Another Friday. Still no football. It's enough to drive a lesser man to drink,. But seeing as how this is actually being written before 8 o' clock in the morning I'm instead going to respond with a stream of consciousness rant about life, football and barbeque. It's called Free Form Friday. And it's what's for dinner. We haven't yet perfected life without football, but at least we're catching on:
So my day job has taken me to the warm confines of Muscogee County on a repeated basis in the last few days. That's been nice because I always enjoy the drive over to Columbus from Macon, and because it gives me a chance to see Alabama and Auburn fans in a nearly native environment. Like the guy driving a pickup with Auburn vanity plates who passed me on 185 doing 70 with an unsecured velvet couch hanging out of the back of his truck. Or the guy with 4 'Bama car flags on his truck who was rocking a skullet, among the most redneck of all hairstyles, that trailed halfway down his back. He was also wearing a Crimson Tide tank top, which I assume has been worn every day for the past 3 years and washed every other Memorial Day.
These trips also gave me the opprotunity to sample the wares of new and different barbeque restaurants. Well, none of the ones I went to were that new or different, but they were all new to me. Knowing there is a sizeable contingent here with Columbus connections, I thought I'd share my thoughts and compare them for the group. I have no doubt that the opinions expressed herein will stir up controversy. But it's a small price to pay to enter the marketplace of BBQ ideas.
The first que joint I tried was Macon Road Barbeque. I got good reviews on the place, plus it was close to my actual destination, though I arrived late for lunch (around 2:30 p.m.). My review? A solid meh. The place did look like a barbeque joint is supposed to look. Clean, but shabby enough to let you know they care more about the food than the ambience. I ordered a chopped pork sandwich, beans and slaw. The slaw was very good, creamy enough, not watery. The sauce on the sandwich was also excellent. But the barbeque itself was drier than West Texas. Like it had been left in a warming dish since 10 a.m. And worst of all, the beans were clearly burnt. And there are few tastes more off-putting than truly burnt baked beans. The service was attentive, the sweet tea was actually sweet and strong enough to be classified as something other than sugar water.
The parking lot at Macon Road was full and people were parking along the road when I got there. Most of the vehicles were pickups and work trucks, which I like to see at a que restaurant. People who have to work for their lunch money don't spend it on crappy barbeque. So I'll probably give the place another try and choose to blame the burnt beans and dry que on my late arrival. I'd also note that the service was incredibly friendly, and I give friendly people the benefit of the doubt in culinary matters, and life in general.
I next tried Smoky Pig Barbeque. I had the chopped pork sandwich with a cup of brunswick stew and my usual sweet tea. I didn't try the slaw, which I understand to be a red slaw rather than a white/mayo version. Again, great tea. I have come to realize that Columbus eateries take their sweet tea seriously, and I salute them for it. The stew had a great, smoky flavor with pieces of pork clearly evident. The texture was a little weird, as if corn starch or some other thickener had been applied. But still, a decent effort. If I come back on a cold winter day I'll definitely get it again. The sandwich was far better than the one I had at Macon Road. The pork was juicy, but not mushy, and the sauce had a nice vinegary kick to it. It was mustard-based, thin enough to coat the pork but not overpowering. Again I found myself eating late because of more pressing business concerns, however, I was one of 7-8 people walking into Smoky Pig's small dining area at 3:00 p.m. on a Wednesday. That says something about the place. It's on 11th Avenue, hidden in the parking lot behind another building, but well worth the trip.
Finally, I tried Chicken Comer's, which I understand to be something of a local legend.Alright, the original Chicken Comer was a legend, and this place is its successor under new ownership. But you get the idea. I'll dispense with the suspense: this was my clear favorite of the three. On the advice of counsel, I ordered a chopped pork sandwich with Comer's hot sauce, which is also sold in the store and online. It was a thin mustard sauce that some would find too hot for comfort. I thought it was perfect. It's similar to the mustard sauces you tend to find in South Carolina and east Georgia, with good heat, and just a touch of sweetness. As I was devouring the sandwich with no heed to decorum or manners, the gentleman who'd just taken my order came by my table to ask how I liked it. I managed to give him a vigorous thumbs up. He responded "Sometimes with the chopped pork it can get a little dry, so I put a little extra sauce on it just in case. If it's too dry just let me know." That was pretty cool, in and of itself.
The tea was, as with the other spots, spot on. The beans were good, though frankly tasted like canned which had maybe been put on the smoker to warm (they were also exceptionally sweet, as if someone accidentally dropped a pound of brown sugar in the pot and hoped no one would notice). There was no chopped pork in the beans either, which I would have preferred. The cole slaw was among the best I've ever had. It was extra creamy, and great for taking the edge off the spicey sauce. My routine was to take a ravenous bite of the sandwich, chase it with a bite of the slaw, then gulp some sweet tea, then repeat (interspersing a bite of the candy sweet baked beans on occasion, finishing them for dessert).
Chicken Comer's also was the only one of the three places I tried with my preferred BBQ restaurant decor: Georgia Bulldog signs and posters and autographed country music singer pictures. I know I saw Jamey Johnson, Randy Travis and Willie Nelson. Willie Nelson and Randy Travis will never, ever steer you to bad que. Willie's a Texan so that que may have come from a cow, but it will probably still be good.
So, to summarize, Chicken Comer's makes a pork sandwich that should be illegal, Smoky Pig is a close second, and I just caught Macon Road on a bad day.