Highway 61 Revisited – part two

In case you missed part one of this little travelogue, this is a little journey up the first 25 mile stretch of GA-61 from Carrollton, through Villa Rica and the unincorporated community of New Georgia to Dallas and the intersection with GA-120. Along this corridor are five rarely-discussed barbecue restaurants and, one day last month, I visited all five. Continue reading “Highway 61 Revisited – part two”

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Highway 61 Revisited – part one

Backstory: A few months ago, I got a whim to visit the small city of Carrollton in west Georgia, to see what barbecue and books could be found. Matt and his wife Kelley came along, and we had a good day, and I came home with an astonishing list of nine previously unknown-to-me barbecue joints along the way that warranted a return trip to document. Nine! A little research when I returned revealed that only one of them, Merle’s, had been written up by another hobbyist blogger, but let this be a lesson to any of us, blogger or writer of books published by university presses, who thinks to make a claim that they know the be-all and end-all of a region’s barbecue. Nine! Continue reading “Highway 61 Revisited – part one”

Hog Wild Barbeque, Douglasville GA

It has been a really long time since I had cause to preach about one of Georgia’s few barbecue specialties, what is called Hudson’s-style sauce after the fellow who concocted it. You see, one thing that I have always disliked about the broad brush that people use when they are talking about barbecue in terms of state-by-state is that they miss out on the details. Not very many writers, to give one example, paid any real attention to the golden orange mustard sauce of Columbus and east central Alabama until the good people of the Southern Foodways Alliance looked into it. And among Georgia’s other regional treats is the black-red vinegar “juice” that Buford Hudson concocted in the early 1960s. Continue reading “Hog Wild Barbeque, Douglasville GA”

Barbecue, for Better or for Worse

In several previous chapters, I have sung the praises of various children’s museums in Tennessee, but I have not taken the time to really talk up the very good one that we have in Atlanta. Since we are members here, we’ve been watching our baby grow in the toddler area since he was about six months old. It had been a few months since we were last here, and at that time, he completely drenched himself in the fishing area. Resolving that this time, we’d not let him get soaked from head to toe, we felt he was big enough, at nineteen months, to explore the rest of the exhibits. Continue reading “Barbecue, for Better or for Worse”

The Hickory Hut and Rodney’s Bar-B-Que, Dallas GA

A few weeks ago, I started wondering again about Hudson’s Hickory House in Douglasville, and their buckets of thin, red, barbecue “juice” sauce that have found considerable popularity at about a half-dozen restaurants in the region. I wondered whether more barbecue joints in the western suburbs follow this path, and I also noticed that Paulding County is shockingly underrepresented among the area’s bloggers. So, a couple of Saturday evenings ago, Marie and the children and I went out to Dallas to try a place, and stumbled past another on the way home. We found some pretty good food, albeit nothing really extraordinary and nothing that follows the Hudson’s template, and, as far as our health goes, pushed ourselves just a little too far, leading to some unhappy and grouchy folk who just wanted to go home. Continue reading “The Hickory Hut and Rodney’s Bar-B-Que, Dallas GA”

Fred’s Bar-B-Que House, Lithia Springs GA

Every so often, I get a reminder that, for every new restaurant that stays on top of social media and Google alerts about their place, there are many more that have no real interest in doing that sort of thing. Take, for example, Fred’s Bar-B-Que House in Lithia Springs. Despite logging several hundred guests a day, and a welcome and thanks to every one of you, this very blog had some disagreeable misinformation posted on it a little more than five months ago, and in all that time, nobody, not the business owner nor any of his legion of patrons, mentioned it to me.

Probably back in 2001, I visited a restaurant one Saturday evening not far from McCollum Air Field called the Kennesaw Bar-B-Que House, and logged it on my old Geocities barbecue page. Some time later, it closed, and I mentioned its passing in a June chapter here that listed all those older restaurants that had closed since I first wrote about them.

A couple of months went by, and I started cleaning up Urbanspoon’s listings of barbecue places in Georgia and Alabama. As I’ve mentioned in some earlier chapters, this wonderful, useful site does have many errors, ranging from businesses that were closed before there ever was an Urbanspoon, to miscategorized places, like wing joints erroneously tagged as serving barbecue. So I was looking through the Atlanta “B” heading and found a place called simply Bar-B-Que House in Lithia Springs, and, like the one in Kennesaw, it was said to serve something called Yellow Jacket Hot Dogs. I guessed that either that business moved or this was another location. Either way, their web site was expired, but I added it to my to-do list, and, a couple of Fridays ago, drove out to enjoy some of the best chopped pork anywhere around Atlanta, in an unassuming little place that nobody online talks about. I can’t help but find this curious, as it’s more evidence that, the further you get from the city center, the less important the internet is to your business’s success. There was a huge mob of customers and guests that any trendy urban place would kill for, but not one person in this crowd apparently had any incentive to let Urbanspoon know that the name of the restaurant should be Fred’s Bar-B-Que House.

