Cafe Society

Hunting for the Elusive North Alabama White Barbecue Sauce in Denver

Many of Denver's barbecue joints line up sauce bottles like they're craft beer taps, offering an array of house blends to suit the palates of transplants from every meat smoking region of the South. Sweet Kansas City sauce, in hot or mild, and tangy Memphis style compete for attention against sharp and spicy Eastern North Carolina sauce or a South Carolina mustard-based blend. Even if fans of a particular regional style don't want to even look at a sauce from another state, its a great way for Coloradans to partake in their own mini culinary tours of America's most distinctive cuisine. But missing on that tour is the rare unicorn of sauces: the North Alabama white barbecue sauce. Missing until now, that is, thanks to Manneken Frites, an Arvada purveyor of Belgian frites, beers and other Flemish street food.

See also: Author and Barbecue Judge Adrian Miller Shares His Rib Tips

According to legend, white barbecue sauce was invented in 1925 by Bob Gibson, owner of the aptly named Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama. It's a thin concoction of mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar and black pepper used as a marinade, a mop and a condiment for barbecued chicken. In North Alabama, folks use it as a salad dressing, a sandwich topping and a dip, which is how you'll find it at Manneken Frites, in a thicker, clingier version of the original.

Belgians are known for their love of fried potatoes dipped in a multitude of sauces, including variations on mayo, so it's no surprise -- other than the genuine scarcity of the condiment outside of a tiny region of the Deep South -- that white barbecue sauce would end up on a Belgian menu in Old Town Arvada. Owner, Belgian beer connoisseur and frites master, Chris Stromberg, says he got the recipe from a South Carolina native working at Savory Spice, and he didn't realize it was an Alabama thing until he did a little research. That's why you'll also find the sauce on the tiny eatery's Carolina Dog in addition to being offered as a dipping sauce for the traditional twice-fried potatoes.

According to an article by Scott Jones in Southern Living, experts say that the sauce only needs four ingredients, but that unique family and restaurant recipes have evolved over the years. Stromberg's secret is apple cider vinegar and a peppery pork seasoning blend.

In case the idea of a mayonnaise-based barbecue sauce doesn't appeal to you, Manneken Frites offers more than twenty other options, many made in-house. And that's certainly one thing Denverites and Belgians have in common: maybe its because Denver and Belgium both have evolved at cultural crossroad, but we love a variety of sauces from all over the globe.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation