As part of my latter responsibility, I went to Aleck's. Aleck's,
for me, was not one of those little places you stumble upon. It was
the type of place you knew about. In the '60s, it served as an
unofficial headquarters for the civil rights movement: Martin
Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Andrew Young, among others,
would plot strategy over heaping plates of sauced ribs. It also
drew the cognoscenti of jazz, such as Miles Davis and Roberta
Flack. It had been written up in Time and Newsweek and visited by
network news media. It had ranked in Atlanta Magazine's "Best BBQ"
list year after year after year.
Despite its fame, I had no idea what to expect when I stepped off
the sidewalk and into Aleck's Barbecue Heaven. The place was a
dive. In front of the small open "kitchen" - actually a grill and
deep-fryer - was a small raised counter with a peeling Formica top
and, behind that, a few stools with rips in their red plastic
upholstery. A skinny aisle of cheap tile floor separated the stools
from four or five ragtag booths along the wall. A small
black-and-white TV with a crack running diagonally across it sat on
the near end of the coun-ter, tuned to a talk show. There was no
air conditioning, and it was hot inside because it was hot outside.
The air in the joint was heavy and greasy.
Anyone who appreciates a great dive knows exactly what I'm about to
say next: It was love at first sight.
I took a seat at the counter and ordered: ribs, yams, greens, and a
side of Brunswick stew, a thick flavorful concoction of lima beans,
corn, tomatoes, and chicken. I looked around while waiting for my
plate and noticed that one of the booths, the far one, had a wreath
in it and was dedicated to the memory of Dr. King. It occurred to
me that I was sitting where King or Miles Davis may have sat, and I