Dateline – Thursday, July 3, 6:18 pm. Departing M.’s place of employment, we headed to the first stop on the “J. & M.’s Historic Confederate States 4th of July BBQ Road Trip, Because ‘Merica.” Driving north of Interstate 10, we head to “Beef and Bun Bar-B-Que,” the Texas stop of the trip. Family-owned and operating for over 40 years, the pit was in back and a good odor of smoke was present in the restaurant, which was tucked into a shopping center. We ordered pork ribs and beef brisket, along with baked beans and potato salad as sides. Arrived a bit before 7pm, we were there about 45 minutes before making our way back onto I-610 then I-10 with the hope of making our next stop in Lake Charles, Louisiana before 9 pm.
8155 Long Point Rd, Houston, TX 77055
9:00 pm, only just east of Beaumont. Hopes of making the Louisiana stop have faded to near-nothing, as we’re caught in both weather and bad traffic. We push on to see what we can find. We stopped at a gas station outside of Lake Charles and about BBQ and were told that nobody would be open. We pushed, and had the brainstorm of “why not New Orleans?” This, despite being told by both a police officer and a former UTEP football player (at another gas station in a desperate attempt to get BBQ that night) that it wasn’t safe to go to NoLa. J. drove and I began checking my phone for late-night possibilities in the Big Easy.
Approximately midnight, just outside of Lake Charles, LA. A massive accident has halted east-bound traffic on I-10 and we’re stuck in the middle of the traffic. To go from mile-marker 98 to 93 it took somewhere between two to three hours (J. and I disagree on the time, because we were both so blindingly exhausted). We ended up pulling off at an exit, stopping at a gas station, and sleeping for 2-3 hours.
Friday, July 4, around 5 am. J. got up and started driving again. She asked me for navigational directions, and I managed to take her down I-10 instead of saving some time by avoiding New Orleans. J. still checked for BBQ on her phone while heading through town and dealing with my snores, but nothing was open. I woke up on the other side of Lake Ponchartrain. Stopping in Slidell, LA, we felt defeated by weather and ended up buying a small bag of Louisiana BBQ-flavored chips in an attempt to make a pyrrhic victory out of it. Louisiana 1 – Us 0.
10:23 am. We drove through Mississippi, then through Mobile, Alabama (including the deep tunnel which surprised both of us) and on into Pensacola, Florida to be at the next stop when it opened: Arlene William’s BBQ. Arlene was tending the pit out back when we got out of the car, exhausted and giddy. She asked what we wanted, afraid that we’d be asking for a whole slab. When we explained what we were after, she was happy to take care of us. Her 4th of July orders were sold-out and she had a lot of business come through when we were there. She and “Mr. Arlene” (Denby) were outstanding hosts, serving up wonderful pork ribs, a great pulled pork sandwich, sweet potato casserole, collard greens, a sweet corn muffin and what we considered the best mac and cheese of the trip. We drank “Miami Flop,” iced tea with pineapple, which was wonderfully refreshing. She’s been there about 4 years and is expanding into the building next door to allow for a dine-in experience. We both know she’ll do well. The atmosphere of the place wonderful, friendly, and we’re happy to have gone there. Denby showed off the ribs and chicken on the grill and fully satisfied, we exited. On our way back out of town, we drove past someone who was nearly a spitting image of Leslie, the Austin icon (RIP, Leslie). Sadly, she didn’t look much better than he used to.
3420 Mobile Hwy, Pensacola, FL 32505
Noon-ish. After traveling back through Mobile and heading up a beautiful highway in US-45, having traded places on the road several times with a young woman paying little attention to the cars around her, we were treated to the sight of her pulled over by a county sheriff. We tried not to be gleeful. Didn’t help – we loved it.
