I may have chosen a side in the Chattahoochee Valley’s barbecue wars, and I place most of the blame on pecan pie.
There are folks here who swear by Clearview. Others want 13th Street. Country’s is an institution. Maybe you like Zombie Pig. Then there’s Macon Road, Chester’s, Pepper’s and on and on and on.
Smokey Pig Barbecue, with two area locations, makes a strong case for its place near the top of that list. Talk in the newsroom brought us there earlier this week. Editor Lauren Gorla passes the Columbus location every day and she said she noticed a bright, new sign. I got to thinking, and my stomach said barbecue sounded good.
The old brick building just off Linwood Boulevard smelled of meat, wood and smoke as soon as we walked through the doors. I got to the counter up front and placed my order quickly — a barbecue sandwich with potato salad and Brunswick stew.
I’d eat there again the next day, too. I took it to go and ate it at the office this time. On the second visit, I got the chicken plate with beans and fruit salad as my side.
Before I could even finish filling my drink at the soda fountain during the first visit, my order was already on the tray. From the first bite, I knew the sandwich was everything that I wanted.
You get a few options for how you want your meat served. I went with chipped, meaning the pulled pork was finely shredded and cooked in their mustard-base sauce. Historically, mustard-based barbecue traces its origins back to the German settlers of South Carolina, and I associate it with family road trips from Augusta, Georgia, to Charleston.
While much of the nation prefers heavy and sweet tomato-based sauce, some good folks from The Palmetto State and I can’t get enough of that golden goodness. Smokey Pig’s take on the sauce was thinner and had a little more vinegar than other variations I’ve had over the years. It’s sweet. It’s tangy, and it pairs perfectly with pork and chicken.
The pork was well smoked and shredded finely. Too often, I find myself frustrated by sandwiches filled with fatty pork or pork that’s cut too large. Not here.
The pickles and the finely-chopped slaw that topped the pork further played into the sauce’s tangy notes. But it didn’t overwhelm the taste of the meat. I asked for an extra side of sauce to try it by itself.
That’s the mark of a good sauce and a well-prepared sandwich. Let the eater know the sauce is there but don’t overshadow the real star — the meat.
I had the chicken cut up in bite-sized pieces. It was tender, well seasoned and perfectly cooked. The mustard sauce was lightly-drizzled on top of the chicken, and the folks in the kitchen used just the right amount. The plate came with a side of pickles and a vinegary slaw which were eaten quickly.
If you’re getting sides, I recommend the sweet and tender baked beans. The fruit salad is a little treat, too. It’s cream cheese heavy and almost a dessert in its own right. The Brunswick stew was thick and sweet.
The potato salad will probably divide some folks, though.
Smokey Pig’s variation is a rich, mayonnaise-based salad. There’s little to no mustard like you might see in other southern potato salads. You’ll get notes of vinegar and sugar, too. I enjoyed it but decided to leave room for pie.
Ledger-Enquirer video extraordinaire Mike Haskey is a big fan of the potato salad. He finished his potato salad, and he finished mine.
The biggest surprise of the meal was the pecan pie. Smokey Pig advertises the homemade pies on its paper menus and inside the restaurant. It was a last-second decision to get a slice.
I’m glad I did. They keep the slices refrigerated, and the first bite will make you stop for a moment. Pecan pie isn’t even a favorite of mine, but this was something else. I was in a state of bliss.
The filling was thicker and wasn’t overly sweet. If I had to guess, I’d say there’d be peanut butter in it. Seriously, get a slice.
When it’s all said and done, you should expect to spend $10 to $15 depending on what you get.
I’ll keep eating at barbecue places in the area as I try to find my favorite place. I could still be swayed to pick another spot, but it’ll be hard to beat Smokey Pig.
Smokey Pig Barbecue
1617 11th Ave., Columbus and 1502 Opelika Road, Phenix City