The only really disagreeable part of this hobby is noting when a restaurant that we’ve visited has closed. It’s especially irritating when it’s a place that we never really gave a fair chance. Many years ago (mid-nineties, I guess), I decided that Bill’s Bar-B-Q in Hull, just north of Athens, wasn’t quite as thrilling as Zeb’s, about twenty miles up the road. Over time, this deteriorated in my dingbat head into thinking it wasn’t all that good. We revisited the place in 2011, and I was half-aggravated about how I gave them a shorter shrift than they deserved, and half-thrilled by how good it was.
Tommy Patterson and his half-brothers, Bob and Bill Lance, opened the restaurant in September 1983. Bill later passed away, and the restaurant closed when Tommy and Bob chose to retire at the end of 2013.
But a few months ago, Hillary Brown at Flagpole reported an amazing development. Bob and Tommy’s nephew John Means and his wife Charmaine have reopened Bill’s. Charmaine told me that she and her husband retired from the US Army a couple of years ago and were looking for a new challenge. So, armed with Bill’s recipes for hash and mull, and with Bob and Tommy frequently stopping by to look in on the kitchen, Bill’s reopened two months ago.
The chopped pork is very good indeed, and so’s the hash. This is the best chicken mull I’ve ever had. Chicken mull had a very brief flurry in the regional spotlight in the last year. Robert Moss and Zagat both had stories about it recently. Hot Thomas’s mull is all right, and Butt Hutt’s is excellent, but Bill’s is my favorite. A little dash of pepper and it’s flawless. And as for the pork, shake up the hot vinegar-based sauce – it’s a kissing cousin to the sort you find in eastern North Carolina, particularly reminiscent of the great stuff at Jack Cobb & Son – and soak a few bites at a time and you’re in for a very special plate of barbecue.
Jack Davis’s caricature of Bob Lance is still on the wall, and the crowds came back strong to welcome back this old community favorite on its third Saturday evening back in business. The place was really packed. We had a great time, and a very, very good supper. Bill’s had a thirty-year run before its first closure. I really hope it’s with us for at least thirty more.
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!