Glenn’s Bar-B-Que, Conyers GA (CLOSED)

For the final stop on the Eastern Suburban BBQ Tour, the children and I visited Glenn’s, a restaurant with a lot of local history which is hanging in there despite a long series of setbacks. As I enjoyed the finely chopped, hickory-smoked pork, I was reminded of the flavor and consistency of what I think of as “classic Atlanta barbecue,” as exemplified by such older restaurants as Old Hickory House. But it is not only the food; Glenn’s backstory also reminds me of that restaurant. Glenn and Jean Yontz opened the first location of this chain in 1987 and, over the next decade, various family members opened satellite locations throughout the suburbs. At its peak, there were five stores in the chain, stretching from Snellville to Stockbridge. The chain failed in 2005. Continue reading “Glenn’s Bar-B-Que, Conyers GA (CLOSED)”

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Bradley’s Bar-B-Que, Conyers GA

If our statistics are any indication, the barbecue map that I built for the CommunityWalk site is one of the most popular features on our site. There’s a link to it at the bottom of just about every chapter about a barbecue restaurant that we’ve posted over the last couple of years and it gets a lot of traffic from barbecue lovers. I was looking at it a few months ago and decided that the eastern suburbs were underrepresented on it. I picked four to visit, stopped by one of them in October, and, one Saturday last month while Marie was working, I took the kids out for an indulgent day of three lunches. Continue reading “Bradley’s Bar-B-Que, Conyers GA”

Finding the right words can be a problem.

Y’all know that we don’t often dig in with negative reviews at this blog of ours, and when we do, it’s qualified as much as possible with whatever praise we can find. Having said that, the ride back to Atlanta from Putnam County brought me to a pair of barbecue joints which I’d like to mention for posterity’s sake. The first of these is Dave’s BBQ and Soul Food in Monticello. I got a big grin when I spotted the sign out front, because it’s another appearance of the strange Cannibal Cook Pig who haunts the southeast. Continue reading “Finding the right words can be a problem.”

Jim Stalvey’s, Covington GA

I had not realized quite how much attention that I have been paying to Urbanspoon until I looked up Jim Stalvey’s Restaurant, noted the surprisingly low user ranking (44%, if I recall, the morning that we visited), and asked myself why on earth we were going to head out that way. The answer, of course, was that the venerable steakhouse is one of those with a glowing review at Roadfood.com and we intend to hit (almost) all of the ones in Georgia, and so we just had to brave that 44% and hope for the best. It worked out just fine. 56% of the people who voted for that restaurant were quite spectacularly wrong. If you’re looking for a good steak, you need to head out to Newton County and then log on to Urbanspoon and give that ranking a boost.

The building is a very old one, sort of classic suburban family restaurant design, and easy to overlook among the sprawl of US 278. I asked about it, wondering whether it might have once been a Ponderosa or something like that. It was apparently built in the early 1960s as the home of a restaurant called Bock & Kid. Jim Stalvey, a restaurateur from the north Georgia town of Rome, had already moved to Covington and opened a place in town with the horrible name of The Crest. In 1980, he moved into this site with a business called The Prado. In time, the Prado evolved into Stalvey’s Restaurant and Lounge.

Stalvey has continued to open and operate restaurants along this leg of I-20, though the last few years have not been kind to them. At the end of 2005, one of his websites – not updated since then – boasted that he and his company ran seven. Presently, I count just four: Stalvey’s, a fast food place called Quik Chick, and two Butcher’s Block delis. Perhaps one day, we might visit the others. If they are as good as the main restaurant, they’re worth the trip.

The four of us drove out to Covington with Neal some three Saturdays back. Covington has always been one of those towns that we pass through without stopping; I’ve been curious what else might be out here.

The must-try items at Stalvey’s are said to include the onion rings and the fried cauliflower. I had the former and thought they were completely delicious. Happily, they were available as a side for my steak and not just as a more expensive appetizer. The steak was really wonderful. I had a small six-ounce sirloin, priced right at just $8.99. It was not as good as Marie’s own grilling at her best, but better than many, many steaks that I have ordered in restaurants in the past.

