If there’s one thing that I enjoy almost as much as eating all the terrific barbecue around Georgia, it’s reading about it!
Last month, I went to Atlanta after work for a concert (Bryan Ferry, on his “I’m Not Playing Anything I’ve Written in the Last Three Decades” tour), and didn’t have time to enjoy any barbecue anywhere. That started me thinking. What if I was headed to Columbus, or Macon, for a show? Where could I eat, given a little more time? I was already indulging a little for this treat (but not egregiously so; the mad money from my share of the tax refund didn’t extend as far as a hotel room!), so why not daydream?
That led me to think about some favorite places I visited not long ago, and some we went to many years back, places that people outside Georgia may not know. Most people making a super-quick trip to one of Georgia’s cities may not have the time to find someplace out of the way, relying instead on the restaurants with the best reviews or the most stories in blogs and YelpAdvisor best-of lists. I wanted to spotlight a few good places that do not tend to make those lists, which would benefit from a few more column inches.
One quick note before we begin: this is deliberately a list of lesser-known joints, not the heavy-hitters that command everybody’s attention and press. Early last year, I was doing some freelance editing for a website, and commissioned my friend Tommy from the Barbecue Bros to write a story about underrated barbecue restaurants in North Carolina. Don’t worry about a link, because for some oddball reason the site killed the comments on its features, but before they went away, they proved to be a hilarious test case in not reading either the title or the text of the story. “What about Parker’s?” they whined. “Stamey’s!” they moaned. “How could you leave off Lexington # 1?” they asked, because apparently these people are from a planet where these amazing places, known to anybody with a passing interest in food, were in any way “underrated.”
I am hoping we won’t have a repeat here.
Andy’s BBQ, Eatonton GA
Andy’s remains one of the most wonderful surprises I’ve ever had on a road trip. I didn’t even know this place existed when I saw it, but it’s been around for years. The flavor of the chopped pork and the taste of the vinegar-pepper sauce is uncannily similar to the celebrated Allen & Son in North Carolina, a place everybody in this hobby knows. Andy’s, quietly keeping to itself on the outskirts of Eatonton next to the family’s wrecker service, was an eye-popping treat, the kind of restaurant all us loudmouth bloggers dream of stumbling upon.
Chester’s Barbeque, Columbus GA
I’d driven past this tiny little takeout place on Veterans Parkway for years before I finally stopped for a really good sandwich, dressed with the mustard-based sauce common to the Columbus area. I certainly didn’t do it justice, and I came on what seemed to be a really tough day for the kitchen, so I’d love to go back one day and learn more about the restaurant’s history, ideally when everybody’s having an easier time of things. Absent that, I’d be more than happy to read somebody else’s lengthy report.
Cleve Edmunds’ Bar-B-Que, Augusta GA
The late Cleve Edmunds opened his first location in South Carolina in 1966 and moved to Augusta a decade later, selling his father’s old recipes for barbecue, hash over rice, and Midlands-style mustard-based sauces. He mixed up a tomato-based sauce to meet the local demand and has continued to be one of the region’s most popular local places ever since. Despite its size, the Augusta area never gets too much attention from food writers (guilty), and this restaurant lives in the shadow of the equally old and celebrated Sconyers, but it’s definitely worth a visit on its own.
Heavy’s Bar-B-Q, Crawfordville GA
We visited Heavy’s on the same trip that we stopped into Cleve Edmunds’ place, but Heavy’s is one I’d heard about for many, many years. I truly regret waiting so long to try it. They serve heaping piles of excellent, tasty chopped pork here, with a fabulous vinegar-tomato sauce and a thick Brunswick stew. Perfect northeast Georgia barbecue just a couple of minutes off I-20 make this a very sensible destination for anybody in the Atlanta area who wants to try Athens-area ‘cue, but thinks that all those lonesome highways around the Classic City might be a bit too confusing.
Joe-Bear’s and Sons Bar-B-Que, Macon GA
Fair’s fair: I’ve had better ribs in Tennessee and Alabama. But I’ve never had better ribs in the state of Georgia than in this surprising little no-frills eatery in a beat-up corner of Macon. Their chopped pork is similar to most in the region, and is kept simmering in the central Georgia mustard-vinegar sauce. But the ribs are cooked perfectly and can be served dry, with a fabulous smoky taste and great pull. I’ve only been here a couple of times, and I’d like to stop again one day.
Kelly’s BBQ, Walnut Grove GA
I let this place slip off my radar despite it being not too far away, in Atlanta’s eastern suburbs out near Covington, and not too far a drive, as these things go. Other than a listing on roadfood.com that originally sent us to visit this restaurant in 2010, I’m not aware of any media mentions for this cute, small place at an old crossroads. More people should give this forty-some year-old place a try. The chopped pork, which comes with a healthy ladle of the thin tomato-vinegar sauce, was quite tasty.
Mustard Seed BBQ, Fairburn GA
I only had lunch at Mustard Seed once, and that was at its old location on Atlanta’s Metropolitan Parkway. They’ve since moved south of the city limits to the suburb of Fairburn, where I hope they’re selling their wonderful meaty and peppery ribs and bright yellow mustard sauce to huge crowds. Somebody needs to head that way and file a new story about it for me to read.
Owens Bar-B-Que, Tallapoosa GA
Admittedly the dark horse of the ten, I confess that I was not wild about our visit to Owens, but there’s an interesting story here. The Owens family has owned several barbecue restaurants in towns throughout western Georgia, including a long-closed place close to I-20 called Owens’ Big O, and one in Cedartown that they sold to Lively’s in 2011. The chopped pork here is the simmered-in-sauce variety that you see in a few places in northwestern Georgia. Unlike the mustard-vinegar that you often see in middle Georgia places that cook in the sauce, this, like a few others in this region, is tomato-based. Anybody interested in studying the different barbecue subcultures and styles of Georgia should think about a stop here.
Redd’s Que & Stew, Jefferson GA
I found this place along a dense tree-lined two-lane blacktop and the name appealed to me. You don’t often see restaurants calling themselves by the name of a side, do you? The chopped pork here is quite good, but the stew is terrific. It’s a thick and flavorful blend of beef, chicken, pork, tomatoes, corn, and onions, and it’s on my short list of the best ten or so stews in the state.
Scott & BJ’s Bar-B-Q, Athens GA
Finally, there’s this terrific place in Athens that serves up very good, smoky chopped pork, and an absolutely killer hash. Mix that up with some of their rocket fuel hot sauce and you won’t soon forget it. Scott’s has a long lineage that dates back to its days as Carither’s, a joint that ABC’s Keith Jackson once called the best in the nation. I wouldn’t go quite that far myself, but it’s absolutely worth a visit. And while you’re in Athens, visit one of the several barbecue places around town that will serve you a side of chicken mull with your chopped pork, chicken, or ribs.
Well, if that doesn’t make you want to explore and eat, I don’t know what will. Georgia’s so full of underrated and under-the-radar barbecue places that this story could easily have been three times as long, and somebody could just as easily assemble a story about ten great places that I haven’t visited yet. Who’s game for it?
You can see all the restaurants that we have visited for our blog on this map, with links back to the original blog posts. It’s a terrific resource for anybody planning a road trip through the southeast!