Worth the Drive: Big Mike’s
Big Mike’s among top steakhouses
Story and photos by Emmett Burnett
Much is at stake for great steaks. Just ask the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. They know a few things about beef, enough to rank Big Mike’s Steakhouse one of the top 10 steak-eating restaurants in Alabama. And Mike Cole, Scott Powell, and Caine Conway are three proud stakeholders.
“It’s a bit overwhelming but nice to see,” says Mike, the ‘Big Mike’ of Big Mike’s. Referencing accolades received for the Thomasville restaurant he laughingly adds, “It is very gratifying because we work our ever-lovin’ tails off here.” Take a recent Friday night, for example.
On this weekend eve, a Demopolis school bus is en route. “Tell the driver to be here as close to 4 p.m. as possible,” Mike instructs a staffer. It is sage advice.
Big Mike’s opens at 4 p.m. on Friday-Saturdays. By 6, there is a waiting list. By 10 p.m., 400 to 500 people have been served.
“I believe the key to our success is a combination,” says Big Mike’s co-operator, Scott Powell. “We offer really good food, great service, and a very clean environment.” He adds about his friend and restaurateur, Mike, who he has known since their 1990s Livingston University (University of West Alabama) days, “When I met Mike I threw away my grill. This man can cook your shoe and make it good.”
Scott runs ‘the front.’ He personally greets 90 percent of the customers every day and never forgets a name. “I enjoy our guests,” he says, “They are really great people.” And he adds, “One of my favorite times is Wednesday’s and Thursday’s specials. But don’t associate cheap with special.”
Staffers insist everything is top quality. For example, the menu includes a cheeseburger. Now in many places, a cheeseburger comes with a scratch-off game card, from a golden-arched diner with an adjacent playground. Not here.
The patty is ground ribeye and filet mignon cuts, the same meat awarded by the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. It is rendered into a bun-encased burger large enough for a zip code.
The third spoke of Big Mike’s trio is Caine Conway, who met and worked for Scott years earlier in a landscaping business. Caine runs the bar, from training learned on the job. “Before coming here most of my experience came from sitting on the other side of the bar,” he smiles. “But customers were patient.” Caine learned, and today is a Thomasville master of mixology.
When not working, the three hang out, socialize, and vacation together. They enjoy the rewards of transforming a start-up business from nothing to the 8th best steak house in the state. But they began with a trial by smoke, lots of it. Or as Mike recalls about opening day, “It was horrible.”
Big Mike’s Steakhouse debuted in October 2013, to a packed house, much bigger than anyone predicted. In addition to everyone at their new jobs and opening-day jitters, a kitchen vent system shut down, expelling billowing smoke everywhere. And though there was never any danger, Mike recalls, “You could not see me sitting next to you because of the smoke.” They ordered everyone out and locked the doors at 7 p.m. And Mike added, “I went to my truck, sat on the tailgate, and cried.”
They credit the good people of Thomasville for getting the restaurant back on its feet after October’s smoky night. Big Mike’s reopened the next week, smoke free, and has never looked back.
The once-vacant building is the toast of Thomasville. Mike has culinary experience, gleaned from years working at his in-laws’ restaurant/catering business in Demopolis and Orange Beach. “I drove by this place many times, and saw the ‘For Sale’ sign,” he recalls, about his future 33215 Highway 43, Thomasville location. “My dream was to have a restaurant of my own and this was the place.”
Scott and Caine agreed. And the rest is history. The building was acquired in August, 2013. For two months, three restaurateurs, employees, and friends refurbished, remodeled, and reinvigorated. Big Mike’s was and is a big deal.
Top Angus beef is hand cut in house, marinated and rubbed with custom 7-spice seasoning blends, wood-fire grilled to customer requests, and completed with garlic herb butter. The ribeye is edible art. The ‘Highway 43’ Strip is their version of the New York strip – same great taste without the subway. And the filet mignon is what mother angels feed teething baby cherubs. Their biggest seller is the 16 oz. ribeye or you can go bold, with a 24 oz. version, ‘The Big Mike.’
The restaurant is a fine dining experience but don’t say it. “Fine dining’ always scares me,” says Mike. “Yes, we have gourmet steaks, fresh Gulf seafood, and an amazing wine selection, but we also have great burgers.”
The three consider their venture to be a working man’s steakhouse, not Ruth’s Chris. “We offer a product every bit as good as theirs,” adds Mike. “But our tables are set with butcher paper instead of linens.”
“We want everything perfect,” says Scott. And Mike adds, “This is who we are. My name is on this building. We put our hearts and souls into this place.”
And as the Demopolis bus pulls into the driveway, unloading a multitude of beef buddies, Mike looks on and confides, “There is nothing better than seeing someone slice into a great steak, smile, and give a thumbs up.”
Big Mike’s Steakhouse
33215 Highway 43
Thomasville, AL. 36784
Wednesday – Thursday – 4:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday 4 p.m. –10 p.m.