Ingram’s offers camp stew, ’cue, burgers and more
Story and photos by Jennifer Kornegay
If you enjoy outfitting your yard and patio with healthy plants; if you value Alabama-made art and crafts; and if you prefer (and who doesn’t?) fresh fruits and veggies from nearby farms, then Ingram’s Farmers Market & Garden Center should be your go-to, one-stop shop for all of the above.
But plenty of people who neither want nor need produce, plants or pottery regularly file through Ingram’s front doors. They walk right past the piles of peaches and baskets of begonias and make a beeline for the back counter, eyes homed in on the chalkboard menu. They’re here for the food, and probably most of them, the barbecue.
In Millbrook, this multi-tasking market was a produce stand in the past, but when Mike and JoAnne Ingram bought it in 2018, they gave it a facelift and greatly expanded its offerings. Mike had sold a business he owned and entered the corporate world. But after a decade of that work, he missed the interaction he’d had with customers when he was a business owner. “I wanted to get back into making those personal connections,” he says. “And that’s what we’re doing here. I love talking to people, and Millbrook has been so supportive. It’s great. I love that they love our food.”
But the barbecue, burgers, camp stew and long list of dessert delights that have really put Ingram’s on the map didn’t come along until 2019, a year after opening, as JoAnne explains. “When I met Mike when we were students at Troy, he was already getting into barbecue, cooking for his fraternity’s fundraisers,” she says. Then, throughout his other career, when the couple lived in Union Springs, he continued volunteering his grill skills. “Doing barbecue to help groups raise money became a hobby for me,” Mike says.
Even though he had been smoking ‘cue and cooking up big batches of camp stew for decades, JoAnne had to talk him into adding the kitchen and opening the restaurant at Ingram’s. “I really had to encourage him to do it,” she says. Today, they’re both glad, along with their loyal customers, that he listened. “The restaurant part of it has been a whirlwind success,” JoAnne says. In 2020, they had to buy another grill and smoker to keep up with demand for the barbecue.
It’s not hard to understand why. Almost everything on the menu is made from scratch in-house, including the divinity, key lime pie, red velvet cake and hummingbird cake make by baker Dawn Davis. The sides, like the light-and-fluffy potato salad (almost like whipped potatoes), with just the right crunch from small-diced pickles, are recipes from JoAnne’s family. And the main attractions — the barbecue and camp stew — are made by Mike with the same ingredients and methods he’s been using for years.
His pork butts (which, when done, are chopped, not pulled) are bathed in a thin seasoned liquid he calls “JuJu sauce” before being wrapped in foil and cooked for a couple of hours over local oak and hickory smoke. They’re then uncovered and cooked a few hours more. “It’s a bit unorthodox to cover it for a time, but people like the result,” Mike says. Turkey breasts are smoked for six hours, and St. Louis-style ribs get smoked little more than four hours. Beef brisket, with a superior smoke ring, and favorites like Conecuh sausage are on the menu too. Mike’s barbecue sauce is a vinegar-heavy concoction first created by his dad.
Every ounce of meat on offer is meltingly tender and flavorful, even sans sauce. The barbecue nachos — tortilla chips smothered in a creamy, spicy sauce, topped with your choice of barbecue beef, chicken or pork, studded with pickled jalapenos and then sprinkled with shredded cheese — are extremely popular. So is a new item: the Big Mike Burger, a three-quarter pound beast of a beef patty that’s smoked for an hour before sliding between a bun.
The camp stew is so sought after, Mike makes it in 80-quart batches, and Ingram’s sells 120-140 quarts each week. And for folks who are on the move, the barbecue, camp stew and sides are available in large quantities to go.
Despite not being a certainty in the original plan, food is now an essential piece of Ingram’s business. Produce and plants are seasonal, but people come year-round for a great meal served by friendly folks. “We cook here like we’re cooking for our own family,” JoAnne says. “And we often hear, ‘I’ve not had anything here that’s not good.’ That’s a big compliment.”
The warm welcome draws rave reviews and repeat customers, too. “We’ve got lots of regulars, and that’s created a real community spirit here,” says JoAnne. The couple gives their staff credit for the hospitality, praising their constant good attitude. “We have great employees,” Mike says. “We all greet every customer that comes through the door, and people like that personal attention. I think that has built our business as much as anything else.” That and Mike’s careful consideration of the details. “I see almost every piece of meat that comes in and goes out of here,” he says.
So far, the love they put into the business is being returned. According to JoAnne, it’s a real pick-up on the longer days. “We get tired, but not a day goes by without at least one person telling us they appreciate us being here,” she says. “That puts the pep back in your step!”ν
Ingram’s Farmers Market and Garden Center
3740 Magnolia Drive
Millbrook, AL 36054
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; closed on Sundays
Search for the restaurant on Facebook