The meals that we had at the first two stops on our little I-20 barbecue tour were each pretty good, but they were left in the dust by the barbecue at Bilbo’s. We really enjoyed this stop, even if I did have to look over my shoulder and give the salad bar a raised eyebrow.
See, there are some people in this hobby who question the North Carolina habit of offering fried shrimp on their menus, and some who wonder why Texans smoke sausage, and I even once watched the owner of a very good restaurant in South Carolina question the need for a barbecue place to serve breakfast. Everybody’s got an opinion and while I would like to think that I’m open-minded, I think that salad bars must be my barbecue hangup. I have never once sat down to a plate of pulled pork and thought that what I really needed on the side was some iceberg lettuce.
We arrived about two on a Saturday and Bilbo’s was very busy. The restaurant has a really huge local following, and they’ve had years to build it up. Bilbo’s opened in this location in 1984, taking over the space that was previously home to another barbecue joint called Brown’s. But Bilbo’s history actually stretches back to the 1960s in a fashion. The staffer with whom I spoke was not entirely clear which family member had opened it, but “an uncle” had owned a barbecue and steak place a little closer to Atlanta, on US-78 near Thornton Road, called Bilbo’s Big Horn Ranch. There’s an advertising page for it hanging in the front foyer.
Perhaps reflecting that history of barbecue and steak, Bilbo’s has a pretty unusual dish here: smoked prime rib. They only do this on weekend evenings, so the window’s pretty small, but it’s incredibly popular.
As for the chopped pork, this was quite good, with a strong flavor of smoke and it just had a nice, moist feel. The sauce, not that it really needed any, is a thinner tomato-vinegar blend, but it is not quite as thin as the Hudson/Wallace style that I was on the lookout for. I thought the stew was excellent, and this was certainly the best of the first three stops on this trip. On the other hand, Marie was not really taken with her cobbler, and I should have ordered the fries instead of the slaw, which was just okay. Our son had a corn dog and these came with some awesome hand-cut fries, greasy and floppy, like you often see west of Atlanta.
Overall, this wasn’t a bad stop at all. I’m happy to give a big thumbs-up to anybody who’s been doing it right for thirty-two years to large, appreciative crowds, even if they don’t get much in the way of hobbyist attention. As mentioned a couple of stories ago, this was one of the places that I had selected a couple of months before our visit, and which Burgers, Barbecue and Everything Else went to try ahead of me. Don’t let us be the only ones. Barbecue writers, west Georgia’s waiting.
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!