In Monroe County, the first and third Saturdays of every month are filled with the sweet, smoky scent of barbecue and the spicy aroma of shrimp and gumbo, thanks to the folks of Cherry Street Bar-B-Q in Monroeville.
Their tempting dishes have become an expected fixture at meetings of the Monroe County Farmers Federation.
“We opened Labor Day weekend of 2003, and since then, people are often waiting in line for us to open, and we usually sell out in three or four hours,” says owner Melvin Foukal. “Having such reliable customers means we can always offer a fresh product and avoid having any unsold product that goes to waste.”
Born in Baldwin County, Foukal says he learned to cook when he was “thrown into the fire” as a sophomore at Auburn University.
“We always ate at this place across the street from where we lived. When it closed, one guy offered to do the cleaning if I would cook, and another said he would do the shopping. I figured if they would learn to clean and pay, I could learn to cook,” he says.
Over the years, Foukal learned to enjoy cooking and became a go-to guy for firing up the grill.
“When our daughters’ school or our church would cook Boston butts to raise money, I always helped cook. I also entered several wild game cook-offs, and I became the designated cook at work for fun or charity barbecues,” says Foukal. “Eventually people were asking me to cook food for their special events, so I converted a former carwash building into Cherry Street Bar-B-Q.”
While he and his wife both work other jobs, Foukal says his barbecue stand and special orders for catering events have been an important part of their lives and the lives of others.
“All three of our daughters have been involved in a family business, and that’s not very common anymore. Many parents today don’t require their children to earn their own money.
And we have an operation that allows people to make a little extra income every month without fast-food hours. Now I’m even working some of our employees’ children,” he says.
Foukal says he can’t take all the credit for the delicious food he sells, insisting that his employees and suppliers are main ingredients in the success they’ve cooked up.
“Oftentimes now my employees do the majority of the cooking for our customers, and I’ll cook for them while we watch the grills. And we don’t offer typical banquet food. If someone asks for green beans, we get a bushel or two of fresh beans to clean and trim, not those enormous cans,” says Foukal. “I also believe in buying locally. I use a local seafood guy for all my shrimp, and Darby’s Red and White (a local grocer) for all my meats. To consistently produce good food, fresh, quality meats cut-to-order are more important than who’s having the best sale this week.”
Like so many barbecue legends across the South, Foukal says he can’t give away all the secrets that keep his customers coming back for more, but he has agreed to share some of the creations from his kitchen. Included with his mouth-watering rib recipe and barbecue sauce are two award-winning wild game recipes and some of his favorite sides.
Melvin’s wife, Gail, also sends along recipes from friends and from their family kitchen, where she does most of the cooking.