Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hot Thomas, Watkinsville, GA...It's Hot and a Top 10 in Georgia

Hot Thomas BBQ.  Watkinsville, GA. 

My best friends know I love barbecue and the sport of trying out places that I've never been before.  Today I was introduced to a true gem of a southern bbq joint.  I can't believe I hadn't found this place before.   Though it is off the beaten path, it is worth a drive to find and experience great barbecue, some of the nicest folks you'll ever meet, and be in the county that has what I consider one of the top school systems in Georgia.  Long time friend, Superintendent Dr. Jason Branch and I enjoyed some time of business both before, during, and after the bbq experience.  We headed out to Oconee County Commissioner Mark Thomas' farm and bbq joint with the promise that I would not be disappointed, especially if I sampled the chocolate pie.  As we parked in the gravel parking lot outside of this building that I'd guess is at least 50 years old, I noticed the "outdoor entry" to the bathroom.  I felt that was a great sign as to what I'd find inside!  We walked in and I was greeted with d├ęcor that reached back into generations in the Thomas family.  Old pictures, antiques, old soft drink bottles, and other nostalgic items were on all of the walls.  This is a walk up to the counter, place your order, and then they bring it to you kind of place.  Nothing fancy here except the food and the folks. 

I ordered a bbq sandwich, Brunswick stew, and OMG, chicken mull.  It had been a few years since I'd had chicken mull but had remembered that it was especially good, so I had to add that to my order as a side.  Jason and I chatted with the owner and his daughter who are just really fantastic examples of hard working, successful members of the Oconee County community.  Our food came out quickly enough, and the delight continued.  The stew is not the most visually appealing stew I've ever seen, but its taste was awesome.  It is more of a hash type of stew with awesome flavor.  Even before getting to the bbq, I had to sample the chicken mull.  Hot Thomas is known throughout the area for their mull.  For the uninitiated, chicken mull is a chicken type of stew made from boiled chicken, broth, milk, saltine crackers, and salt and pepper.  It is truly a great type of "stew".

Now to the barbecue.  Hot Thomas' bbq is probably the cleanest, most fat free bbq I've ever eaten.  You won't find an abundance of fat and bark in your bbq there, or at least that was what I experienced.  It was clean, flavorful, and sufficient quantity on the bun.  I especially liked their hot, ketchup based sweet sauce that was hot enough to feel but only complimented the flavor. 

For dessert, and yes, I did have dessert as my old childhood friend Zoe had suggested the chocolate pie.  Oh my!!!  It was a divine meal unparalleled in quite some time! 

Following the meal was another wonderful treat as Mark Thomas gave us a tour of the old cotton seed house, cotton gin, and parts of the Thomas farm property.  The place is used for special events such as weddings, political gatherings, and community events.  It's really much like stepping back in time some 40 years or so, and for a nostalgic old guy like me, it was a joy. 

Prompting this posting was not just my experience at the place today, but also that when I got home this evening, I ran across a web based posting of Georgia's top bbq joints.  Hot Thomas came in at number 9 among an all star list of places.  Most impressive and well deserved! 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Where There's Smoke, Meansville, GA

Where There's Smoke. One of the perks of having a job where I get to travel the entire state is that I get to visit new Bbq joints on a regular occasion.  Today gave me an opportunity to do just that, and it was a stop worth reporting. AJ and I decided to take the scenic route back from Gainesville. After missing a joint in Winder, we thought we'd find one in Monroe or Social Circle. That didn't pan out, and we'd about decided to just swing back through Flovilla to the original Fresh Air. As we slowed down going through Meansville, we saw today's stop. We made the quick decision to try it out.

We parked out back, right beside the smokehouse where the old style smoker was emitting the wonderful smell of Bbq enhanced smoke. Upon entering Where There's Smoke, it was much like stepping back in time 50 years!  The waitress was friendly enough and I quickly picked out my usual first joint visit order of a sandwich and stew. AJ got both a sandwich and a hamburger in order to see how the burger compared to our beloved Scott's in Cochran.  While waiting, I sampled spoonfuls of their 3 sauces:  original, South Carolina Mustard, and the first I'd ever tried Sweet Heat that was made with molasses.  Now that was a treat!

The orders came out quickly enough.  The sandwich had a great portion of attractive pulled pork. The stew had a good appearance, and it's taste did not disappoint. It wasn't too heavy with either potatoes or tomatoes.  The pork was awesome. I tried it with all 3 sauces and then just blended them all together.

Overall, I have to give both the pork and stew scores of 4.5 out of 5. As much as for any reason, this by chance finding was a gem that I hope to revisit some day.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Angel's BBQ. Savannah, GA

Angel's BBQ, Savannah, GA.

