My father, when he was still with us, was never a big fan of driving from Smyrna to Athens, but when he did come to see me when I lived there, he’d take the long way. This was when 316 only went as far as Dacula, and he hated the sprawl on the old Atlanta Highway. Everything between the mall and the dorms rubbed him the wrong way. So he sat down with a map after coming to see me once, and went home along Prince Avenue, taking GA-15 through Jefferson to the interstate. That way is ten miles longer, but it was worth it to him.
I hadn’t seen Jefferson in many, many years. The one time that I did feel like taking the long way and going to Athens that direction, about eight years ago, I was unaware that somebody built a new bypass, and skipped that lovely old downtown completely. I hadn’t seen Jefferson in so long that I’d forgotten how cute and charming it is. I hope that stupid bypass isn’t hurting business too badly.
I got the chance to swing through Jefferson again when I made a run up to Cabin Creek in Nicholson on the way to Athens, and Google Maps showed me that had I gone to Commerce first as I had planned, then I’d be taking the even longer way. The fastest way from Atlanta is to go to Jefferson and then use GA-335 to connect with US-441. This route, for barbecue travelers, not only will take you by three easily interstate-accessible joints in Braselton and Hoschton that we’ve covered (Jack’s Old South, John’s, and Stonewall’s), but once you get to Jefferson itself, you can also find two places we’ve yet to visit: Iron Pig, and Redd’s Que and Stew. Sounds like heaven in a day.
Cabin Creek has been on my agenda for quite some time, but I was spurred into action when Buster’s Blogs stopped by last month and mentioned that their chicken mull, which I very much wanted to try, is only a winter-months item. Marie and I were planning a long day by ourselves in Athens on the 30th, but she was called into work. Babysitting had been arranged and a book that I had special-ordered at Bizarro Wuxtry had arrived, so I went by myself.
I missed the mull by one week. The darn place considered its mull season closed on March 24. Just as well the stew was so good, I suppose.
Randy and Teresa Kesler opened Cabin Creek in 2008, using an adaptation of Randy’s grandfather’s stew recipe. I parked next to the smoker and shared a few words with the young man who was stacking wood, and learned that they smoke over cherry wood, and, in a move that is quite different from most of the other restaurants in the region, their pork is pulled and not chopped. I’ve mentioned in several previous chapters – most recently when I was just a few miles up the road at Big Oak in February – that northeast Georgia barbecue tends to be somewhat dry and chopped, calling out for sauce. I noted then that I had heard that Cabin Creek was quite unlike the regional standard.
What I do want to note here is that this is some of the best Brunswick stew that I have ever had. It is astonishing, incredibly rich and meaty and seasoned just perfectly. It is thick and red and will leave you melting into a happy and content puddle. If any of you good people are missing the legendary stew of Harold’s in Atlanta, this might make for a pretty good replacement in your affections. I consider it up there with Turn-Around and Speedi-Pig as worth considering among the best in Georgia.
Sadly, the pork on this visit was just not up to it. I have read good reports about Cabin Creek from reliable bloggers and critics and I guess that I came at a bad time. No, this was not at all like the regional standard; it was unbearably greasy. Perhaps they were experimenting with brine injections and got something wrong. There are three sauces on the table: mild and hot brown tomato-based, and a Lexington-style pink vinegar. Even after I had flattened the tasteless pulled pork with paper towels to sop up some of the grease, it was too limp, wet, and sticky for sauce.
Perhaps I can give Cabin Creek another try next winter. I’d like to sample their mull, and don’t let the preceding paragraph discourage you, dear reader, from going to taste that stew. It’s worth a hundred mile drive. I think, however, that on that next occasion, I’ll order the ribs.
Enjoy barbecue? You can see all the barbecue restaurants that we have visited for our blog on this map, with links back to the original blog posts. It’s terrific for anybody planning a barbecue road trip through the southeast!