The State of the American Palate Part 2

read The State of the American Palate Part 1

BBQ Barn, North Augusta

I had a great lunch today with my good friend Lake High, president of the South Carolina Barbeque Association. I have been bugging him for months to try out the Central Savannah River Area’s (CSRA – Augusta GA, Evans, GA, North Augusta, SC) best (and only decent) BBQ place. I wouldn’t have been pestering him for so long if the BBQ wasn’t outstanding. More on that later.

First, some general comments on the American taste in restaurants (they like fast food and the sit-down franchise restaurants like Applebees, Ruby Tuesday, Sticky Fingers, Outback, Cracker Barrel, etc., etc., etc. ad nauseum). With the exception of the fast food places like Micky D’s, Burger King, Xaxby’s, Taco Bell, et al, that are horrible no matter what, the thing about the sit-down franchises that completely dominate the landscape today in the US (luckily not in Europe, although these places can be found if you have to have them) is that the food is acceptable and actually can taste pretty good. However, NONE of it is great or even close and is generally completely overloaded with salt. This stuff is generally safe taste-wise, but totally boring. Nothing to write home about, in other words, not my idea of food I want to pay for at a restaurant.

Lake and I discussed why people like these restaurants so much (it never ceases to amaze me that there are actually lines at places like Outback and Cracker Barrel) and we could only conclude that people just don’t know what good food tastes like and are afraid of trying anything they don’t immediately recognize. People don’t cook at home, and if they do, they usually prepare processed foods (horrible for you), open a jar of spaghetti sauce, use American cheese and the green can Parmesan instead of fresh grated parm, etc. Bottom line, people are ignorant and afraid to try anything different. Yep, you bet I am a food elitist.

Back to BBQ and the Best of Augusta results from both Augusta Magazine (the hoity toity city magazine) and Metro Spirit (the local alternative tabloid) that just came out. At least I didn’t have to buy Metro Spirit to see how wrong their Best Of list is. One would think that Metro Spirit readers would be more open, because they tend to patronize the downtown eateries and the suburban masses are scared to death to venture anywhere in the wonderful Augusta downtown, preferring to stay in their sterile enclaves. But, it appears they are too young to know what good food is.

But, as far as BBQ, the readers of both publications get it completely wrong. Lake said that people these days just don’t know how real BBQ is supposed to taste. That is why a place like Sticky Fingers (one of the franchises) makes the top three with Augusta Magazine readers. They might have passable ribs, but it ain’t BBQ and it ain’t top 3 material.

He mentioned that, for some reason, Georgia is a BBQ wasteland. I hadn’t thought of that before, but he is right. When I travel in the south, including Texas and Kansas (which have their own unique BBQ traditions) I look for local BBQ. I have gone out of my way to find BBQ along the North Carolina I-95 corridor, for example. The only decent BBQ I have ever had in Georgia was Tiny’s, outside of Crawfordville, off I-20, and Sonny’s in Statesboro. Both are good, but not quite 100-mile BBQ (BBQ you would drive 100 or more miles to eat).

Jackie Hites – Batesburg-Leesville, SC – true 100-mile BBQ

Prior to the BBQ Barn coming to North Augusta, the only places to get great BBQ were Jackie Hites in Leesville, SC, Trenton BBQ south of Trenton, SC, and Carolina in New Ellenton. Hites and Carolina are both 100-mile plus places. Trenton used to be, but has fallen on hard times with an ownership change (I think). In any case, the last couple of times I went there, I was very disappointed). I no longer even recommend it. For ribs, I would always pick up a rack at Maurice’s when I went through Columbia (there is now a North Augusta Maurice’s location, but I haven’t been there, so won’t make a judgment other than to say that if the ribs come from Piggy Park in Columbia where all or most of Maurice’s meat is cooked with 100% hickory – no gas – I am sure the ribs in North Augusta are to die for).

OK, back to the Augusta Best Of lists. Here are the results:

Augusta Magazine

BBQ

  1. Sconyers Bar-B-Que
  2. Edmunds Bar-B-Que
  3. Shane’s Rib Shack

Ribs

  1. Sconyers Bar-B-Que
  2. Shane’s Rib Shack
  3. Sticky Fingers

Metro Spirit

BBQ

  1. Sconyers Bar-B-Que
  2. Shane’s Rib Shack

These results demonstrate vividly that the voters in these polls don’t know good BBQ or ribs if it smacked them in their heads.

Sconyers Sign

Sconyers Sign

Admittedly, Sconyers is an institution in Augusta, Larry Sconyers was a (not very good) one term mayor and Jimmy Carter used Sconyers to cater functions at the White House. I guess he had to use Georgia BBQ no matter how mediocre it was. I have eaten at Sconyers (both old and new locations) many times over the years and it is, at best, halfway decent.

Edmunds is another story. Again, I have eaten at one or another Edmunds places a few times over the years and never had a good meal. The hash is nasty and the pulled pork often has a lot of gristle in it. Stay away from here. I can’t believe this one made any Best Of list even in the Georgia BBQ wasteland. Shane’s is another franchise operation that has mediocre food. I think the result that really stunned me was Sticky Fingers coming in third for ribs. Who the hell voted in these polls?

REPEAT THREE TIMES: Good BBQ Cannot be franchised. I will not go to a franchised BBQ place. Good BBQ cannot be franchised. I will not go to a franchised BBQ place. Good BBQ can’t be franchised. I will not go to a franchised BBQ place. This is not only true about BBQ, by the way.

This post is too long already. My commentary on the usefulness or harm of this type of polls, ie, do they do a disservice to the truly good restaurants that are overlooked in what are not scientific polls, yet are used by the winners for marketing purposes. I believe this is a real question to be considered, these polls may not be harmless fun.

Look for more commentary of these Best Of lists, as well as detailed reviews of BBQ Barn, Hites and Carolina (if I can get to New Ellenton soon).


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8 Comments on Is Georgia a BBQ Wasteland?

  1. Tai Nguyen says:

    Good stuff. I’ll be making my first visit to the BBQ barn Saturday night, pending spousal approval.

  2. Virgil says:

    Hey Tai,
    Somehow, this went in the spam bin. If you are going to be in NA Sat, would love to see you as brief as it might be, let me know.
    Virgil

  3. Virgil says:

    Tai, did you make it to BBQ Barn? If so, what did you think?

  4. [...] in Augusta, GA. There is simply no argument on this. I plan to comment more on this in my “what is wrong with the American palate” series, but if you will be in Augusta on Sunday, November 14th, you need to make a [...]

  5. [...] have already discussed the results of Augusta Magazine’s and Metro Spirit’s Best Of results for BBQ restaurants. Perhaps the most egregious result (except perhaps the wine list selections) is for Italian [...]

  6. [...] We were very disappointed in both, the Georgia barbeque wasteland extends to Columbus from our experience. See my earlier post, Is Georgia a Barbeque Wasteland? [...]

  7. [...] We were very disappointed in both, the Georgia barbeque wasteland extends to Columbus from our experience. See my earlier post, Is Georgia a Barbeque Wasteland? [...]

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