Marie also had a steak – the filet was available as a special, also for $8.99 – and was very pleased with it. Neal had the chicken livers and really enjoyed them. He said they were not quite as good as the ones at Doug’s Place in Emerson – those are the gold standard – but still very good. I’m glad that we came by for lunch and were able to enjoy them. Apparently, if I understand it correctly, the restaurant offers both steaks and a traditional southern meat-and-two menu, on a white board, during lunch hours, but in the evenings, it’s all about either steak or ribs. The smokehouse is in front of the restaurant, but barbecue is only offered in the evenings.

Everything that we had tasted incredibly fresh and wonderful; the only slightly bum note came with the French dressing that Marie had with her salad and did not enjoy. Happily, the salad was made with such incredibly fresh veggies – these cucumbers are just to die for – that it did not need dressing at all.

Now, admittedly, Urbanspoon is a very poor judge of traditional restaurants like this. Its more prolific users seem to be more interested in the hot new joints in town, eating where everybody else eats, and often enjoying food that, as Calvin Trillin terms it, is always served on a bed of something else. The very low positive rating for Stalvey’s probably indicates a period of inconsistency for this restaurant. What surprises me more, however, is that only 26 people had rated it at all. This is a restaurant that more people should talk about. If you can get a better steak for this price, with sides and vegetables this good, anywhere for forty miles, I’ll be stunned.

Mamie’s Kitchen, Conyers GA

A few months ago, when we learned that Marie was pregnant, we knew that our long road trips would have to be curtailed at some point. Sitting in a car for hours and hours and then taking a long hike through some state park’s nature trail is a bit much in the third trimester, even for somebody as enthusiastic as Marie. I suggested that we take the spring off from road tripping, but before we do that, we’d have two last long drives. We’d do one day this month, and then go back to Saint Simons Island to visit her parents in March before raising the drawbridge. I started charting out our February trip before Christmas, because I’m impatient that way. What I came up with was pretty eyebrow-raising: I estimated that the 613 mile trip would take us just over fourteen hours and see us stopping by eight different restaurants in three states. So for the next couple of weeks, we’ll be recounting those stops.

At least we were by ourselves. We had the whole day to just be together, talk, hold hands, and enjoy some occasional “companionable silence,” as P.D. James terms it, with the rowdy children spending the day with my mother. The kids missed some very good meals and one or two that did not completely thrill me, but even the least of the stops was interesting and curious, and I’m pretty sure that we’ll be returning to one place in South Carolina many more times in the years to come, especially if we can make a move to Asheville in a couple of years and find this place about a seven-minute detour on a trip from there back to the Georgia coast to see her family.

First up was one of the remaining destinations on our list of Georgia restaurants reviewed on Roadfood.com. We had thirteen to go for a full set, and one of these is a breakfast joint, Mamie’s Kitchen in the suburban town of Conyers. I always hate driving out I-20 this way. I used to know this guy in high school who lived off Evans Mill Road and pretended he was the nephew of Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter in order to con gullible chumps like us into thinking we could start a comic book company. He called me on the phone once, irate that “some Christians” were misunderstanding the lyric of a song by a popular eighties group called Mr. Mister, and making it all about God and stuff. Turns out he was the one who misunderstood them, and that the line really is not “Kyrie lays upon the roads that I must travel.” I mention this because, for the umpteenth damn time driving east on I-20, I got that stupid song stuck in my head. This time it was particularly awful and all the time we were looking for Mamie’s Kitchen, I was singing that blasted chorus to myself.

Mamie’s Kitchen has been around for decades, selling really inexpensive breakfasts, and it seems that most of them go out the drive-through window. They do offer a breakfast buffet, but it seems that many people just enjoy stopping in for a biscuit or two and relaxing in what must surely be one of the most comfortable and relaxed little getaways that I have seen recently. Here, a small early morning meal in the company of friends is just a perfect way to get the day started.

