CEO Recommends

Tonight, we taste favorites of Betsy McAtee, CEO of Dreamland Bar-B-Que.

By Jan Walsh

Dreamland Bar-B-Que started in 1958 with a dream. John “Big Daddy” Bishop dreamed that God told him to open a restaurant. Today Dreamland Bar-B-Que is known throughout the South for its legendary ribs and sauce. It is served in eight stadium venues throughout the Southeast. And Dreamland Holding Company operates 10 restaurants in the Southeast and ships its BBQ nationwide.

Betsy McAtee is the CEO of Dreamland Holding Company and owner of BUM Foods. Betsy inherited her love of barbeque from her father, Bobby Underwood. Underwood became a fan of Dreamland’s ribs when he was a student at the University of Alabama. And he never stopped craving them. Eventually ribs became the family’s favorite food. Betsy also followed in her father’s footsteps as a student at the University of Alabama, becoming a Dreamland regular. Underwood had a dream for he and Betsy to partner with owners, John “Big Daddy” and wife, Lily Bishop to expand Dreamland to Birmingham. Birmingham’s Dreamland opened in 1993. And through the years since, 11 additional locations followed. In 2000 the Bishop family sold the company to their partners. And Betsy learned the business via baptism by a fire pit, working each and every position in the restaurant—including the BBQ pit. In 2010 when her father retired, she became CEO.

The fire pit is the keystone to a barbeque restaurant. I have often said, I won’t eat in a barbeque restaurant unless I see a smokestack outside with smoke rising above it. And I was in a documentary about Dreamland, saying just that. And Dreamland on 280 has two stacks! Inside Pitmaster, Quederrious Smith is hard at work, yet all smiles, as he stokes the hickory fire pit. Smith barbeques ribs at Dreamland Bar-B-Que just like “Big Daddy” Bishop did and bastes the ribs with Bishop’s original sauce.

Tonight, our son, Jordan is in town and meets us for dinner at Dreamland just as the Sweet Sixteen games start—Basketball and Barbeque! And there are big screens from every view. For our feast, Betsy suggests Hickory-Smoked Sausage, Okra Basket, Big Daddy Loaded House Chips, Tips and Chips, Ribs, Banana Pudding, and Chocolate Dream. We order it all, and Jordan adds a special of Dream Wings. The guys order beer, and I opt for wine to pair with our meal. And our server, Alondra Clarke deserves a shout out for getting all these orders to us without delays or time outs.

The Hickory Smoked Sausage Link is a sensational full link, partially precut into slices. The inside is moist and meaty. The outside skin is the perfect thickness and cooked to a melded texture—not overcooked and hard, easy to eat, with no need to peel it off. We dip in Dreamland BBQ Sauce and add Fried Okra Starter to the mix. The okra is lightly breaded and seasoned with Dreamland’s BBQ Rub, and fried golden. It is enhanced by a synthesis of Dreamland’s Pork Rub ingredients—salt, spices, molasses, onion, and garlic, which adds a smoky layer to each bite. And we pour on Alabama Twang Sauce, fusing the crisp okra with a creamy, tangy richness, and additional hint of heat.

“For the Big Daddy Loaded House Chips, think nachos but with potato chips,” Betsy describes. Great description because this tower has a little bit of everything! House-made chips are smothered with nacho cheese, creamy slaw, jalapeños, and green onions, along with Alabama Twang Sauce, Dreamland BBQ Sauce, and our choice of protein, chicken. This is my favorite dish of the evening—crunchy, creamy, cheesy, and very sharable. I also love the Tips and Chips. Boneless, rib tips topped with green onions, are served with the house-made chips. As Betsy says, they are “a little less messy” than the ribs.



Jordan’s newfound favorite(s) are a tie between Dream Wings and Spicy Rib Wrap. His love of wings does have bounds—can be a critic as well. But he has nothing but bragging rights for these juicy, mouth-watering, chubby wings with tender skins and finger-licking flavors, with his choice of sauce, Buffalo.

The rib wrap is also Betsy’s favorite way to eat the tips. Two flour tortillas are plump with the crunchy jalapeno slaw and savory, tender tips. Jordan has a side of creamy and dreamy potato salad. But some of us, much like Betsy can never get enough of Dreamland’s slaw. “Our coleslaw is one of my favorite side items. I pour Dreamland BBQ sauce over my slaw, which we make it fresh, several times throughout the day.”

But dinner at Dreamland would not be dinner at Dreamland without a slab of their world-famous ribs, white bread, and sauce. Our slab boasts a variety of size ribs, with varying ratios of fat and meat. But no matter the size, biting into a rib, we all experience a distinct, Dreamland tooth feel and taste the hickory and heat. And ripping and pulling the meat off the bone, we are reminded why they say, “Ain’t nothing like ‘em, nowhere”—and why we say, “you can’t eat at Dreamland without ordering the ribs.” Kev’s favorite, tonight and always.

“Our banana pudding is hard to beat, but for chocolate fans, we have Chocolate Dream,” Betsy recommends. “Think banana pudding without the bananas and vanilla wafers. Bud's Best Caco cookies (baked in Birmingham), chocolate pudding, and whipped topping for a chocolate lovers dream delight!” We order both and take her recommendation to eat the banana first and chocolate afterwards. Unlike the Sweet Sixteen, picking a favorite between these two sweets is just not fair. Both are winners!

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