Hawg Wild BBQ & Catfish House, Clarkesville GA

Suddenly, as the Flaming Lips once put it, everything has changed.

We got back from the coast with a slightly depleted bank balance, so we ate at home for a week. The following Saturday, we drove up to Tallulah Falls. The gorge, where we enjoy a couple of hours hiking, is one of my favorite places in the world, and an absolutely perfect getaway. Over the course of our visits, we’ve discovered a favorite roadside market and some good barbecue in the nearby town of Clayton, but this time, I wanted to find something new.

I could go on at great length here, and perhaps the next trip up, I will. One of the goals here is to tell entertaining stories about how a life traveling and eating well is a life well spent, not just give you something that resembles restaurant reviews. These entries should be chapters, not critiques, and as such I hope I run into more chapters like this one, where details about a restaurant are not as important as sparking something different. At this time, though, Tallulah, Clayton, Dillard and the beautiful hills between them will simply have to wait.

I found this place in Clarkesville. It has changed everything.

Intuitively, I know that I must have read somebody, somewhere, yammering on about how North Carolina barbecue sauces tend to be vinegar-based, and South Carolina sauces tend to be mustard-based – those parts I know, and well – and how Alabama barbecue sauces are mayonnaise-based. That bit doesn’t make any sense, firstly because I’ve eaten at something like four or five Alabama cue joints and never seen any white mayo sauce anywhere, that Marietta’s Williamson Brothers are from Alabama and they don’t use white sauce, and mayo is disgusting and I hate the taste of it and can’t imagine anything nastier to put on chopped pork. There’s a single synapse in the back of my mind trying to fire, telling me I read that somewhere and dismissed it as equally impossible and stupid, sort of like reading about a community in the Ozarks where they specialize in barbecued unicorn.

Anyway, so I mentioned it to Neal last night and he confirmed he saw it on the Food Network, and that jives with what a little research I did on the old Google once I got home turned up. There’s a fellow called Big Bob Gibson up in the middle-of-nowhere town of Decatur who claims the definitive recipe, and he was on the Paula Deen show once talking it up. That doesn’t explain why anybody, anywhere, would do something so ridiculous as putting mayo on barbecue.

I found Hawg Wild BBQ online and thought we might enjoy a little side trip off US 23, especially to a place that also has a fudge shop. We meandered over there a little after 1.30, and it was still sort of busy for the end of the lunch period. As many larger barbecue restaurants in Georgia do, Hawg Wild tries to accommodate its guests by offering a pretty wide range of styles and sauces, rather than focusing on a single specialty. That’s why Georgia barbecue, as a whole, lingers far behind its neighbors in coming up with its own traditions. Hawg Wild offers six different sauces, and the servers bring a basket of hush puppies to the table as they do in North Carolina. On the other hand, the stew, a thick, dark brew, is nothing like North Carolina hash.

So we had placed our orders and I was enjoying a hush puppy when I started considering that strange white sauce in front of me. Marie and I always like to try a little bit of each sauce until we find the one we like best at the moment, but I was so darn curious about that white sauce that I didn’t want to wait. I poured some out and sopped it up with my hush puppy. It was amazing. I had to have that on my pork, immediately. It’s a good thing they brought the lunch out quickly before I had to hurt someone.

I don’t know Hawg Wild’s recipe, but Big Bob Gibson doesn’t make a secret of his. It’s a mix of mayo, vinegar, water, sugar, lemon juice, horseradish, salt and two kinds of pepper. It’s amazing. I don’t know how it is possible that I like this better than all the tomato-based sauces I’ve tried over the years, all the vinegar-based, all the mustard-based, but I swear I do. It’s not heavy like mayonnaise, but very thin and with a perfect balance of pepper to bring out the pork’s flavor with just the right kick.

I decided almost instantly that I need to try this stuff in its native habitat. Decatur, as I mentioned, is in the middle of nowhere, and an awfully long trip to make with nothing on the agenda but a single meal. But I haven’t been to Birmingham in many years and there’s a nice park to walk and a really great spectacle of a used bookstore on 3rd Avenue which I think Marie will love, and a little shack not far off I-459 which is said to have a terrific white sauce which is demanding my attention. So we’ll be heading out there next week, with my considerable compliments to Hawg Wild for a quite good lunch, but more importantly for introducing me to something I love so much as this white sauce.

Other blog posts about Hawg Wild:

Buster’s Blogs (July 24 2009)

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