2:39pm. While we were originally on the way to Meridian, MS, one look at Ced’s Rib Shack outside of Waynesboro and we turned around immediately. Ced’s is a house with a couple smokers to the side, set on land which we think is owned by Ced’s family. Chickens could be heard in the back, and it was obviously a popular spot for locals. We were met by Ced’s mother who, after we ate, as gracious in hearing our pleas to be adopted. Wonderful ribs, utterly amazing smoked chicken drumettes (just straight smoker cooked, pretty sure not fried ever, and the kind of food we would mail-order from Ced’s for a Superbowl Party and pay whatever was asked), and barbecued goat (really brisket, and wonderful). Sides were baked beans (wonderful), fries and mac and cheese. The dining room was basically the converted living room and Ced’s was obviously popular with the locals.
6163 U.S. 45, Waynesboro, MS 39367
6:24pm. Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Having crisscrossed Mississippi and Alabama several times already that day, we arrive at the first destination we chose for the trip: Dreamland Bar-B-Que. M. blames Mojo Nixon for that. We arrive with high expectations and a need to be in Atlanta before 11pm for the next stop. Maybe it was that the to-go orders had overwhelmed them, but something was missing in the ribs. They seemed to lack something, smoke, long time on the pit – we just didn’t know. But they were missing something. The sausage was decent and the beans well-prepared. The atmosphere and the place itself was classic, but we left feeling like there it lacked an element which we saw at the other places we’d been to – the family element. Dreamland is a small chain these days, and maybe its success cost it something along the way. Perhaps the long hours on the road and BBQ twice that day was taking a toll.
5535 15th Avenue, East, Tuscaloosa, AL 35405
10:59pm, Atlanta, Georgia. We arrive at the chosen destination only to be told that the kitchen had closed an hour earlier and no guidance or thoughts on where else to go. M. had checked earlier in the week and was told the kitchen was open until 11, and was understandably frustrated. So we left the Bone Lick (that’s right, we’re naming it) and its college crowd and began searching, yet again, for some place to take care of the BBQ needs of late-night travelers. That’s how we ended up at a 24-hour Korean barbecue joint in Duluth (“Because ‘Merica”). The grills were hopping and definitely busy. We had bulgogi, bi bim bap and a lot of (truly needed) vegetables. Thankfully, our hotel was just down the road, where we gratefully collapsed.
Seo Ra Beol
3040 Steve Reynolds Blvd., Duluth, GA 30096
July 5, 12:50 pm, Greenville, SC. A truly beautiful town (AGFA FTW!) but Mike & Jeff’s, our initial destination, was closed following the 4th. Lesson learned: small, family owned businesses will close around holidays, so call first. We saw an old radio station, fenced off and abandoned, which definitely caught our eyes. Luckily, we had passed Little Pigs Bar-B-Q on the way into town. Father –in-law and son were minding the store and were wonderful, genuine and friendly. Photographs of piglets were added a dark touch to the place. Riblet in a thick, sweet sauce and pulled pork sandwiches, excellent baked beans, Brunswick stew, and staggeringly good sweet potato crunch. We were given a pint of the sweet potato to take with us when we left.
Little Pigs Bar-B-Q at Hudson Corners
2428 Hudson Road, Greer, South Carolina 29650
3:45 pm. We find ourselves at Luella’s Bar-B-Que in Asheville, NC. A very hip, popular and busy place, we enjoyed some excellently prepared St. Louis style pork ribs, with a wonderful rub and that came easily off the bone. Their selection of sauces to go with the ribs was great, and we really enjoyed the locally-made mustard vinegar sauce. Luella’s was the first time both of us had tried vinegar-based bbq sauces – they really changed the flavor profile and made for an interesting contrast to the sweet sauces we’d had so far. The smoked wings were decent, with hush puppies and mac and cheese. While we were there, J. spotted an elderly man eating by himself who had been wearing a U.S.S. Indiana baseball cap. As J. has done many times in the past, she pulled our server in close and informed her that we’d be paying for his meal and not to tell him who paid. M. watched as the server told him, and both he and the server smiled. We paid and took our leave, trying for the Virginia destination before it closed.
501 Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804
4:31 pm, Flat Creek, NC. J. grabbed a side road to see if we could find an estate sale (books, books, books) when we came across the Flat Creek Tavern, which we learned was the oldest continuously operating legal tavern in North Carolina. The Harley-Davidsons out front had caught our eyes and the patrons and bartender Sherri were all incredibly friendly and welcoming. We learned that until only about ten years ago, women weren’t allowed into the bar. J. and I were given heart-felt well-wishes for the travels and a hope for a return. We’d be honored.
