As anybody traveling in southern Georgia knows, it’s difficult to find a good local place that’s open on Sundays. Last week, we found a fairly new place about ten minutes off the interstate that offers a very good Sunday brunch and a take on barbecue that has one eye on modern dining and one in the traditions of the region.
Since I last wrote back in June, we’ve been eating well and taking occasional trips, but mainly we’ve been going to familiar favorites. For example, we took a New Year’s trip to visit Marie’s family on Saint Simons Island and made sure we stopped in Macon on the way for Fincher’s, and had really good meals at Southern Soul, Barbara Jean’s, and Bubba Garcia’s while we were there.
We’d be returning on Sunday and I hadn’t planned a stop because I was mainly concerned about an early supper north of Atlanta, at the Sweet Tomatoes in Kennesaw. There isn’t a salad bar and soup option like it in Chattanooga, and we missed it. So Saturday evening, I started looking for lunch options. We’d been up and down these roads often enough to know that on Sundays, our options would be an interstate chain or a long detour. It looked like we could make Statesboro around 11.45. I knew that Vandy’s BBQ, which we’d visited once more than eight years ago, was closed on Sundays, but a promising new place had opened in the age since we were last in town.
Chef Seni Alabi-Isama opened The SmoQue Pit in 2017. It’s his third venture in Statesboro. One restaurant was destroyed by fire, another closed thanks to the machinations of an impatient investor. Atlanta Magazine did a story about Alabi-Isama that year; Kevin Gillespie and his wife had enjoyed a meal at one of those earlier ventures.
I liked what I heard and we liked the look of the menu. Marie decided that she’d try the Smoqued Hash, available on Sundays only, with pork served over potatoes, onions, and peppers, topped with two eggs (recommended over-easy). Since she’s always enjoyed pork stuffed potatoes more than I do, I figured that she’d go for this concoction and she really liked it.
Our son has settled on smoked turkey as his go-to whenever we take him to a barbecue restaurant. He’ll occasionally have a bite of our pork, and sometimes he’s even complimentary, but he wants turkey, without sauce, or he’ll grumble. He was also pleased.
I went with my usual pick of a pork plate with two sides. They come with griddle cakes here, a fine option I don’t remember seeing on any other barbecue plates recently. I typically want Brunswick stew as one of my sides in Georgia, and I almost always get slaw with it, but then I spotted something downright interesting, which I didn’t notice when we’d looked over the menu online previously: ratatouille. This is made with stewed eggplants, peppers, squash, onions, and tomatoes. We’ve visited something like 400 barbecue restaurants for this blog, and I have never, ever seen this on a barbecue menu before. Absolutely I ordered it. I’ve never had it before. I won’t swear that I was mad about it, I think because the practice of cooking each vegetable down to the same consistency left everything tasting soft and slimy, but I’m incredibly glad that this place has it on the menu. I love restaurants that do their own thing.
I also love it when barbecue restaurants pay attention to the traditions of the region, though. I’ve written before that Georgia has some distinctive sauce zones. Here, from around Statesboro down to Savannah and further down Georgia’s coast, you’ll often find a mustard sauce with its probable origins at Savannah’s old Johnny Harris restaurant, dating at least to the 1920s and probably earlier. This sauce mixes mustard with vinegar, ketchup, and a little Worcestershire sauce, and comes out looking dark orange. I was really glad to see this at the SmoQue Pit. (Not, evidently, glad enough to photograph some on a griddle cake, however. Sorry.)
Johnny Harris’s restaurant in Savannah closed a little while back, after an amazing eighty-plus year run, before we made time to visit it. The Harris family has since opened a new place called BowTie Barbecue, and I don’t know whether the road’s going to take us to Savannah anytime soon since we’ve really transitioned away from writing about Georgia restaurants and we do have a longer haul to get to Marie’s family. Still, I’d like to try it sometime.
As for the SmoQue Pit, I enjoyed the tasty pork, I enjoyed the mix of the new and the traditional, and I enjoyed the great service. Incidentally, they include a service charge and pay their employees a fair wage in lieu of having them collect tips. I’m glad to see that. I hope that the restaurant’s doing well, but they weren’t busy at all on our Sunday stop, their website’s down, and one of their Sunday brunch specials, the shrimp and grits, has been removed from the menu. If you’re going to be on I-16 anytime soon, or you’ve got friends or family at Georgia Southern, tell ’em about this place, would you? It’s worth a visit!
Incidentally, whether or not you get a good meal from a locally-owned independent place on I-16, if you are road tripping with children and want to give them a short Baby Mercy Break, here’s a tip: there’s a Burger King in Dublin right off exit 51 with the best restaurant playground we’ve ever seen. It’s worth a buck to buy some cookies and give your kid fifteen minutes to run around. Clean restrooms, too, and that’s always a plus on a long drive!
The SmoQue Pit
454 S Main St
Statesboro, GA 30458