Back in March, we paid our respects to an aging legend. Once upon a time, the Old Hickory House was an iconic Atlanta-area chain, with more than a dozen locations around the city. There were also stores in Athens, Augusta, Chattanooga, and Charlotte, and at least one in Florida. Chopped Onion says that it was in Tallahassee, but I have a distant memory that it was more than just that one. At its peak, the chain reached at least eighteen stores, and possibly as many as 23. Two years ago, Tomorrow’s News Today provided what’s probably the most in-depth rundown of all the known stores that anybody has compiled so far. (Honestly, if you’re able to expand on that list, please do so!)
The Old Hickory House’s popularized what I call the flavor of classic Atlanta barbecue. While tastes, techniques, and flavors have shifted over time, you still see this mild, smoky, dry, finely-chopped pork at several older places, and at restaurants that followed in the Old Hickory House’s footprints. Most obviously you can sample this at JR’s Log House in Duluth, but also at Old South in Smyrna, and JD’s in Woodstock and Acworth.
But time hasn’t been kind to the old chain. We visited the Dunwoody store in the earliest days of our blog and found it creaky and aging. At the time, it was one of only three left. It shut down in 2014, and Charlotte followed it into restaurant heaven last year. The only place left to “put some South in your mouth” is the store on Northlake Parkway in Tucker. Our friends Adam and Emily from Spatialdrift met us for supper one Saturday evening, and we had a pretty good meal. The restaurant certainly feels its age and attracts an older crowd than, say, Fox Brothers, but the food is good and the servers and staff, many of whom have worked here for decades, care about their customers.
I splurged and ordered the feast platter, which allows guests to sample chopped pork, sliced beef, and ribs, along with two sides. I have a nostalgic love for the steak fries, which I always had when I was a kid and my family would go to the Old Hickory House that used to be on Cobb Parkway just outside the perimeter. (It was in that strip where Jade Palace and Swapna stand today, though there’s some debate about which building it was.) The Brunswick stew here is fantastic, but the meats were a little tame and unexciting. The house sauce is a very sweet ketchup-based variety. It may have a little vinegar in it, but it tastes like it has more Karo syrup than that. It’s a sauce unlike most you find these days.
It’s one of the very few places left in Atlanta where the meats are smoked in an indoor fireplace, and I appreciate them allowing me behind the counter to see the operation. Most of the pics that I snapped were pretty awful, but this one’s okay, I guess.
Amusingly, Old Hickory House might not be best known for its twentyish locations or its old TV commercials, but as the site where Jackie Gleason ordered a “Diablo sandwich and a Dr. Pepper” in the film Smokey & the Bandit. That scene was filmed in the long-shuttered Forest Park location, and one of that film’s fans put together an astonishing bit of detective work about it on the Roadfood.com forums, even identifying the brand of hot sauce that the restaurant was using in 1977!
For years, this remaining location has been in a crumbling area, but there’s a little life coming to its corner. There’s a new strip mall being constructed across the street, and the long-vacant Steak & Ale building nearby – almost certainly the last of those Tudor-styled buildings in the Atlanta area, though it closed many years ago – has also been targeted for redevelopment. I hope that Old Hickory House will find favor with its new neighbors as business comes back to this corridor. It’s not great, but it’s nice to know that a fifty-some year-old barbecue place is still around in a city where everything closes too quickly.
Other blog posts about Old Hickory House (Tucker location):
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