Art Of The Meal: When Pigs Fly
Southern Soul Barbecue
2020 Demere Road
St. Simons Island
The Georgia coast is a worthy destination any time of year, but especially in fall and winter, after the salt marshes take on a beautiful gold glow – just one of the reasons for the name, the “Golden Isles.”
St. Simons’ natural beauty, as well as its humble, homey appeal, is part of what makes this part of the coast so charming. Thank heavens the gray sand and slate Atlantic waters don’t attract student hordes and nearby Sea Island takes care of the upscale crowd. You come to St. Simons expecting to be embraced and sheltered by the live oaks that form a tunnel over the winding two-lane into the island. You expect some quiet downtime, to be lulled to sleep by the waves, to spend several days without socks. When it comes to food, you just don’t want anything crushing that vibe.
That may account for St. Simons’ somewhat eccentric dining options – the most popular spots serve steaks and fried seafood, and it can be hard to find a good grilled piece of fish. Perhaps because of the down-home vibe, this tiny island boasts more good barbecue in its few square miles than any other spot in the state I can think of.
Southern Soul Barbecue is maybe the best food for the money on the island. Last year the operation moved from a tarp-covered courtyard in the village into what was once a gas station, at a high-profile intersection (Demere and Frederica). You couldn’t drop a lot of cash on dinner if you wanted to, and the seating is limited. But owners Griffin Bufkin and Harrison Sapp don’t cut corners on their star attraction, the ‘cue, Boston butt, smoked for 12 – 14 hours over oak, sprinkled with their secret “soul” seasoning. The meat in the chopped pork sandwich has tasty edges, but no hard crust – it’s a tender heap of pig, classic Georgia-style: The taste is in the meat, not the sauce. But the sauces are also lovingly prepared in-house, in a six-pack of squeeze bottles within reach of every diner: Sweet, hot, mustard, molasses…. They’re all terrific, but you don’t really need anything but this beautifully smoked pork, in tender bites.
Ah, but Southern Soul serves so much more – delectable, moist smoked chicken piled high on thick-sliced buttered toast, in a house-made chicken salad; some of the best hoppin’ john you will ever sample; cornmeal-crusted fried okra and fried green beans; brightly flavorful Brunswick stew; slightly sweet, slightly hot collards; and a fantastic house invention called the Barbecuban – pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and yellow mustard, pressed and grilled, Cuban-style. You can also find such Southern classics as a tomato sandwich on white bread, pimento cheese, ribs, hot dogs, burgers, macaroni and cheese – all made by people who care about food, and seem to enjoy serving you.
In fact, as good as the food is, Southern Soul’s staff is even better – this group of dedicated, tattooed young people define the term “counter culture” in a good way. They seem to enjoy their old-school jobs and get you in and out quickly when it counts.
And buy a T-shirt, which sports a pig with wings. It fits – this pork really takes flight.