Poole’s Bar-B-Q, East Ellijay GA (take two)

For a few years now, I’ve been telling people that Poole’s serves up the best barbecue on the I-575 / GA-515 corridor through north Georgia. In today’s chapter, unfortunately, honesty demands that I mention that they had a little stumble with me. Continue reading “Poole’s Bar-B-Q, East Ellijay GA (take two)”

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Bigun’s Barbeque, Talking Rock GA

Here is a restaurant that has been on our to-do list for a couple of years now. Kelly and Lisa Teal opened Bigun’s Barbeque in a great location on GA-515 between Jasper and Ellijay in 2008. We had actually planned to stop when we were last in the mountains last November, but I got a hankering for Poole’s in Ellijay and that became our second barbecue restaurant of that day instead. Continue reading “Bigun’s Barbeque, Talking Rock GA”

Mercier Orchards, Blue Ridge GA

Over the last few years, Marie and I have really enjoyed visiting some of the big farms and orchards around the north Georgia mountains, but until last month, we had never stopped by what is probably the biggest of all of them. Mercier Orchards was founded in 1943, and if anybody in the region isn’t familiar with them, they’re, flatly, not paying attention. They have a presence at farmers’ markets from Atlanta to Chattanooga, a big interstate billboard campaign to promote their fall season, and a line of hard ciders that gets a lot of people talking. Continue reading “Mercier Orchards, Blue Ridge GA”

Pink Pig, Cherry Log GA

In a few previous chapters, I’ve expressed our desire to do a much more thorough investigation of barbecue joints in northwest Georgia, around the Dalton area. But the hills around Ellijay are likewise hiding a number of restaurants that our blog needs to uncover. Heading north up I-575 from Marietta, we’ve mentioned several already, including Bub-Ba-Q, Mo-Ribs, Two Brothers, Davis, Walker’s and of course Poole’s, but I know of four more just off the top of my head that we have not visited. Happily, a couple of Saturdays ago, we crossed one off the list. Marie’s mother was in town for Thanksgiving, and we decided to go up to the mountains to get some fresh apples. More about that in the next chapter. I had picked out a barbecue place in Blue Ridge to try, knowing that we’d probably have to make an additional stop or two, as Marie’s mother, madly, does not like barbecue. We were on the way to the place I’d picked when we passed a sign for the Pink Pig in Cherry Log, which read something like “full service restaurant.” We decided to go there instead. Continue reading “Pink Pig, Cherry Log GA”

Panorama Orchards, Ellijay GA

This is Marie, contributing an article about apples from the Panorama Orchards. Grant and I ran across this family farm operation last year when we picked them essentially at random from the multiple apple vendors along the route to Ellijay to eat barbecue. We were only vaguely aware at the time that we were going up on the day of the apple festival there. It was only through sheer good luck that we arrived before the crush of traffic.

Ordinarily I would be all about the apple festival. Who wouldn’t want to try over a dozen varieties of apple, along with pies and breads and cider and all the other fun festival treats? There is also an antique car show and more crafts vendors than any right-thinking person could stand. Sadly, the highway that people have to use to get there would need to be about three lanes wider to keep the traffic moving. As we drove home from our early shopping and lunch, the crush of crawling cars in the oncoming lanes made us vow never to go to the apple festival unless somehow cars were not involved. Which is kind of sad, because quite a few people seem to think it’s worth the abysmal traffic to get there. Mind you, nearly all of them come from Atlanta, which has traffic that only Californians, New Yorkers, and D.C. residents can diss.

But I was talking about Panorama Orchards, just one business among the many in the area, which has captured our loyalty with the really excellent product they offer. Although there is a possibility that we might go to Walker’s Fried Pies & Barbecue for a little variety.

There really isn’t a way to get a good photo of the place, and so the terrible pictures that I took were discarded. There are too many people parking and walking around the front doors. Hey, they need to get apples too. Inside the place you pass through the baked goods and dried fruit and preserves first, then pass the testing table. That has a really generous selection of stuff on it, including some really impressive apple cider that I yearned to chug by the gallon, and some apple salsa that captured Grant’s heart. I got some of each to bring back. There is also ice cream, old-fashioned candy, and more preserves.