Summers in Savsnnah can be brutally hot. July 2015 was one of those summer months that was hotter than normal. I was there attending a conference, and the urge for bbq surged. A friend had told me about a little joint off of the beaten path in the historic district. I did a couple of google searches and figured the place must be Angel's.   I walked the nearly two miles in the sweltering heat hoping that the effort would be worth it.
I arrived dripping in sweat and made my way into the little joint that was old, small, and brimming with character. I ordered at the counter my typical BBQ sandwich and one side. They didn't have Brunswick stew, so I chose baked beans. The lady who took my order, the co-owner, told me she would bring me my order. I sat at the smallest of the three tables in the place. I filled up several small sauce cups with several types including a peanut sauce, sweet, Angel drops, and house.  I tasted them all, and honestly found each uniquely good. My order came out quickly. I sampled the beans. They were good. Can't say they were the best I had ever had, but they were certainly large in portion size.
The sandwich was very large in size. The pulled BBQ pork was was clean and had an attractive appearance. There was enough BBQ that I could try all the sauces as well as have it plain.
I chatted with the owners about their business and our love for BBQ. They shared that just yesterday they had celebrated their 10 year anniversary in business.
Angels is a bit hard to find. Not much to look at when you get there, but clearly a place you should try when in Savannah.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Barrelhouse BBQ - Lynchburg, TN.

Barrelhouse BBQ - Lynchburg, TN. 
The little town of Lynchburg exists largely in part to the presence of the Jack Daniels Distillery.  People from all over the world flock to this little rural, out of the way, town to tour what I guess is one of the world's largest distilleries.  Whether you drink Tennessee sippin whiskey or not, a tour of the distillery and a stroll through town is worth the effort if you are in south central Tennessee.  There are at least 3 little diners in town who proclaim they are bbq joints.  Each of the little joints appear to have their own little sense of character.  Barrelhouse has its own uniqueness.  This is a small little joint sitting down the hill from the main part of this one square town.  Even though it was a Saturday afternoon, it was somewhat disappointing that there was no obvious "meat smoking" going on while we were there.  The place had a good crowd in it and the waitress was very polite and helpful.  She took our order while we sat on the authentic Jack Daniels bar stools.  While waiting for our food, we sampled the sauces.  The mild was certainly the best, but it still had a little bit of bite.  The other two sauces were a bit more on the hot side including the hottest being one that contained ghost chili peppers. 
The Barrelhouse doesn't offer stew, so Debbie and I both had the slaw as a side.  The slaw was actually pretty good.  The sandwich was well portioned with sort of stringy pulled pork.  On a scale of 1 to 5, I can only give this pork a 3 on this given day.  The experience was fine as we found another little bbq joint gem in the south.  Oh, yeah, I should add that all of the sauces allegedly have a Jack base to them which gives them a bit of a unique taste, and one that really is worth experiencing.

Central BBQ - Memphis

Central BBQ - Memphis. 

Memphis, as we well know, is famous for BBQ.  We had never been to Memphis, so on this Valentines Weekend 2015, Debbie and I struck out for a nearly 500 mile ride to check out Memphis' bbq, blues, and attractions.  A few Google searches suggested that Central may be the best bbq joint in town.  So after sort of sifting through the options, Central was the choice.  Oh my...quickly to the point!  Best ribs ever!!!  We ordered a 3 meat plate that included pulled pork, brisket, and ribs.  The two sides we got were beans and slaw. 
Central BBQ is a quaint joint with several dining rooms.  It is located south of the main part of Memphis right across from the National Civil Rights Museum.  Just as had been the case at the previous day's bbq joint, you place your order at the counter as you walk in.  If you are not early, plan on standing in line.  Many from the area as well as tourists will stop in Central on any given day.  You can check the plate of food out in the picture, but oh my, quantity was awesome.  Now beans and slaw were good, but not of the "best ever" category.  The brisket was very, very good.  The sauces going with the meat range from a "warm" mild, to a very spicy mustard, a fairly "hot" hot, and a vinegar based sauce that would make North Carolinians proud.  Now I try to shoot straight on my blogs without being critical, so I'll basically say that the pulled pork was good and in fact above average.  The winner, and I mean by far, was the ribs.  We got an order that was half dry and half wet.  Oh my.  Seriously, these were  exceptional.  The meat was "fall off the bone."  While I think I do a pretty good job on ribs, these were perhaps the best I've ever had. 
So, when you go to Memphis, be sure you check out the ducks at The Peabody, you catch a little blues down on Beale Street, and by all means, find time to dine at Central BBQ which certainly gets my vote for one of the best and most unique joints ever.