So I was quite mistaken in simply listing the Kennesaw location as closed and having no follow-up. I got only the briefest few words with Fred, who was managing the front register and window amid an increasing tidal wave of hungry customers, but he confirmed that place had been their second location, and it closed in April of 2004. The store in Lithia Springs has been doing roaring business for twenty-five years now, with hardly a mention online. This is one of those restaurants that I’d like to see turn around on that front. It really is quite interesting and very tasty. Well, the hot dog wasn’t.

Even the only sour note of my meal was nevertheless fun in a historical sense, however. The Yellow Jacket Dog – a mediocre boiled dog served with ketchup, mustard, onions and dry chili on a toasted bun – is a holdover from the dogs served from the 1950s through the 1970s at the long-closed Yellow Jacket Drive-In, which had been at the intersection of North and Hemphill two generations of Georgia Tech students ago. We’ll set aside partisan college loyalties in favor of good taste, noting that Athens has seen more than its share of below-average restaurants with the word “bulldog” stuck the name somewhere, and just say that infinitely superior dogs are available from many, many other places in town. I suppose, though, that plenty of older Tech alumni can be excused for their nostalgia in wanting to experience these old favorites again, and I am glad that the beloved old recipe has a home on Thornton Road for them. Businesses with a sense of history are always a good thing.

But honestly, I have to wonder who has time for more than just two or three bites of these unhappy dogs to confirm their awfulness when this excellent pork is available. This is genuinely terrific stuff, tender and moist and smoky and not needing any sauce to impress. The house sauce is a light brown, mildly sweet tomato-vinegar blend and it is also really good. This interstate exit is home to two really fantastic restaurants. South of I-20, you’ve got Turner’s – slash – Beaver Creek, with its pulled pork and glistening orange mustard sauce, and north of it, you have this place, with chopped pork and sweet brown tomato sauce. What the two have in common is an amazing success among the locals. Fred’s was nearly packed by 11.45, with a short wait at the window and limited chances to chat about things in the “lobby” while you wait for your number to be called. After twelve, the line snakes into the dining areas, and the big parking lot is darn near full.

I was reminded how, a couple of weeks previously, David and I enjoyed an almost solitary lunch at downtown’s One Eared Stag, nobody there but ourselves despite every blogger in the city yammering at full volume about it (and with good reason; it is amazing), and here’s this place, the only reason the line isn’t out the door is because for some weird reason it threads through the dining room. You get outside the perimeter, the definition of success is a little different. Might be, it’s a little more honest.

Hudson’s Hickory House, Douglasville GA

A few Fridays ago, I found myself heading west out I-20 after a short morning at work, bound for Lithia Springs to try a barbecue place. I had all the time in the world, and I needed to stop at a Publix to use an ATM. I remembered that there was one in Douglasville, so I went along a little further, just enjoying some music and a very pleasant morning’s drive. It wasn’t until I was on the exit ramp that I remembered that I’d been meaning to stop by Hudson’s Hickory House and that it was supposed to be around here somewhere. I recalled reading on a blog called Courthouse Bites that it was somehow near the Douglas County Courthouse, and I was certain that I could find that. It turns out that the restaurant really isn’t anywhere near the courthouse, but it is next door to the sheriff’s department.

This might perhaps be the last entry in which I wonder aloud about the origins of a particular regional style of barbecue, detailed in these earlier chapters: Wallace in Austell, Briar Patch in Hiram, Johnny’s in Powder Springs and the deliberate homage at Davis in Jasper, although I have learned that there might be another in the area that has a similar style. Apparently, the proprietors of a place that might be called Hog Wild somewhere south of Douglasville* got permission from Buford Hudson to use his style of hickory-smoked pork and thin, red-to-black vinegar sauce. It was my server’s contention that Hudson is the man who came up with this recipe forty years ago. I wish that he had been available to speak with me; I think that I would have enjoyed a chat with him.

Well, my server did not know about Briar Patch, but she did confirm that both Wallace and Johnny’s are welcome to use Hudson’s recipe, and, in return, Hudson’s uses Wallace’s recipe for stew. As with the others that use this style, the meat is, unless you ask ahead of time, served completely drowned in the thin, red-black vinegar-based sauce, and there’s a bottle of truly hot mustard-pepper sauce if you order the meat dry and would like to try both. Interestingly, the mustard sauce at these five places is not quite like the mustard sauces of South Carolina, or in the Auburn-Eufaula-Columbus triangle. Those are thinner and yellower and less potent. This sauce is more of an orange-yellow and it’s quite firey. After a few bites of the dry, quite moist pork with this tough customer, I conceded and just drowned the meat with the red-black vinegar sauce, as its creator intended.

Georgia often gets a very short shrift from barbecue writers, as we allegedly have no traditions of our own to compete with the better-known styles of Texas, Kansas City, Memphis, Owensboro or the Carolinas. I would humbly suggest that, while its influence is small and its home region mostly confined to Atlanta’s western suburbs, this is something that we can genuinely hold up as a Georgia original. I certainly haven’t found it anywhere else. It may not be to everybody’s taste, but it is unique, and it is ours.

*I found reference to a place in Carrollton with that name, and I suppose that it might be the one that my server mentioned.