Everyone has “their” BBQ spot that’s the best…no matter what anyone else says. If you haven’t found yours don’t worry, one day you will. I was lucky enough to find mine in middle school. My grandfather (Granddaddy) would always take me deer hunting on cool fall weekends and turkey hunting in the spring. This equaled about fifteen weekends each year that I always looked forward to no matter what. Our hunting camp wasn’t close to home at all, which looking back made the experiences even more memorable. To get there we’d always would pass a little BBQ place on the side of the road named Holcomb’s. It wasn’t ever a question as to where we would eat on these Friday evenings. It was always Holcomb’s. This tradition began way before my time though, starting with my dad and Granddaddy hunting together many years before I was ever around. In a way, Holcomb’s has become the standard to which all other BBQ is measured. We’ve never found a place that’s even come close to our experiences here. But it makes you wonder if you’re comparing all the others to the food…or the memories.
Unfortunately, Granddaddy passed away a few weeks before I graduated from high school, and I haven’t eaten there since. The restaurant is 2+ hours from my house, so it’s not somewhere I can just stop by if I want to. I’ve driven by it a couple of times since then, but for whatever reason I wasn’t able to stop. Part of me wonders if I was even ready to stop. It’s been almost ten years even though it feels like just yesterday. I’m married now and life’s a little different than it was, but my dad and I still talk about our BBQ spot so much that sometimes I think I drive my wife, Leigh crazy. Leigh was ready to taste Holcomb’s for herself, so on this day I decided to take a day trip with her to White Plains and finally introduce her to something that’s been so special to me all these years. I was nervous to see if it would live up to the hype in her opinion, but in a weird way I was nervous to see if it could live up to everything that I remembered so dearly. When I pulled up and walked through the doors what kind of feelings would I have? Would I be sad, disappointed, elated, nostalgic, comforted? Is the place even still around?
As my wife and I started driving out I-20, I replayed many good memories of Granddaddy and I. It reminded me how he was the first one to trust me enough to let me drive on the interstate. The first weekend that we were together after I got my learners permit, he let me drive his pick-up truck all the way from my house in Cumming to the hunting camp in Sandersville, Georgia – a good three hours. He was much more than just a grandpa or a hunting buddy to me. He trusted me and I trusted him.
Holcomb’s BBQ is in located in White Plains, Georgia. If you’re heading east on I-20 toward Augusta, it’s about 10 minutes off of the interstate - a few miles after you cross Lake Oconee. The restaurant is secluded in the middle of some cow pastures with no neighboring buildings. As we pulled into the parking lot, I experienced a flood of different emotions. I was excited to eat good BBQ, sad thinking about the last time I was there when Granddaddy was still alive, and nervous to see if Leigh would like the food she’d heard about for a decade. Thankfully, my concerns about whether the place had changed were put to rest immediately.
It was just like I remembered it.
We pulled into the gravel parking lot next to the restaurant (which looks like an old wooden shed), walked through the slightly dented screen door, stepped onto the sawdust floor, and sat down at one of the two 70-foot long picnic tables. That’s the entire restaurant: two long picnic tables with benches on a sawdust floor. The smokers are in the back, and the bathrooms are in a separate outhouse located outside. Not one thing had changed.
The menu options were the same as they always had been: sliced or chopped pork (which you can get as a plate or a sandwich), Brunswick stew, and coleslaw. There are no other options – you can take your pick from those items. Leigh and I ordered the only thing that I have ever ordered there in the 50+ times I’ve been a customer: the BBQ plate with sweet tea (well, Leigh ordered water). The plate comes with chopped pork, stew, slaw, and served with a stack of soft, sliced white bread. A plastic container of sweet mixed pickles is also on the table. The food is served on a plastic plate, you eat with plastic utensils, and you drink out of plain Styrofoam cups. Because the tea is so good, they go ahead and put an entire pitcher on the table so it’s easy to give yourself a refill. As far as condiments, there’s only one sauce option which is a vinegar based “North Carolina style” sauce. Normally vinegar-based sauces are not my favorite, but for some reason (many reasons) I love this sauce here.
I think I knew this already, but today proved that more than anything I love Holcomb’s because of all of the good times that I have with my grandfather. Whenever I think of this place, I don’t think of BBQ. I think of Granddaddy. I’ve noticed that as time goes on and the more my dad and I talk about Holcomb’s, the better it gets…the more it means to us. The simplicity of this particular BBQ joint and how it never changes just makes it even easier to reminisce about all the good times.
To be honest, Holcomb’s wasn’t Leigh’s favorite BBQ and to be completely honest it’s probably not the best BBQ I’ve ever had either. I’m not sure what kind of “star rating” GBH would give it, but it probably wouldn’t be high. And while it’s not the best, it’ll always be the best, untouchable because of all the good memories associated with it. Restaurants aren’t always about the food. I’m far from ready for this to happen now, but one day I hope to bring my own son or grandson there and share with him the goodness of the stew, the slaw, but most importantly…share about Granddaddy.