But of course the main feature is the apples. There are people in the back who clearly spend their whole day restocking. They usually have about 6 varieties to choose from at a time, depending on what is ready for picking, and there are endless samples all over the place. There really is no way to leave the place without having put at least one thing into your cart that wasn’t planned for, unless you walk through with your hands in your pockets and your mouth clamped shut. And who could enjoy life that way?

I bought two half-pecks each of Granny Smith and Mutsu, and a full peck of Fuji because that’s what the family likes. I have had an apple nearly every day since our trip. Yum.

Walker’s Fried Pies and BBQ, Ellijay GA

We try to make our way up to Ellijay each October, but not on one of the weekends that Gilmer County goes tourist-mad with the apple festival. The I-575/GA-515 artery up through Ellijay and Blue Ridge will give travelers a gorgeous drive, but it is not really built for the incredible volume that comes that way during the festival, resulting in a big logjam. So, once the madness had faded, we drove up to get some apples at Panorama, about which more next time, and then went looking for barbecue.

I had a mind to visit two places in Ellijay. Poole’s, we learned last year, was remarkably reliable and wonderful, but we wanted to try a couple of new places. Unfortunately, one of them, Wolf Creek Canyon, had moved without anybody notifying Urbanspoon of their new address or hanging a sign in the window of their abandoned storefront on Main Street.

The other, providing more evidence for my belief that Urbanspoon means a whole lot less to both restaurant owners and potential customers the further you get from a major population center, was not listed in Urbanspoon at all, despite being in business since 1996. Walker’s Fried Pies and BBQ is just a hop and a skip east of Ellijay along GA-52. That it’s avoiding internet notice is a blasted shame, because they’re serving up some pretty good food here.

The Walker family no longer owns this business, although the building is still theirs’, and the interior is decorated with many stories and photographs about their family. The business is now run by Betty and Jerry Clonts, who smoke their meat over hickory wood. The result is only a little moist and quite flavorful. Marie and I each had chopped pork, although word in the community seems to favor the beef here. Two other parties came through while we were here, and only one of the people in the groups ordered pork instead of beef. They also offer ribs, chicken, turkey and pork tenderloin.

There are two sauces on the table. The hotter sauce is an orange homemade approximation of something like Texas Pete, and the other is a sweet, brown Memphis-style. It was just sweet enough for Marie and I both to find it agreeable. The sides are the usual suspects: beans, potato salad, slaw and Brunswick stew, although sadly, like some of the less agreeable joints in suburban Atlanta, the stew here is only available for a fifty-cent upcharge.

Perhaps the real selling point here is the selection of desserts. Walker’s makes fresh fried pies in six flavors – apple, peach, cherry, strawberry, coconut and chocolate – along with funnel cakes and fried Oreos. Marie ordered an apple pie as a side for her sandwich and was incredibly pleased. These pies are just fantastic.

I’m not certain why Walker’s has been hiding from internet travelers and barbecue bloggers for so long, but I hope they won’t stay a secret any longer. This is a good place, and certainly worth a visit when visiting in this gorgeous part of the country.

Poole’s Bar-B-Q, East Ellijay GA

I had to track down Randy before I wrote up this chapter and let him know what I was going to say, for fear that he might think that I was making a passive-aggressive swipe at him when I say that Poole’s is probably the most improved restaurant that I have ever visited. They’ve gone from a regional curiosity to something downright amazing.

Last week, Marie and Ivy and I drove up I-575 to the mountain town of Ellijay to buy some apples. There’s a really great place on the right just after you enter Gilmer County called Panorama Orchards, and while you could very well load up with all sorts of jams and jellies and salsas, you can also spend late summer and early fall loading up on fresh apples. Marie got several pecks – Fujis, Mutsus, Arkansas Black – to share and to snack and to bake into pies. That’s a very agreeable way to spend an hour.