7:41pm, Abingdon, Virginia. The BBQ place we were going to stop at in Bristol, having closed (the website was still up but the phone was not working), and the first alternate location being on the wrong side of the border, we drove up the interstate a bit to get to the Bonefire Smokehouse BBQ in the picturesque town of Abingdon. There was a concert in the city park and a lovely railroad bridge not far from where we parked. Feeling a bit tired, we went with the rib sandwich and pulled port sandwiche, with excellent home-cooked chips, mac and cheese, spiced apples, and slaw. After dinner, we chased fireflies around the town, joked with some ladies outside a furniture shop (M. determined that the musketeer figurines would work as occasional pieces in his man-cave, but that he’d require an actual bloody great cave), and began driving to Tennessee.
260 W Main St, Abingdon, VA 24210
9:59pm, a drive-through Dairy Queen outside of Knoxville. We hop off to grab some ice cream. We pull in at 1 minute before closing. With the inside closed already, we scrambled around through the drive-through to get the necessary treats, only to be trapped in the traffic pouring out of the dirt track speedway just down the road. Sigh. Our goal was a hotel in Nashville, pre-paid and with a nice bed calling.
July 6, 12:10 am. No way to make it into Nashville. We’re still almost an hour-and a half away and just too tired. M. has been driving and we pull over at a gas station where we slept for an hour. M. got up and drove to the nearest open hotel, somewhere around exit 213 an hour later. We curl up and crash for several hours.
10:30 am. We’re back on the way and punching through Nashville. M. annoyed he couldn’t make it all the way there last night, but safety first. It’s the last day, and we have stops in Memphis and Little Rock. We decide to try and make it from Little Rock to Shreveport to see if we can still get honest BBQ in Louisiana.
2:30 pm, Memphis. Central BBQ is the first of the stops we arrive at on the day, having driven across most of the length of Tennessee. Outstanding ribs, half-wet half-dry. The first place that coleslaw was automatically put on the pulled-pork sandwich. Mac and cheese and homemade seasoned chips as sides. A popular location, good counter service, and very good food, though tricky to get to off the highway with the construction. We return to I-40 and drive into Arkansas.
4375 Summer Ave
3:30 pm, not far enough into Arkansas. The curse of highway construction in Arkansas has struck again. We are at a dead stop on I-40 as miles of the interstate are shut down to one lane. We watch a car with Georgia plates move across on our left, windows open and a young woman’s pink painted toenails sticking out of the window the brightest color visible. Time passes as the closing time for the Shreveport locations we chose edges closer and the goal of all 11 states is slipping away.
6:54 pm. Whole Hog Café in Little Rock. Championship BBQ, and it shows. Trophies line the walls and the windows, the sauces are good, the BBQ was delicious and slightly poorer service that we’d expected. Nevertheless, we leave with a bottle of one of our favorite sauces. Having determined that making Louisiana before 10 is out of the question, recognizing that we still have a long way back to Houston that night, we enjoyed the final meal of the trip.
2516 Cantrell Rd
Little Rock, AR
July 7, 12:10 am. Queen City, Texas. We have eaten BBQ in 10 of the 11 states. We are at a gas station, switching drivers from M. to J. (who has the amazing ability to pull us in on the last, exhausting leg, of virtually any road trip). As M. is in the restroom, the young man who was just thrown out of the gas station for swearing and screaming on his cell phone asks J. “Are you going to Dallas?” Thankfully, we are not.
3:10 am. Houston, Texas. We’re back at our place, having traveled 2588 miles just over 81 hours. We get about 4 hours of sleep before having to get up and get to work by 8:30. And life goes on.
Dateline, Tuesday July 16, 6:10pm, Shreveport, LA. Thought you could beat us? Ha. Podnuh’s has five locations, is family owned and had the best pulled pork sandwich M. says he’d eaten in the 11 states we visited. Very friendly staff and easy-going cafeteria-style BBQ with a nice mix of sides.
9030 Mansfield Rd