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Photo by Sarah Finnegan.
Swamp Monster BBQ co-owners Michelle and Michael O’Connor with their daughter Caitlyn inside their Hoover restaurant.
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There’s a new alligator in town, and its name is Boudreaux, the mascot and official “swamp monster” of Swamp Monster BBQ’s kitchen.
It’s been a busy few weeks behind the grill for him, especially as of Aug. 15, when Swamp Monster BBQ officially opened its doors to its first brick-and-mortar store in Hoover at 1843 U.S. 31.
Swamp Monster BBQ co-owner Michelle O’Connor also calls her co-owner husband, Michael O’Connor, the “swamp monster” of the grill, since he grew up in New Orleans and has continued serving Cajun-style food to friends, family and now, customers, over the years.
“We wanted to barbecue, just in a different way. Barbecue is very Southern, but we wanted to bring in some of those New Orleans roots, as well,” Michelle O’Connor said.
As far as the name goes, Michelle O’Connor said it’s a play off the logo of their “lovely alligator,” Boudreaux. When they first decided what to call themselves, they talked about how the New Orleans heritage is something that sticks with you through the years.
It’s just very memorable, she said.
Plus, the pork Boston butt can be a “monstrous” amount of food to eat.
“We do try to have larger than average portions, and most of the time they are huge,” Michelle O’Connor said, laughing. “We don’t want anyone to leave hungry.”
Swamp Monster BBQ has been catering in the Birmingham area for more than five years now. Although the owners live in Pelham, Michelle O’Connor said the amount of traffic and general love for the Hoover area and their Hoover friends drew them in.
“There’s so many businesses in the Hoover area, we really wanted to cater to them with something different to eat,” she said.
It all started out at their Smith Lake house, when Michael O’Connor would grill for everyone over the weekend. As he tried to figure out how to feed massive numbers of people without a huge time commitment, he began to routinely throw a Boston butt on the grill and experiment with various seasonings until he eventually perfected his own dry rub.
After someone asked if they catered, the business took off from there.
“Honestly, we were just trying to enjoy some time with family,” Michelle O’Connor said. “But word of mouth is really how it grew. We got some good, loyal clients that liked the product, sold the butt to friends and then they would have people over, and you know, there you go.”
Michelle O’Connor did admit the last few weeks have felt like a crash course in having a brick-and-mortar store. The key, she said, is taking it one day at a time.
“We went through a big process tasting the pre-made stuff and sampling, and nothing was really our concept,” she said. “So we just decided that we would get into the kitchen and just figure something out.”
The O’Connors serve house-made items such as a Cajun potato salad with Creole mustard and what they call “the Pirogue,” which is a 100-percent Kobe beef hot dog on Gambino’s French bread. There’s also complimentary Cajun-style pork rinds made fresh. As far as Michelle O’Connor knows, Swamp Monster BBQ is the only barbecue place around town that serves red beans and rice. They are made in-house, like most everything else on the menu.
Michelle O’Connor said the “uniqueness” of their Cajun Creole-style food has made them stand out as a new business. But, if you only had time to try one item off the menu, she said she would definitely have to recommend the pork.
“Because of that rub,” Michelle O’ Connor said. “It’s Memphis-style because of the dry rub on it. But also the ribs, too. We’ve had an enormous amount of people just love the ribs because they’re not covered in sauce, though there is sauce you can put on them. But he puts the dry rub on them. It’s just a really good flavor.”
Then if you’re feeling particularly hungry, she said definitely go for what’s been dubbed “the Monster.”
This New Orleans-style muffuletta sandwich can really feed up to four people, Michelle O’Connor said, and it includes two sides.
Although they do some to-go and catering orders, they plan to beta test a quicker online ordering system within the month. They have an in-store express menu and provide catering via phone and email.
“We’re just kind of easing ourselves in right now. We’ve done a simple menu. In the future though, we look to have things like a crawfish boil or have certain specials at different times of the year,” she said.
Plus, she added, they’re definitely going to have king cake during Mardi Gras.