Monk: Of all the regions of barbecue in the southeast, Georgia barbecue is probably the one I’m least familiar with. When I have visited the Peach State and tried barbecue restaurants (primarily in Atlanta), they are either heavily Texas-influenced (Fox Bros, DAS BBQ), a fusion-type place (Heirloom Market), or in the case of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque, Carolinas whole hog. But, as friend of the blog Grant has passionately defended multiple times on his excellent food blog Marie, Let’s Eat!, there is certainly a Georgia style of barbecue with many sub-regions of its own. On a recent Monk family trip to Athens for a gymnastics competition, I purposefully sought out a more traditional Georgia barbecue joint in Fresh Air Bar-B-Que.
The original Fresh Air Bar-B-Que is in Jackson, about an hour’s drive south of Atlanta, and first opened in 1929. It is (according to their website) “the oldest pit-cooked barbecue restaurant in Georgia still in its original location,” and since that original location was opened by Dr. Joel Watkins they have expanded to Macon as well as a couple of locations in the Athens area.
Fresh Air has a simple menu of chopped pork, ribs, and chicken that comes in sandwich, basket, or plate form. I went with a sandwich plate with stew and slaw.
Fresh Air’s chopped pork was on the leaner and drier side (as can be the case in this part of Georgia according to the article from Grant above), so I added some vinegar sauce, slaw, and hot sauce. The sandwich was good, if a bit average.
I bought a single rib bone to try it out and it was well cooked with a slightly sweet sauce. I would have gladly had a couple more.
What really set the meal apart was the Brunswick stew, which was in the upper echelon of stews I’ve tasted. I’m by no means a connoisseur of Brunswick stew, but Fresh Air’s was a thicker stew as opposed to a runnier soup. The greenish slaw was made of finely diced cabbage but I’d take a Lexington-style red slaw over it any day of the week.
Unfortunately, a lot of the classic barbecue joints in the Athens area have closed in the past few years: Bill’s Bar-B-Q in nearby Hull, Paul’s Bar-B-Q, and Hot Thomas Barbecue. Of the ones still open, I would have loved to have also checked out Butt Hutt or Zeb’s or Bar-B-Que Shack and tried this chicken mull dish I’ve yet to have. Even after a visit to Fresh Air Bar-B-Que, it’s pretty obvious to me that I’ve barely scratched the surface of Georgia barbecue. Next time.
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs