If you like to outfit your yard and patio with healthy plants; if you appreciate arts and crafts made in Alabama; and if you prefer (and who doesn’t?) fresh fruits and vegetables from nearby farms, then Ingram’s Farmers Market & Garden Center might be your one-stop-shop for all of the above.
But many people who neither want nor need produce, plants, or pottery regularly pass through Ingram’s doors. They pass the heaps of peaches and the baskets of begonias and head for the back counter, their eyes glued to the slate menu. They’re there for the food, and probably most of them, the barbecue.
In Millbrook, this multitasking market was once a fresh produce stand. But when Mike and JoAnne Ingram bought it in 2018, they gave it a facelift and significantly expanded its offering. Mike had sold a business and entered the corporate world. But after a decade of this work, he misses the interaction he had with customers when he was a business owner. “I wanted to start making those personal connections again,” he says. “And that’s what we’re doing here. I love talking to people and Millbrook has been so supportive. It’s good. I like that they like our food.
But the barbecue, burgers, camp stew and long list of dessert delights that really put Ingram’s on the map didn’t arrive until 2019, a year after opening, as JoAnne explains. “When I met Mike when we were students in Troy, he was already barbecuing, cooking for his fraternity fundraisers,” she says. Then, throughout his other career, when the couple lived in Union Springs, he continued to volunteer his grilling skills. “Barbecuing to help fundraising groups has become a hobby for me,” says Mike.
Even though he had smoked tail and cooked big batches of camp stew for decades, JoAnne had to convince him to add the kitchen and open the restaurant at Ingram’s. “I really had to encourage him to do it,” she says. Today, they are both happy, as well as their loyal customers, that he listened. “The restaurant part was a runaway success,” says JoAnne. In 2020 they had to buy another grill and smoker to keep up with the BBQ demand.
It is not difficult to understand why. Almost everything on the menu is homemade, including the deity, key lime pie, red velvet cake and hummingbird cake made by baker Dawn Davis. Sides, like light and fluffy potato salad (almost like whipped potatoes), with just the right crunch of small-diced pickles, are recipes from Joan’s family. And the main attractions – the barbecue and the camp stew – are prepared by Mike with the same ingredients and methods he has used for years.
His pork butts (which, when cooked, are chopped, not pulled) are bathed in a fine, seasoned liquid he calls “JuJu sauce” before being wrapped in foil and cooked for a few hours on local oak and hickory smoke. They are then uncovered and cooked for a few more hours. “It’s a bit unorthodox to cover it for a while, but people like the result,” says Mike. Turkey breasts are smoked for six hours and St. Louis style ribs are smoked for just over four hours. Beef brisket, with a top smoke ring, and favorites like Conecuh sausage are also on the menu. Mike’s barbecue sauce is a vinegar-based concoction created by his father.
In addition to its savory specialties, Ingram’s also offers a variety of ice creams. (Jennifer Kornegay/Alabama Living)
The smoked turkey breast at Ingram’s is moist and flavorful. (Jennifer Kornegay/Alabama Living)
JoAnne and Mike Ingram, far right, praise the Ingram team for always giving a warm welcome to every guest and every diner. (Jennifer Kornegay/Alabama Living)
Barbecue nachos, served with chicken, beef or pork, are among the best sellers. (Jennifer Kornegay/Alabama Living)
Every ounce of meat is tender and flavorful, even without the sauce. Barbecue nachos — tortilla chips smothered in a creamy, spicy sauce, topped with your choice of barbecue beef, chicken, or pork, sprinkled with pickled jalapenos and then sprinkled with shredded cheese — are hugely popular. The same goes for the Big Mike Burger, a three-quarter pound beast of a beef patty that’s smoked for an hour before being slipped between a bun.
The camp stew is so popular that Mike makes it in 80-pint batches. Ingram’s sells 120 to 140 pints every week. And for people on the go, barbecue, camp stew and sides are available in large quantities to go.
Although not a certainty in the original plan, food is now a staple of Ingram’s business. The produce and plants are seasonal, but people come all year round for a great meal served by friendly people. “We cook here as if we were cooking for our own family,” says JoAnne. “And we often hear, ‘I haven’t had anything here that’s not good.’ That’s a big compliment.
The warm welcome also attracts rave reviews and repeat customers. “We have a lot of regulars, and it’s created a real community spirit here,” says JoAnne. The couple credit their staff for hospitality, praising their consistently good attitude. “We have great people,” says Mike. “We all greet every customer who walks through the door, and people love that personal attention. I think that built our business as much as anything else. That and Mike’s careful scrutiny of the details. “I see almost every piece of meat that goes in and out of here,” he says.
So far, the love they put into the business is being returned. According to JoAnne, it’s a real pick-up on longer days. “We are tired, but not a day goes by without at least one person telling us that they appreciate our presence here,” she said. “It gives your gait a boost.”
This story originally appeared in Alabama Living magazine.
Ingram Farmer’s Market and Garden Center
3740 Magnolia Drive
Millbrook, Alabama 36054
Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday until Mother’s Day
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