Regular readers may know that I have a lot of interest in great barbecue regions and cities, despite the unfortunately large number of them I’ve yet to visit. I think Memphis deserves just about every word of praise that it’s received; it’s home to two of my ten favorite barbecue restaurants, which are my favorite two in all of Tennessee so far. I’ve spent a lot less time in Lexington NC, but the three joints that I have visited there are each fantastic.
I honestly think that Athens deserves to be considered in the same company as the south’s great barbecue towns, with – wait for it – with the caveat that you need to stretch the limits to include some smaller towns in the greater Athens metro area, rather than just Clarke County proper. With no disrespect to any of the great cities you think of for good barbecue, I’d put Athens in their company on the strength of six places: Zeb’s, Bill’s, Bar-Q-Que Shack, Hot Thomas, Paul’s, and Butt Hutt. Don’t believe me? Well, you are cordially invited to come to the Classic City for a weekend and spend your money proving me wrong.
Fox Sports South was one outfit that found the Butt Hutt particularly impressive. In the fall of 2012, they did a little competition to find the “best” barbecue in SEC cities, a challenge I can totally get behind, and from a final field of five that included some heavyweights like Starkville MS’s Little Dooey and Columbia SC’s Little Pigs, the Butt Hutt was their favorite. Get yourself a plate with stew and chicken mull and it’s a contender for anybody’s list.
When I last wrote about Butt Hutt, they were located on Baxter Street in a very small space set to the side of a convenience store, nowhere large enough to handle the lunch crowds. Since then, they have moved, quite successfully it would appear, to a much bigger building on Macon Highway.
For many years, this space had been the home of Parsons Restaurant, an almost legendary local joint that served meat-and-three meals for more than five decades. After it closed in 2010, the location was taken by Jot Em Down, a barbecue place that, in its first space on Whitehall, Marie and I had loved for years. During our long-distance dating days, we made goo-goo eyes at each other over plates of Jot Em Down’s pork a few times. I’ve often wondered why Jot Em Down failed in the Parsons space while Butt Hutt has thrived, and I think that one reason must be that none of Jot Em Down’s guests actually wanted them to move from that lovely and atmospheric space on Whitehall, while everybody who had ever eaten at Butt Hutt on Baxter was urging them to find larger quarters.
We were in Athens with our son for what will probably be the last time for the foreseeable future, visiting a few places and people in anticipation of moving away from Georgia. We spent some money at Bizarro Wuxtry and stopped into the company where Marie and I met, and where she continued to work for many years after I moved away, walked around a few blocks of downtown Athens to point out all the businesses that have closed to our son, and had a couple of tacos from the Stand. We didn’t quite make it a “farewell tour,” because I’m sure we’ll come back one day, and we wanted to try some new-to-us places. But we needed to have some barbecue, and it had been a long time since we’d had the Butt Hutt’s awesome mull and stew. The pork is absolutely wonderful, too, really smoky and, matched with some hot tomato-based sauce, it was a terrific treat.
Are you planning a barbecue road trip? You can see all the barbecue restaurants that we have visited for our blog (more than 370 !) on this map, with links back to the original blog posts!