Here’s a curious turn of events. Earlier this month, I intended to stop by some barbecue place, forgot what it was, and settled for something else instead. In the end, it really didn’t matter – if it’s a place that we’ve never been, then I want to visit, simple as that – but there’s the downside of being scatterbrained and having too many facts to store in your skull. The place that I had originally wanted to stop was Cabin Creek in Nicholson, but that’ll have to wait until the next time. This visit saw us stopping by Big Oak, just outside of Commerce.
In the 1990s, when I lived in Athens, Commerce – or, more accurately, Banks Crossing – was the home of two large outlet malls on the southeast side of I-85. Tanger then built another one on the other side of the interstate that’s so big that you can see it from space. For a short few years, all three thrived and brought in the tour buses, but something really odd has been happening the last few years. All of the places within the older malls where I used to shop – not just the silly stores like Toy Liquidators, but clothing stores like Geoffrey Beene and London Fog – and dozens more besides have all gone. Even the giant Old Time Pottery home store has shuttered, leaving more than a dozen empty storefronts facing its crumbling building. This blight has given space for a fairly good used bookstore to set up shop, but also a long line of consignment shops and tattoo parlors. Meanwhile, the Tanger mall is bright and shiny and home to countless national chains. What used to be three malls working in tandem is now one mall and two eyesores.
Big Oak is fewer than ten minutes from the eyesore side of the highway. My daughter and I changed the baby and shopped at the used bookstore and made our way out here to find some classic northeast Georgia style barbecue.
Eddie Royston opened Big Oak in 2004. He smokes hams for seven hours and the result is a meal very much like the excellent restaurants in the surrounding area. The chopped pork is dry and mildly smoky, and tastes pleasant and light, but it really cries out for sauces. The taste of the meat is very similar to what you get at the nearby Bar-H, and also Bar-B-Q Shack, among others. There are two sauces, mild and hot versions of a not-too-thick tomato and vinegar mix; the hot version is enhanced by Red Rooster.
The slaw is mayo-based and serviceable if not extraordinary, and the stew is completely terrific. Again, it is similar to what I expect from the region, a thick blend of tomatoes, meat and corn with the consistency, if not the recipe, of Carolina hash. All in all, it was incredibly tasty and exactly the sort of meal that I expect when driving around land like this, and a terrific stop just a few minutes off the interstate. Curiously, it makes me even more interested to go back and try Cabin Creek soon, as I understand that place is really not quite like others in the region.
Happily, our trip to the outlet mall – the good one, I mean – was such a success and so completely unlike the previous month’s exasperating visit to the one in Dawsonville that I’m tempted to give the girlchild another day trip up here before long. She shopped well, didn’t have any freakouts, and didn’t break the bank. Plus, the toddler got to sit in the seat of a racing video game and pretend to steer it, so everybody left happy.
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!