On the first day of December 2022, on a cold morning with air as crisp as a fresh Lay's Potato Chip, all six Trailheads and two-tailed companions (there may be more tails amongst us–we don't ask things like that) gathered at the Island Ford Trail for an invigorating hike. And in our typical fashion, a few of us were waiting in the wrong parking lot. Before you snicker and guffaw, know that Island Ford has three parking lots, and half of us chose the wrong one (the other three said, "Where are those idiots, anyway?").
When we finally assembled, Trail Master Guy was studying his AllTrails app. We had hiked Ford Island before, and he wanted to shake things up. We assured him we couldn't recall anything (had we even remembered to wear pants?), but Guy was determined. So, we followed his lead to a wooded area with felled trees and no trail. Nope.
He led his troops down an asphalt road. "Boy, this sure is a smooth, well-maintained path," we smart asses said, and arrived at another wooded area with no trail in sight. Then down another dead end that was clearly marked "DO NOT ENTER." To Guy, that means "COME RIGHT IN." It led to a lovely fourth parking lot for workers. Nice.
We backtracked and found a trail as the sun was setting–– okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but that's what we do.
Off we went, down the well-worn path and into serious hiking territory. No parking lots here! Trailheads were free-ranging their way through the woods along the Chattahoochee River. Bruce Springsteen was on the bank singing "The River." We told him we were huge fans and requested his hit song "I Can't Get No Satisfaction." The Boss ignored us, he seemed a little agitated, and we continued on our way––rock stars can be difficult. It sparked a lively conversation about Guy's time spent growing up on the Jersey Shore, and Patrick's nights spent at the Stone Pony during an Asbury Park pilgrimage in college, and the recent Howard Stern interview with Bruce. It got five stars from several of us who had seen it.
The nice thing about a full hiking crew is members can participate in various conversations––there are always at least two and often three talks happening at once.
You'll slip into Trailheads flapping their gums about sports, politics, epistemology, novels, the fashion statement of rope belts, aerospace engineering, health news, biophysics, film production, the funny things monkeys do at the zoo, tasty bourbons, advertising war stories, LIFO and FIFO accounting, personal irks, crowbars (the black birds are heavy drinkers), transcendental plumbing––and even some rather diverse subjects. On this hike, we talked about our go-to karaoke songs (you don't want to know).
Along the way, we passed many friendly dogs taking their humans for a hike. "Don't worry," a dog would reassure us. "He won't bite." And wouldn't you know it, the person would growl, and we would step livelier, keeping an eye over our shoulders. Dog pets can be unpredictable.
We came upon a kind teacher shepherding young children full of wonderment for nature and curiosity about the Trailheads. We told them a condensed version of our story (the complete history would have given the kids long gray beards). A boy named Colson was excited to hear that Patrick wrote books.
"Can I have an autograph?" he asked.
The author told him an autopen usually did his autographs–– it's what Bob Dylan does, but sweet, innocent Colson persisted.
"Please, mister, can I have your autograph?"
"Sorry, I don't have a pen or paper," Patrick said sheepishly, thinking this kid must think he was a fraud––a writer without pen and paper.
"I have a pen," said Roy.
Brad had given the teacher a Trailheads business card, and she gave it to Colson. Paper! The boy handed the card to Patrick, Roy gave his pen, and the honored writer blushed as he gave the lad his autograph.
"Thanks," Colson said. "I hope your character development is masterful, your metaphors fresh, and your story arcs are compelling, surprising, and satisfying."
Patrick scurried along, mumbling, "Everyone's a critic."
Thanks, Colson, you made the humble writer's day.
George was disappointed that the children preferred humorous fiction and not historical biographies. He pointed out he had written a 5.2-pound book on Baron Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games. Colson was impressed and assured George he would seek a signed, first-edition at his local bookseller.
Their teacher promised to send us information on snakes and healthy plants in the woods. We left the group to forage and hit the trail again.
Throughout the hike, Elvis had some dips in the river and returned with water he shook and shared with us, on us. At one point, George saw swampy waters and encouraged Elvis to check it out. The big black dog leaped in and came back smelling like he'd had a bath in a waste treatment plant. Even as he dried, the stink stuck. Hard.
We discovered Steve had an aversion to leaves. Leaves on hills specifically. We looked around, and of course, most of the leaves had fallen and were on the hilly areas around us. It seems he had a traumatic leaf-surfing event on a hill at some point. We made a note to bring a blower next time to clear the way for him.