Saw's BBQ - Birmingham

Saw's BBQ.  Birmingham, AL.  February 12, 2015.   Hidden in the southern suburb of Birmingham known as Homewood, Saw's BBQ is truly one of the best little joint's I've ever eat at! 
Debbie and I were on our way to Memphis, and Birmingham was a perfect spot to stop off for lunch.  The place is somewhat off of the beaten path, but many beat the path to get lunch their daily.  We got there before 11:30 (weird Alabama time) just before the crowd.  Before we finished our lunch, the crowd was out the door with many opting to go elsewhere.  This little joint features "walk up to the counter" type of service.  We placed our order of the typical first joint visit of a sandwich and stew.  Debbie, of course, opted for slaw as her side.  The place is well adorned with lots of University of Alabama memorabilia including pictures of Bear Bryant, Nick Saban, and every coach in between.  Our lunch was out fairly quickly.  It didn't take Debbie long to proclaim that "this is the best bbq I've ever had".  I was trying out the Brunswick stew while she was savoring the bbq.  The stew was pretty good, but I wouldn't rank it the best I've ever had.  It was a good looking stew with good color and consistency.  The taste was very good as well.  We got a side of Alabama white sauce with our bbq mainly because we seldom get that option in Georgia.  The bbq, as Debbie had said, was exceptional.  I would have bbq in two more well known joints over the next two days, and frankly, as good as they were elsewhere, to date, Saw's is surely one of the best I've ever had.  It's no wonder that the Birmingham area has voted Saw's best in the area!

Friday, July 19, 2013

12 Bones BBQ, Asheville, NC

photo.JPG12 Bones, Asheville.  Asheville, NC has long been one of my favorite cities.  While I found it beautiful during the summer of 1977 when I spent the summer there, in recent years it has undergone somewhat of a rejuvenation in the area of the arts and dining.  With mountains on every side, the amazing Biltmore House, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can find dozens of things to do in Asheville.  Of course, you know if I go there, we are going to check out BBQ!  We had done the usual Google search for Asheville's best BBQ, and after reviewing the reviews and menus, it was decided that we would put 12 Bones on top of our to do list.  Upon arriving in the River Arts District, our GPS took us right to the place.  Frankly, I was a little taken aback in that the joint is just that, a rather old building in the old warehouse district near the river.  What was present, though, were a number of cars in the parking lot with a line all the way from the order counter to the door.

photo.JPG  Once in the place, we scoped out the order counter where a rather young and energetic crowd manned both the counter but the kitchen as well.  I placed my order of a bbq sandwich, baked beans, and collard greens.  To my delight, 12 Bones serves up Cheerwine soda (unique largely to NC), so we fixed our soft drinks and awaited our order.  The old joint was bustling with folks.  The food that the wait staff was bringing by insured us that we had made the right decision to try 12 Bones.  Within just a few minutes, our food arrived.  Oh my, as you can tell from Debbie's salad in the back ground and my plate in the foreground, the food proportions were large.  Debbie's salad came with pork, onion ring strings, and cornbread...and some of the best I've eaten in a while!
To get the salad out of the way, the only complaint Debbie had was that the salad dressing was rather spicy.  No doubt, though, there was more than enough food for one person on this salad plate.  The bbq was, well, just about the best I've had in a long time.  The meat was clean with just enough smoke taste.  The moisture content was perfect in that it was moist and not dry while being relatively lean and not fatty.  On a scale of 1 to 5, a 4.5 rating seems to be about right.  Truly among the best.  The beans, too, were fantastic.  With just enough chopped pork in the beans, they were flavorful with a hint of mustard in the base.  I can only rank the collards about average.  The appearance of them was fine.  They had a healthy (or maybe unhealthy that is) amount of pork in them, but somehow they didn't rank up there with the best that I had ever had.  12 Bones sticks true to a bbq joint menu.  You won't find catfish, hamburgers, or that kind of add on type of food.  You just find real bbq meats to include pulled pork, ribs, brisket, chicken, and smoked turkey.

12 Bones in the Press.  12 Bones has served up some very famous folks.  On at least two occasions, President Obama has dined at 12 Bones.  They have been featured in a number of magazine and newspaper articles for among other things some pretty impressive awards among the Asheville dining scene. As shown in the photo above, they've even been awarded the "Good Morning America's Best Bite Challenge" award.

In case you forget to pick up a bottle of 12 Bones BBQ Sauce while you are at the story, don't can find it in just about every little gift shop and other stores in Asheville.  The folks at 12 Bones have got to be making a killing on their (slightly pricey) sauce.  In regards to their sauces, their mainstay is a slightly sweet tomato based sauce that is thicker than you typically find in NC.  Their vinegar based sauce is about as thin as you'll find.  If my memory serves me correctly, their mustard based sauce really was top notch in both consistency, spiciness, and overall taste.

All in all, if you are going to Asheville, this is a "must do" stop.  At the river store, they are only open during the middle of the day on Monday through Friday.  Why not on Saturday and Sunday?  They flat don't have to be!!!  The business during the 5 or so hours a day they are open each day is clearly brisk enough to make the business a success.  I know there are a couple of other highly regarding bbq joints in Asheville, and I'll catch them next time, but there's no regrets for having chosen 12 Bones on this late June trip in 2013!