak

Alexander Richey

To start most days, it’s usually the same routine. Roll out of bed and grab a handful of something on the way out the door. Granola, cereal, a banana or microwave a Jimmy Dean’s one-minute biscuit and try not to spill the cup of coffee during the car ride to school. That’s how I consume most of my breakfasts: hastily made and not with much thought or enjoyment.

But at 5 a.m. sharp there is a dedicated group of people that open their doors and supply the breakfasts of Tuscaloosa residents. Cooks, servers, busboys, cashiers and managers of the numerous diners across town pump out wholesome fuel for the masses.

There’s a stereotypical image when it comes to the meal and menu at breakfast diners: coffee, bacon, eggs, grits, maybe a pancake or waffle, if you’re feeling fancy. Several weathered blue-collar workers provide the backdrop. Rambling in, huddling around tables or bar stools and scarfing down fuel to prepare for the long workday ahead – and taking less than 20 minutes for the entire process. The scores of waitresses are taking orders, running food and refilling coffee.

A few diners in Tuscaloosa offer interesting options.

City Café

I started at famed City Café in Northport. The hype around City Café is pretty strong, maybe even overblown some might say. I honestly was not sure what to expect, but if it was to be known as a high caliber diner it had to nail a classic. A simple chicken biscuit and grits did the trick for me.

The meal for cost right under $12 for two people.

It was good. It gets a thumbs up from me – but just one.

Buddy’s Rib & Steak

Next was Buddy’s Rib & Steak in Northport for second breakfast. The diner is easily recognizable by the longhorns on the marquee right off of Lurleen B. Wallace Boulevard. Amongst all the numerous Daniel Moore paintings on the walls celebrating prolific achievements in Alabama football, it was here where breakfast got salty.

One such item goes by a few names: Streak of Lean, Streak-O-Lean, fatback, white meat or, as one server said, “super bacon.”

Streak of lean looks very similar to normal bacon, but is made from a cut of meat from the back of the pig and cured with salt unlike bacon, which is from the belly and smoked. However, on normal bacon, there is a good bit of lean fleshy meat, and a little bit of fat. Streak of lean is right the opposite: a lot of fat and just a streak of lean meat. Hence the name.

The motto is always to try things twice before judging. This was true here. I had two pieces, and then promptly drank an entire glass of water to combat all the salt that was turning my mouth into a dry pocket of flesh. I wasn’t a huge fan.

I asked our waitress if she had ever tried a piece.

“It took me five years of working here before I tried it,” she said. “It’s really salty. I’ve only ever had one piece. That was enough for me.”

Same here.

A single serving of streak of lean at Buddy’s costs $2.75. Worth it?

Wright’s Restaurant

For the final stop, we traveled all the way to Alberta City. Just beyond the Moon Winx Inn on University Boulevard is Wright’s Restaurant. A gas station delicacy awaited us.

Often seen in big glass jars at gas stations in more rural areas, bobbing inside in a radioactive pink liquid is an equally radioactive pink pickled sausage known as Red Hots.

The red hots were these small fat sausage-shaped-things that resembled a bastardized crossbreed of a hot dog and bologna. Just like the parents, the source of the meat in red hots is best not to be thought about.

An incredibly friendly and enthusiastic waitress came and took the order: a single order of red hots and some hash browns because I need something else substantial for third breakfast.

The red hots were promptly brought to the table were served split lengthways and fried on the griddle turning the casing even brighter red and crunchy. It tasted disappointedly just like bologna, which I am not a fan of in cold sandwich form, let alone warm breakfast form.

On the plus side, Wright’s had awesome hash browns and the owner came out and was excited to hear we were doing a story on them and paid for our meal. I’ll be back there for breakfast again.

A single serving of red hots at Wright’s costs $1.70. Is there even a markup? Are they giving these things away?

Weighed down with enough sodium and grease to lubricate and run a tractor, I felt the walk to the car seemed more of chore than normal.