After wandering in the barbecue wilderness for years, folks on Amelia Island have finally found their promised ham—chopped, pulled and on the bone.
Barbecue holes-in-the-wall are popping up on Amelia Island faster than a Donald Trump tweet sends the media into fits of squealing apocalyptic hysterics.
The latest addition is Michael Stringer’s State Line Barbecue Company, which opened the week of July 4th next to Flash Foods at the intersection of Will Hardee Road and Sadler Road. It’s take-out only, specializing in oinkers, no beef in sight in Mike’s place, no siree Bob, this is Deep South roadside BBQ. “This ain’t Texas,” he firmly explained about the brisket.
Mike’s as serious as a funeral about his ’cue. He has a smoker he designed and had custom-made in Green Cove Springs by Mack Daddy Smoker and he’s armed with stacks of cherry wood to fuel it.
The laidback Atlanta native who worked in the chemical marketing business for 40 years and has lived on the island for the last 15 has wallet-pleasing prices and sides that have my South Georgia pal Eugene Lamar and his wife, Jolene, racing across the border.
His pulled-pork sandwich goes for just $8.75. For that price, you get two (count ’em, TWO) sandwiches, with the pork pulled to order. St. Louis-style pork ribs are $8.75 for three bones, $16 for a half-slab, $24 for a full. There’s a family recipe Brunswick stew for just $2.75 and coleslaw, potato salad and baked beans (made Papa’s way with chopped pork, bacon and onion). Mike’s open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to around 7 p.m. or when he runs out of pig, whichever comes first. Lately he’s been running out between 4 and 5 p.m.
If someone wants beef or a burger, Mike will politely direct them to the Krystal on the opposite corner of Will Hardee and Sadler.
Not too long ago, the only places on the island to find barbecue were downtown’s Happy Tomato Courtyard Cafe & BBQ and, more recently, Gilbert’s Underground.
The personable Richard Bolton has been providing residents and tourists with barbecue turkey, pork, ribs and chicken at the Happy Tom since 2007. He opens the doors at 11 a.m. and is usually closed by 4:30 Monday through Saturday. The busy place is testimony that Richard knows his way around a smoker. I’ve had him cater a function at my home that resulted in better reviews for his food than my hospitality. (You could at least feign surprise.) How many folks show up at a private party and tell the host, “We can’t stay, but do you have a take-out box?”
Kenny Gilbert (of celebrity chef fame) started out with a more sophisticated Southern menu at Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen, but as time passed, more and more smokers sprouted in his front parking lot and the menu began listing fewer collard greens, chitin soups and butter bean and grits casseroles to focus almost exclusively on barbecue and appropriate sides.
It used to be, when you wandered into any barbecue joint in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, etc. and asked for brisket, the waitresses and customers would point at you and laugh and the pitmaster would holler ugly things about your mama until you left.
Not at Island BBQ, which opened a little over a month ago on South 14th Street, featuring expert pitmaster Rodney Stubbs who makes the best beef brisket this side of the Mississippi. The Island BBQ crew also does pork, ribs, turkey and chicken plus traditional sides: baked beans, okra, mac and cheese, and more, with generous slices of white loaf bread and a landslide of pickle slices. It’s open daily and will soon have a license to sell beer and wine in the 30-seat establishment.
Even South Eighth Street’s Halftime Sports Bar & Grill is in on the act. A smoker can often be seen sitting in front of that sports emporium containing Manager Lorenzo Church’s handiwork of slow-smoked ribs and pork. Earlier this month, he had a July Fourth special: a full rack of ribs for $19.99, a half-rack for $12.99 and a rib sandwich and a side, $10. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender.
The only thing missing in this barbecue mix is a waitress named Dixie, ice-cold bottles of grape Nehi, and a pitmaster called Bubba, who can dangle a toothpick from his lip like Bogey hung a smoke.
What this island needs now are a few hand-painted signs saying: “Smoked mullet just ahead.”
Scott is a former newspaper reporter and retired corporate and agency public relations professional. He blogs at davescottblog.com.