About two years ago, Richard Bellone and his wife, Sabine, started selling their barbecue out of a trailer at Fort Rucker. The soldiers appreciated having Bellone around so much that when he recently moved into a new location, members of the officers' candidate program took a Saturday to help him move.
Thanks to a statewide hunt for the best bbq ribs, Sweet Tooth Bar-B-Que is now a top destination for bbq fans across the region. Sweet Tooth finished second last fall in AL.com's Mobile and South Alabama reader poll for Alabama's Best BBQ Ribs.
The service men and women of Fort Rucker recently presented the Bellones with a certificate of appreciation that is currently displayed on one of the walls of his new place.
"Sweet Tooth Bar-B-Que proudly follows the time-honored tradition of authentic, real pit-smoked barbecue, and doesn't compromise on quality," it reads. "We appreciate your quality of service and support to the 1st Warrant Officer Company, U.S. Army Warrant Office Career College and the United States Army."
"We have a lot of support from the military base," Bellone, a former soldier himself, says during a mid-morning visit to Sweet Tooth Bar-B-Que. "And we do a lot for the military."
The front counter and one of the walls of his restaurant are covered with more than 200 license plates from most of the 50 states, as well as military patches from many of the soldiers.
Of course, there is a story behind those, too.
"Every time a soldier brings a car tag in, he gets a free pork plate," Bellone says. "That's an $8 meal. The same thing with the patches up there. They got a free sandwich."
They've also forced him to broaden his barbecue horizons.
"The military guys taught me how to make my sauces from all the different places they came from," he says. "I have four different sauces. I have a sweet-smoky flavor. I have a South Carolina mustard-based (sauce). I have a Cajun one that comes from Louisiana, and I have a North Carolina vinegar-based (sauce)."
The daily menu features pulled pork, chopped chicken and smoked sausage, and on Thursdays and Fridays only, Bellone serves his smoked ribs, which usually sell out in about an hour, he says.
Bellone seasons his ribs with a dry rub that he prepares using cayenne pepper, onion powder and finely ground smoked jalapeno peppers, and then he smokes them for about three to four hours until they are tender enough to pull off the bone with the gentlest of tugs. We tried them with each of the four sauces but preferred the mustard-based sauce, which was also Bellone's recommendation.
By the way, if "Sweet Tooth" seems like an odd name for a barbecue place, it's because before they started smoking butts and ribs and chicken, Bellone and his wife had another sweet little business selling funnel cakes, smoothies and milk shakes.
So the name just kind of stuck.