It’s fair to say that I was not in the best mood that I’ve ever been on this trip to the Upstate and back. We were just getting ready to flex some legal muscle over some unpleasantness – since resolved, to about our 95% satisfaction – and Marie was about to go interview for a position in Ohio – stay tuned – and so I had some cobwebs and stress in my attic that needed a long drive and lots of barbecue to clear. And sometimes, you need the company of strangers more than friends. So when Matt phoned while I was in Clemson and invited me to swing back through Gainesville on my way home and get some barbecue with him, I was a little reluctant, because I knew that I wasn’t going to be good company, but I had been cheered up enough by Saturday morning’s drive to make my way his direction.
Matt and his wife Kelley live on the north side of Gainesville off the Old Cornelia Road, and the best way to get there from South Carolina is to take I-85 to just below those outlet malls near Commerce – I swear, one of those things must be visible from space – and go west through Maysville and Gillsville. I found their place with no trouble, and Matt drove over to this stand that he had found. Marie and I had actually seen this place a time or two ourselves. It’s on the property of the huge Jaemor Farm store between Lula and Alto, and it is a little walk-up window called Sweet House BBQ.
Jimmy Echols opened Jaemor in 1981. The “j-a-e” in the name comes from his initials, and the “m-o-r” from his wife’s. It is a big to-do year-round, with lots of tourists, travelers and locals coming by for fresh berries and apples and other treats, and legendarily good fried pies. In the fall, they have a cornfield maze and lots of other harvest-season attractions. As with Hillside Orchard Farms and Panorama Orchards, two of our favorites in north Georgia, there are jars of preserves and jellies as far as the eye can see, lots to sample, and an incredible stream of customers in lines that never seem to end.
The little Sweet House stand is like an oasis by comparison. They have a small menu of the expected standards at pretty good prices – a pork sandwich with stew and slaw runs $7 here – with canned drinks and bottled waters and a little picnic area to enjoy your meal and the scenery. The pork is smoked in a surprisingly small smoker over apple wood. Not too many places do this, but they should. As the rising cost of hickory has prompted several Georgia barbecue joints to either abandon it or mix it with different wood, oak seems the go-to choice, but there’s a definite flavor that you can taste from apple, and it gives the meat just enough of a sweet zing to be memorable. Neither the stew nor the slaw were all that remarkable, but this is very good meat, and quite moist and smoky. Sweet House is definitely worth a visit, whether you plan to shop at Jaemor or not.
I apologized to Matt for not being the best of company, and he understood. Maybe if those fried cheddar curds that I mentioned in the previous chapter had been edible, I’d have been in better spirits! We finished our meal and joined the crowds to shop a little inside Jaemor’s hangar-like interior. Matt bought a small basket of blackberries and a half-dozen fried pies to take home. I declined; I’d spent quite enough on the indulgence of this trip already, both in dollars and in calories, and was honestly ready to go home, turn up some music very loudly and pass out for several hours.
I do love taking road trips, but they’re not quite as wearying when Marie is with me. She’d return, briefly, the next day, only long enough to drop the baby with me and blow me a kiss before flying to Ohio. More about that in the next chapter.