In the previous chapter, I explained that the four of us went off on a middle Georgia jaunt to get away from the snow and ice in Atlanta. The road to Thomaston’s Piggie Park, our destination, took us right through Zebulon, a sleepy little community about sixteen miles north of where we were going. We had been through Zebulon once before, last summer. When we went down to Warm Springs back in July to eat at the Bulloch House, we came back this way to visit A Novel Experience, a shop which I had seen listed on Huffington Post as one of America’s best bookstores. I don’t remember whether I actually noticed the Oink Joint at that time or if I heard about it shortly afterward and recalled it as another reason to go back to Zebulon, but it’s in an ideal location just a stone’s throw from the book shop.
While I understand that some of my readers might not be particularly interested in bookstores, I’ve always thought that they are terrific places to spend your time, especially while on eating tours and waiting for a meal to settle. It helps when the store in question is one as simply wonderful as A Novel Experience, which, flatly, is a superior store to any in Atlanta. Certainly, we have a couple of pretty darn good ones – A Capella Books in Little Five Points is probably the best – but the atmosphere of peace and simplicity, backed up by a fantastic selection of very well-chosen new titles and a surprising number of used books that I actually wanted to get around to reading anyway, makes A Novel Experience an absolutely wonderful destination for book lovers. To be fair, you probably won’t find the sort of wild, unexpected treasures of a really old store, packed densely with antiquarian weirdness, but for a good break from the world in the company of a really well-thought and sensibly planned bookstore with an awesome, friendly staff, the quiet little town of Zebulon is definitely worth a drive.
Plus, there’s a pretty darn good barbecue joint just a block or so away, and Zebulon is still so sleepy that they don’t charge for parking. Good for them; it gives you plenty of time to enjoy a good bookstore and then have a fine meal. Or vice versa, whatever you need.
The Oink Joint is one of the newer barbecue restaurants in the state, only opening early in 2010, but its owners, Craig and Deeanna Cardell, have been cooking on the festival circuit for a few years. Their space is pretty tiny, but decorated with several trophies and medals from their outings at several southeastern barbecue cookoffs like the Lake Oconee Barbecue & Blues Festival, where the Cardells took grand champion in 2009. I believe that, prior to opening the store, they competed under the name Right Stuff BBQ.
They have a small space, and it fills quickly. We arrived just as the lunch rush was ending and there was a small logjam at the door as people tried to fill out past my impatient and manner-free children. Everybody else’s kids do that, right? It’s not just mine? Please say yes. Anyway, once we wrestled them back and let everybody inside exit, my daughter decided that she wanted some ice cream instead of another meal, and my son passed on barbecue and had a big grilled cheese sandwich. So Marie and I each got a pulled pork sandwich. She got Brunswick stew as a side and I ordered baked beans, The pork here is pulled and extremely moist. They have two sauces, both of which were very tasty.
Now, even trying to share food and think in terms of sensible portions, we still had enjoyed a fair amount of barbecue between our two stops in Pike and Upson Counties. Nevertheless, I was – somehow – still a little bit peckish after my sandwich, and very curious to try something unusual on the menu. Oink Joint offers smaller portions of their pork, chicken and beef brisket in taco form, and one of these really struck my eye. A kogi taco mixes pulled pork with diced “fire and ice” cucumbers and a Korean barbecue sauce. This was so unusual and tasty that I found myself wishing I had just had one of these instead of the sandwich, which was pretty good on its own. The next time we feel like coming to Zebulon, I think two tacos and a side of stew would be exactly what’s needed.
Of course, the down side to trying the taco was that now I really was full, and we had one more stop on the road, back inside the Atlanta perimeter in College Park. Could this family stuff any more food before popping? Stay tuned.