Twin Oaks, Brunswick GA

Brunswick reminds me of Columbus in the late 1990s. There’s life to be seen, and people who want their city to shine, but there’s some kind of kick in the pants needed to get the local economy moving. In the case of Columbus, that was the twin engines of an uptown that embraced several bars, coffee shops, and boutique stores that catered to the younger people of the city, and then Columbus State University deciding to invest heavily in building some dormitories on top of the growing noise, giving constant turnover of people to frequent the businesses on their block. Last we heard, some busybodies in Muscogee County had been griping that Young People Trying to Study don’t need the temptation of the demon drink, but I don’t think they’ve got far. I have it on good authority that the Uptown Tap on Broadway does a wild amount of business on Monday evenings.

Brunswick… well, it has a ways to go. For all the time we’ve been going to visit Marie’s family, we had still seen extremely little of the city. We’ve seen enough for my daughter and me to embrace a deeply silly and very inaccurate recurring joke about every street in town being called Altama. This joke has, to hear Marie tell it, become very, very tedious. Marie showed me the downtown once. Night had fallen, she drove me through it and said “Now you’ve seen it.”

Our daughter had seen a little more of it than me; last October, while I was in – coincidentally enough – Columbus, she and Marie visited Fox’s Pizza Den on Newcastle Street. On our most recent trip, we parked in front of Fox’s and walked down to the Glynn County Library to let the baby run around, read, enjoy a little air conditioning, and to let me figure out where else we should eat on this visit. I had half a mind to make another trip to Willie’s Wee-Nee Wagon, which, no kidding, is on Altama, for a pork chop sandwich and a bucket of tea, but I wondered whether I could find out what the oldest restaurant in the city was, and whether it was worth a visit. I learned that Twin Oaks (alternately called “Twin Oaks BBQ,” “Twin Oaks Drive-In” and “Twin Oaks Restaurant,” depending where you look) celebrated its 70th anniversary a few months ago. That impressed me enough to decide we’d go visit.

We gulped in one long, last inhalation of cool air and stepped back out into the merciless south Georgia July and found our way to Twin Oaks. Sadly, this is not an old-fashioned canopied drive-in, although I understand that a one-time business rival, The Pig & Whistle, had one in the 1950s. Twin Oaks still has curb service along one side of the building, and a terrific back wall of the property covered with billboards advertising local businesses. It did not occur to me for a few days, but I wonder whether, decades ago, that fence held menus and curb service was directed back there?

Twin Oaks was opened in 1943 by Maurice Zell, who started the menu of barbecue, burgers, and very peculiar fries. These aren’t simple frozen fries, or freshly hand-cut, but done up in a batter and served up a little chewy. I wouldn’t go so far to claim battered fries as a particular coastal Georgia specialty, but they’re downright odd and uncommon. Battered fries are also available, Marie reminds me, at the Crab Trap on Saint Simons. Does anybody know of any other places that serve them?

In 1943, my grandfather lived in Brunswick. He was among the thousands who moved his family here during the war to build battleships. My dad would have been four at the time. They stayed for two years, I believe. They could have eaten here.

Today, the restaurant is owned by Darlene and Dub Waters. It draws an older crowd, as older restaurants tend to do, but it’s wildly busy for lunch. The barbecue is smoked behind the building over oak, and served with either a sweet brown or a hotter brown sauce. It’s pretty good, but not really a knockout to my mind.

Interstate travelers who recall the Georgia Pig might find these flavors familiar. I thought this tasted quite similar to how the Georgia Pig tasted on my lone visit two years ago, but the service at Twin Oaks is something like a million times better than the grouchy crankiness for which the Georgia Pig was infamous. Between the small conversations that we had with both our server and with Dub, who was working the register and gave our toddler a Tootsie Pop when we left, these are awesome people who give 110%. You’ll be hard pressed to find better in Glynn County.

I’m honor-bound to point out, however, that three of the walls in the back dining room are papered with uninspired nostalgia photos of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, including that dreary poster of them sharing a milkshake. It’s actually accompanied by a variation on the theme, in which they are hanging out with Elvis and Humphrey Bogart in the desert! But never mind those, check out the fourth wall of that room. People have been gifting Twin Oaks with photos of themselves and hot rods from the 1950s and 1960s, resulting in a beautiful little museum of the people of the area, wanting to be remembered in a restaurant that’s meant a lot for so many people for so many years.

You can see all the 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 road trip through the southeast!


14 thoughts on “Twin Oaks, Brunswick GA

  1. This is a wonderful post, one of your best. I love how you weave so much history into your blog posts. It makes it so much more than just restaurant reviews.

  2. I enjoyed the write up. I would point out, however, that battleships weren’t what was built at Brunswick. They were building Liberty Ships which were freighters. The US was losing a lot of ships to the German U-boats, so we just decided to build more freighters than the Germans could build torpedoes, it worked! Just a minor nit. The Digital Library of Georgia has interesting materials on the J.A. Jones shipyard. Next time you are headed south on the big bridge, look to your right and you can still see the old dock areas.

    1. Thank you for the correction! Now that I think about it, I do remember my dad telling me that they were down there building liberty ships. We appreciate the feedback!

  3. I hope I didn’t come across as being overly pedantic. I have been fascinated with the whole Liberty Ship history. They were built in many locations on both coasts and I have found that there is a restored Liberty Ship in San Francisco harbor that offers dinner/music cruises. Thats on my bucket list for sure.
    And now, back to the ethereal topic of barbecue, I highly recommend Pulaski Heights barbecue here in gawd’s country. In my opinion its the best in Athens.

    1. Not at all! The best part of life is that what’s found in the details.

      I didn’t enjoy Pulaski Heights when I visited, but concede that’s more my fault than anything they did. I wouldn’t mind trying them again, but Athens is not on the immediate agenda.

    1. Art theory and criticism warning ahead:

      Indeed, there was lots to love in the 80s, not least The Cure’s amazing 1985 album “Head on the Door.” The point I was making in the other chapter, though, is that the best way to evoke a period – say, the 1950s – is by the use of actual 1950s décor and design, and not posters of Marilyn Monroe that were airbrushed decades after her death, and sold in Sam Goody poster racks next to the Miami Vice pin-ups. All art, even mass-produced art, reflects the time of its creation far stronger than the time that it depicts, and so artifacts and design from the period will evoke that period far, far better than nostalgia products do. Marilyn on the cover of Life says the 1950s. Marilyn sipping a chocolate shake at the malt shoppe with her date, James Dean, making goo-goo eyes at each other above the checkerboard floor, says “looking back at the 1950s.”

      Or, if you will, Happy Days was set in the 1950s, but The Fonz is firmly a creation of the mid-1970s.

      For a great example of doing an old-fashioned place right, come back tomorrow (the 30th) for a look at a period diner in north Georgia that looks absolutely like it was frozen in time.

      1. Have you ever seen Back to the Future II? The cafe’ 80s in that movie actually reflected the 80s. I really hope we have something like that in the future.

  4. We found another place that does battered fries in Glynn County. It’s the reasonably new Fireside Bar & Grill on the mainland, which set up in the former Mack’s / Right on Q building. We haven’t stopped there yet, but maybe next time.

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