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Worth the drive – Turn

Take a ‘turn’ for the better in Notasulga

Homemade mustard sauce delivers the bite to temper the ribs’ sweet sauce at Turn Baby Turn. Photos by Jennifer Kornegay
Homemade mustard sauce delivers the bite to temper the ribs’ sweet sauce at Turn Baby Turn. Photos by Jennifer Kornegay

By Jennifer Kornegay

“Beep beep!” A pickup truck’s horn and Bill Strong’s, “Hey hey!” in reply broke the country quiet. I was sitting at one of two tables under the overhang in front of Bill’s barbecue restaurant/package store, Turn Baby Turn, in Notasulga. I was trying to concentrate on Bill’s explanation of what makes his ‘cue “the best in Alabama,” but the intoxicating scent of smoked pork kept coaxing my attention back to the ribs cozied up to two slices of white bread in the styrofoam box in front of me.

“Uh huh.” “Ok,” were the only answers I could get out in between bites of meat so succulent and soft, I didn’t even need to use my teeth to free them from the bone. When Bill first brought me my ribs, I was puzzled by what looked like nacho-cheese swirled on top of them. He noticed the question on my face.

“No, it’s not cheese,” he said. “It’s my mustard sauce.” He wouldn’t share much more than that, but the bright yellow-orange addition didn’t need any justification. It delivered the bite needed to temper the sweetness of the thick, ruby-red sauce clinging to the ribs.

Bill Strong says when the light is green, he’s open for business.
Bill Strong says when the light is green, he’s open for business.

“You can taste the smoke, right?” he said. “Yes,” I said, with my mouth full. Any attempt at table manners had already vanished when I realized I had a dot of mustard sauce on my nose and a smear of the red sauce on my cheek, and there was no reason to clean up yet since I still had two ribs left.

Bill kept chatting about his special method, nodding to a massive drum grill and smoker that he’s outfitted with a rotisserie rod. “That’s what the name’s for, Turn Baby Turn, ‘cause I rotisserie all the meat,” he said. “It cooks it all evenly.”

That includes ribs, pork butt and whole chickens. I’d made it through the ribs and was starting on the rib tips, little pieces of deliciousness whose thin dark bark concealed a pink center, when he instructed me to follow him to his woodpile in the back.

“This is pecan, this is pecan, that’s pecan,” he said, pointing to six-foot-tall pyramids of log stacks. “That over there is oak, and sometimes I mix some of that in.” The pecan is best, though. “I like its taste a lot,” he said.

So does everyone else lucky enough to have heard about Turn Baby Turn or just stumbled upon it while driving.

When I sat back down, Bill had customers to tend to. He kept running back into the kitchen to get their plates made while fielding phone calls for pick-up orders. “You want the pineapple cole slaw with that?” I heard him ask.

“Tell them they do!” I yelled. I’d just had my first taste of this fruity take on a traditional side and felt sure whoever was on the other end of the phone would like it as much as I did.

“Folks seem to enjoy what I’m doing here,” he said as he walked back out with a handful of desperately needed napkins. “I think they can tell that I do it for the passion, not the paycheck.”

Those folks include football players and coaches from nearby Auburn University. “Yeah, they come in,” he said. “And they can eat!”

I looked at my now-empty box and wondered if I’d done as much damage as a giant 20-something athlete. I thought I probably had when Bill added, “So can you!”

I finished my can of Coke and made good use of the pile of napkins Bill had brought out as he led me to one more point of pride.

“This here is how people can know for sure I’m open,” he said. An over-sized traffic signal is mounted to the wall of the store. “When that light is green, you come on in, and I’ll get you fixed up,” he said.

Green means go, and you should go to Turn Baby Turn where green also means good food. Here’s hoping there’s a green glow on Highway 81 for many years to come.