A little further north, and technically in the town of East Ellijay, there’s an intersection where, within spitting distance of each other, you used to be able to find a Pizza King, a Burger King, a Waffle King and a Mexican restaurant called El Rey. The Waffle King has gone now – I suspect this old chain might well have left Georgia entirely – but I still think of this place as “King’s Corner.” A zigzag right and a left from there brings you to the Pig Hill of Fame, and one of the state’s silliest and tackiest restaurants. Once upon a time, Colonel Oscar Poole fell afoul of some county sign ordinance or other and responded by turning his property into a glorious eyesore. The building is painted in vibrant, bright colors, and the land behind the restaurant is covered with small, flat, wooden pig signs which customers can buy for a small fee and have their names listed there until weather erodes them away.

Poole himself is quite a trip. I only saw him in person once, briefly, years back, but I can’t think of a restaurateur in the state who’s been photographed as often as him. He’s a little hard to miss. He’s kind of a cross between Grandpa Munster and Uncle Sam. He even drives a car that Grandpa might have found funny.

If you read between the lines of earlier chapters, you might have picked up that I don’t care for having politics inserted into my meals when I go out. You might have also have detected that the politics to which I object would be the Republican variety. But really, what makes a place unfriendly isn’t a discussion of ideas, it’s that grim, quiet, paranoia that unhappy people spend time seething about. It’s when loudmouths start parroting whatever hate radio talking point passes for discourse, and loudmouths have been doing this long before anybody heard of Barack Obama. I’ve been quietly declining to return to restaurants owned by such morons for many years.

Poole, on the other hand, may be as Republican as they get, but he is having the time of his life. He wants to tell everybody how fantastic a job he has, and how his faith and outlook and damn hard work and, yes, political views, have helped made him a success. He’s optimistic and wild and carefree, and basically everything good about people. If you don’t leave this place with a smile, something must be wrong with you, because his upbeat and fabulous attitude is evident in all the staff, the decor, the photographs and the building itself. You are guaranteed a very good time here.

For quite a few years, however, this didn’t translate into very good barbecue. Randy stayed up here in the mountains for a few years and we ate here a couple of times (maybe in 2003-04) and then ate again at the antacid counter of the local drug store. It was, then, a place to visit for the considerable spectacle, but the pork was just so greasy that it really disappointed.

I told a lot of people this. I used to have an old barbecue review page on Geocities and shared this disappointment with everyone who came to it. I don’t know whether Poole ever saw that page or whether he concluded on his own that his pork was too fatty and gross and his recipe needed changing, but I can tell you this: I once had two meals here, about a year apart, which were marred by the heavy, greasy aftertaste, and a meal this past week which was easily among the best plates of barbecue that I’ve had in the state of Georgia. Top ten, easy. I was prepared to sop up the pork with a paper towel before I started eating, but was very pleasantly surprised. The pork was dry and very smoky, and so incredibly flavorful. I can’t remember ever having a meal at a restaurant that much of a 180-degree turn towards the positive before, ever. It wasn’t just the pork, either. We also had onion rings, Brunswick stew, baked beans, green beans and mac and cheese as sides, and everything was incredibly tasty.

The restaurant was amazingly busy on this Saturday – they call in extra, volunteer help for Ellijay’s apple festival, which brings in thousands of tourists – and we arrived along with a huge tour group from a Baptist church in Louisiana, most of whom were wearing LSU shirts. Let’s see, they had this great barbecue for lunch and the Tigers beat Florida in The Swamp that evening. Sounds like everybody there had a fine Saturday.

(Of course, the small irony in comparing Oscar Poole to Grandpa Munster is that Grandpa Al Lewis was about as left-wing as they get, although equally bombastic and fun. No offense, Col. Poole.)

Other blog posts about Poole’s:

Punkerque (Sep. 28 2007)
Buster’s Blogs (July 24 2009)
My BBQ Blog (Aug. 10 2009)
According to gf (Nov. 10 2010)