Wow, it has been more than a month since our last first-time visit to a barbecue place. We’ve been eating well, obviously, but we’ve also been returning to some old favorites more than we have been exploring. Case in point: just two days before we stopped into the second Georgia location of Smok’n Pig Bar-B-Que, we had supper at Southern Soul on St. Simons Island, one of the all-time best, in our book.
On our way back from the island, we scheduled an early dinner in Macon, all the better to avoid the Atlanta evening rush hour. Our pal Rex was able to join us, and he recommended that we give Smok’n Pig a try. I remember hearing that they’d opened in town. The original store, in Valdosta, is a big tourist outfit, ready to serve three hundred or so guests at a time. Dustin, of the damnably defunct Georgia Barbecue Hunt, stopped by the Valdosta store four years ago. The Macon location is similarly built for volume, with a pair of Southern Prides fired up and smoking throughout the day. The owners also run eight Ole Times Country Buffet restaurants in south and middle Georgia, plus one in Lake City, so they know how to feed enormous crowds.
This store opened in the front of the Macon Mall, which is bizarrely stuck between “outright dead” and “very slowly and very deliberately rebuilding.” If you’ve seen how some Atlanta-area malls, like Cumberland and Perimeter, revitalized themselves with large chain restaurants facing the main street, then Smok’n Pig is doing the same here, but with parts of the mall demolished and lots of stores waiting for refreshes. The far side of the mall is anchored by one of the “JCP” JC Penney stores, and since that rebranding went over so badly, it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence that there’s going to be a mall behind the restaurant at all.
Rex always has nice ideas for us to try when we are in town. Smok’n Pig Bar-B-Que is enjoyable, and for those travelers who don’t care for or appreciate the middle Georgia smoked-in-the-sauce tradition (particularly those of you in the Tallahassee FL area), it’s a good alternative to the many barbecue places in Bibb and Houston Counties that do it the local way. The chopped pork here is served dry, and platters come with two sides and a salad bar. I remain unconvinced of the need for a salad bar with barbecue.
There are six sauces on the table, and one of them, called “Original,” is a lot like what I’d expect a restaurant in this region to not only offer, but keep the meat simmering in on a steam table or in a fire pit. That is, it’s a mustard-tomato-vinegar blend, the sort of thing that the Fincher’s family first concocted eighty-odd years ago, and which has dominated the middle Georgia barbecue scene ever since.
The overall impression of the chopped pork and the ribs is that this is pretty good, although not outstanding. There’s nothing wrong with it, but there are certainly places in town that I would rather revisit. On the walls and the menu, there’s a boast that they are “Top 10 in the Country,” but no explanation of who made that claim, out of how many nominees. That said, the Brunswick stew is a real highlight. It is fabulous, and if it is not quite as amazing as Fincher’s recipe, it’s still really close.
Inside the mall and next to the entrance, there is an almost comedically long row of rocking chairs for people to wait when this place, even with its cavernous interior and hundreds of seats, gets full, usually on Sunday afternoons. I figure that if you must wait for such good Brunswick stew, then the least that they could do is offer you a seat. I’m sure that locals and tourists alike appreciate it!
Are you planning a barbecue road trip? You can see all the barbecue restaurants that we have visited for our blog (more than 330 !) on this map, with links back to the original blog posts!