We had the good fortune to visit at the same time as a table of regulars were enjoying what appeared to be a usual Saturday morning ritual for them. Four men, one about our age and the others a good deal older, were enjoying their umpeenth cups of coffee and talking in happy voices about anything and everything. On a first-name basis with all the ladies who work there, they playfully bantered back and forth about refills and harmless flirtation and foolishness. Maybe I am an eavesdropping jerk, but I just love people-watching. It does me good to know that I’m in the company of happy people.

Marie and I each had a biscuit, hers with chicken and mine with deliciously salty country ham. The biscuits were warm from the oven and so delicately fresh that they’d have liked to disintegrate with a touch. I would have gladly had another, but we really couldn’t linger and really should not have indulged in more, for we had a second breakfast awaiting us two and a half hours down the road. So we left the table to its conversation about the Holy Land and whether one of them was going to whup their waitress or whether she would be whupping him first – my odds were on that outcome – and made our way. The sun was even good enough to rise while we were inside, allowing me to photograph the building. The morning was off to a remarkably good start.

Kelly’s BBQ, Walnut Grove GA

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, we’re attempting to visit as many of the Georgia restaurants that are featured at Roadfood.com as we can. Coming back I-20 from Madison, we had lunch at a second such restaurant in a day. Madison itself was as fun as ever, although planning to have an early breakfast there and an early lunch in another town doesn’t allow you a lot of opportunities when many of the stores don’t open ’til eleven. Well, we did a little window shopping at least, and enjoyed some of the pretty buildings and houses while taking a nice walk.

Now, it turns out that the roadfood list does have a small error in it. It suggests that Kelly’s BBQ is in Covington, and I don’t believe that’s true at all. It’s actually ten miles north of there in a small crossroads community called Walnut Grove, which is actually closer to Loganville than Covington. And Urbanspoon’s no better; it says the restaurant’s in Covington, too! It’s at the intersection of state highways 81 and 138 and, sensibly, when it first opened in the 1970s, it was a restaurant called Crossroads. The man who rechristened it Kelly’s took over in the mid-80s, and he sold it three years ago to new owners who have kept the menu, the recipes and, where possible, the low prices – Marie and our daughter and I ate for $15 – but have expanded the building to allow more indoor seating. It no longer looks quite the way it appears in the photos at Roadfood.com, so it’s missing a little bit of the quaint, roadside stand feel.

Also missing from Kelly’s these days is a giant pig. The restaurant used to have a really enormous sculpted pig next to the building that weighed several hundred pounds, but a couple of years ago, some fast-moving criminals came by in a truck in the dead of night and spirited it away. The Walton County sheriff’s department would appreciate any information.

A large plate of chopped pork here gives you plenty to share. There’s more than enough pork for one, along with bread, fries, slaw and Brunswick stew. There are three sauces available, mild, hot and sweet, and the pork already comes wet with the house’s mild sauce. I’d recommend you order it dry and sauce it up to your liking. The sauces are all vinegar-tomato blends and guests can buy them by the bottle.

The only disappointment that any of us had was with the slaw. Now me, I like any style, variety or recipe of slaw just fine. Mayo, vinegar, red, mustard, it’s all good to me. But the closer it gets to that really finely-diced, mayo-heavy Chick-fil-A style slaw, the less Marie likes it. She ordered a small cup with her chopped pork sandwich, and I knew as soon as they brought the tray to our table that she wasn’t going to enjoy it. So I gave her most of my stew, which was very good, and tasted heavily and delightfully of corn.

Kelly’s offers a lot more than just barbecue; they have burgers and steaks and plenty of other things which, if they’re as good as the tasty chopped pork, are probably worth a try. On the other hand, ever since I was old enough to understand what the heck one is supposed to order at a barbecue restaurant, I’ve kind of figured that burgers are there in lieu of a kid’s menu. Don’t get me wrong; I like burgers more than most, but chopped pork this wonderful, tender and moist is going to win out every time.