One of Georgia’s oldest barbecue restaurants, Sprayberry’s association with two famous Coweta County natives has made it known far beyond Newnan. Lewis Grizzard sang its praises in his books and country music superstar Alan Jackson waited tables here as a teenager. It all began with Houston Sprayberry, who owned a gas station and sold barbecue out of the back. By 1926, the barbecue became so popular he closed the gas station and made it a restaurant. Over 90 years later, it remains as popular as ever.
Tag Archives: North Georgia Barbecue
Dr. Joel Watkins began selling barbecue here in 1929, making it the oldest pit-cooked barbecue establishment in Georgia still in its original location. Upon Dr. Watkins’ death in 1945, the business was purchased by longtime manager, George W. “Toots” Caston, who is credited with making Fresh Air Barbecue into the institution it is today. Caston made improvements to the cooking process, the sauce, and the Brunswick stew recipe and expanded the business from a drive-in to a dine-in. Even the coming of I-75 couldn’t keep people away from Fresh Air, with many travelers taking the exit just to experience the legendary fare of the “Barbecue Place”. Still boasting one of the shortest menus in the business, there are no frills here, just barbecue, Brunswick stew, pickles and potato chips, and pecan, lemon or Reese’s pie for desert if you need something sweet for the road. And you can buy a whole ham if you’d like. There’s a Macon location today that has a few additional items, but you really should go to the original first.
On my numerous trips to Athens, I always pass Hot Thomas Bar-B-Que and bemoan the fact that it’s not open. Numerous friends have told me I have to eat here, but I’m either here on Monday, when it’s closed, or pass through too late to sample their barbeque. They’re open from 10-2. Recently, I was determined to at least get a photograph of the place and while I was here shooting, owner Mark Thomas stopped by and graciously shared some of its history with me. He’s a really likeable guy and you can tell he puts a lot of himself into this business. He noted that the building was constructed about 1948 and first used as a general store. But the Thomas family has been on the property since at least the mid-1800s, when they opened a cotton gin here. They ginned cotton into the 1970s; the old Continental gin is an event space today. A farmhouse, tenant housing, barns, and other historic structures also remain on the property. They weren’t moved here to make the place look more authentic; they’ve always been here.
Mark’s late father, Carl Howard “Hot” Thomas (1935-2011), who started the business, was really a jack-of-all-trades, a farmer and entrepreneur who raised cattle, hogs, and turkeys, row-cropped, grew and ginned cotton. He also owned a large peach orchard until a hard freeze finished it off years ago. But he was best known for his barbeque restaurant, simply known as “Hot’s” to locals.
The day after meeting Mark I raced from a photo shoot in Jefferson back down to Watkinsville so I could finally see what all the fuss was about. I wasn’t disappointed. The place was packed with locals, from white collar bankers and lawyers to blue collar laborers in work clothes. That was the first good sign. And the interior walls are lined with shelves from the building’s days as a general store. Hot’s collection of old bottles and other treasures shares the walls with dozens of loaves of Sunbeam and Wonder bread. I guess some people have a preference. One of their most popular items is chicken mull, which I haven’t tried but is described as a sort of chicken pot pie in stew form. I opted for the barbeque plate with the vinegar sauce (a lot of people prefer the ketchup-based sauce and I’ll try it next time) and my prerequisite sides of Brunswick stew and slaw, complimented by some really good (and really sweet) tea. It’s an indulgence reserved for road trips. And a good day trip if you’re nearby would include a mandatory visit to the nearby Elder Mill Bridge.
The first time I came through Summerville, on a mission to see Paradise Garden, it was lunchtime and I stopped at this place. It was packed to the rafters and like a step back in time. None of the interior has been updated since it was built, likely in 1965 when the business was established, but the place was warm and welcoming. And I loved their pepper-based sauce. A jar was purchased and guarded until the last drop was used. I wish I’d bought a dozen jars, because it was closed when I passed through a few weeks ago. And judging by comments online, it’s a real roll of the dice to find it open. Locals obviously love the place, too. I don’t know anything about their hours or why they’re so rarely open, but I do know that they have some of the best barbecue sauce I’ve ever eaten. If you’re lucky enough to be in Summerville when they’re open, make sure to stop by.
According to almost anyone you ask in Lexington, or any of the myriad barbecue “experts” out there, Paul’s was one of the best barbecue restaurants in Georgia over its long history. [I’ve eaten at many of the “best barbecue in Georgia” joints and very few have impressed me. My favorite remains Armstrong’s in Summerville and it’s not even on many of those lists. They seem to have issues with their hours, though]. Online reviews raved about the perfect vinegar-based sauce, the thick Brunswick stew and sweet tea better than your granny’s. Paul’s was only open from 9:30-2:00 on Saturdays and on Independence Day. They finally shut their doors on 4 July 2016, a day which made many people sad.
Luckily, the good folks at the Southern Foodways Alliance interviewed the owners in 2008 and recorded an oral history of the business. It began in 1929 when Clifford Collins started cooking and barbecuing whole hogs in Lexington. He and Fudge Collins sold their product under the shade of a Mulberry tree on Main Street for the next forty years. With the advent of health regulations, the business moved inside this building and they began smoking hams instead of whole hogs. Clifford retired when he was in his 90s and passed the business on to his nephew, George Paul, Jr. George was a farmer with no restaurant experience but he quickly learned the ropes. He and his son Jimmy operated the business from about 1979 until 2016, with George smoking the shoulders on a pit at his farm and Jimmy making the Brunswick stew.
Southern Foodways Alliance also recorded this short video, which you might enjoy.
A favorite with tourists and locals alike, Poole’s Bar-B-Q has become a world-famous attraction in the mountain town of East Ellijay. Oscar and Edna Poole opened the restaurant in 1989. It started in a roadside shack but now occupies this building, known as the “Taj-Ma-Hog”.
Pig cut-outs, arranged in the shape of a pig, adorn the hill behind the restaurant known as the “Pig Hill of Fame”.
Pig-related names abound.
The Pig Hill of Fame started with just 300 cut-outs but now features over 3000.
Poole’s Bar-B-Q probably doesn’t need to advertise, but these crazy cars do a good job.
The pig kitsch is a lot of fun. Like the old saying of eating everything but the squeal, Poole’s uses decorative pigs in every possible way.
One of my favorite things, though, was Porky, a child’s ride of the kind you’d find outside dime stores a couple of generations ago.