We had enough exercise and returned to the parking lot for our crucial decision of where to lunch. We found a new smoked meat joint on the Yelp machine, a place up in Alpharetta called Loyal Q And Brew rated four stars––Trailheads catnip. Logging in the coordinates, we snaked our way to 400 North and into Alpharetta, a community more defined by your state of mind than boundaries. Who knows where it begins or ends––it's Alpharetta, baby––somewhere above Roswell and below the Carolinas.
A gentleman set up a table for us outside. Unlike most barbecue joints, this place is not an order-at-the-counter affair. Nope. This is a proper restaurant with beautiful surroundings and more draft taps than an Athens bar seen through beer goggles. We sat at the table with the dogs at the ends, everyone trying to stay downwind of Elvis.
Our server was a great guy named Kenny, who took our drink orders and gave his food suggestions. We surveyed the menu, and it offers anything a barbecue lover could want––pulled pork, brisket, sausage, chicken, St. Louis-style ribs, smoked wings, and more sides than the walls of The Pentagon––it's the offerings of heaven here on earth.
Get a load of this--we learned on the website, Loyal Q And Brew references the term "smoak." In the 18th century, "smoakhouses" appeared in America; they were buildings for curing meats. This restaurant still uses the spelling "Smoak." We like barbecue with history. Loyal Q makes it even better by naming their four handmade "smoakers" imported from Texas: Harry, Lloyd, Doug, and Steve.
And this meat joint only smoaks with Texas Post Oak and North Carolina Hickory wood. No gas, ever! We love that. So how is the smoaked fare? Fabulous.
Trailheads are a persnickety gang regarding barbecue, and we all fell hard for Loyal Q And Brew. Brad described his beef brisket as "one of the best in Atlanta." Roy raved about his pulled pork. "Look at that crunchy bark," he said proudly, like a papa showing off his newborn child.
Steve and Roy went for a sandwich called "The Big Memphis." The sucker had a piglet portion of pulled pork topped with slaw tucked between two slabs of Texas Toast. While we are not usually fans of Texas Toast, even Roy had to admit it was damn good. We discussed the slaw-on sandwich phenomenon. It is certainly a thing in North Alabama and North Carolina, but we didn't know it extended to Memphis.
Slaw gets around.
Trail Master Guy was eating like a dainty debutante. He ordered a healthy salad with spinach and some strange things called "kale" and "quinoa" ––fortunately, the greenery wore a couple of generous slabs of brisket. Guy cooed over his beef as he picked at his good-for-you fare beneath.
You may wonder why he was such a health-conscious Guy. It's because he has a bum shoulder and is undergoing surgery in two weeks. George offered to do the operation at a discount, but Guy didn't think he was in his network. Our Trail Master assures us he'll be able to lead his motley crew through the woods post-op. We hope so. We enjoy razzing the lovable lug.
Patrick had the Brisket Cheesesteak, a beauty of a sandwich that even Philadelphians would appreciate. It's mounds of beautiful barked brisket laid inside a perfectly toasted hoagie roll with caramelized sweet onions and peppers, topped with a cheese sauce. The soft love pillow is a work of art you can hold in your hands and cherish as it disappears down the gullet.
Brad and George enjoyed their two-meat platters. Yes, they were also crazy for the pulled pork and savory brisket, but they also gave big props to the sausage—smoakey links of pure satisfaction. And the fat in the brisket was perfectly rendered down, leaving tender, smokey (sorry, "smoakey"), and flavorful meat.
Let's go to the sides, shall we? The hand-cut fries were a potato lover's dream: flavorful, crispy, dusted with salt, ready for dipping in ketchup or barbecue sauce and crammed into an open gob.
George liked his Brunswick stew and mentioned it had lima beans––some of us have lima bean issues that we're in therapy to resolve. It looked like hearty fare up to a spoon attack. The slaw samplers were happy cabbage campers. The collards were good but could have used more meat flavoring and a longer simmer.
Our server Kenny was excellent. Attentive, friendly, and helpful throughout our stay. When it came time to pay, we all slapped down our credit cards and said split it evenly, please.
Kenny returned with six bill portfolios and told George his card didn't go through. How embarrassing. George gave him another card. Rejected again! Had his identity been stolen, or was our fellow Trailhead discovered as being a deadbeat?
George kept handing Kenny credit cards. "No, your Costco card won't work here, and while we're happy you're a member of the High Museum, that won't work either," Kenny said. George dug deep and found a special credit card he keeps tucked in the back of his wallet. This one went through. No dishwashing for George!
"Thanks, Mr. Mark Plimpton," Kenny said, handing George back his card.
"You're welcome," he said, darting for his escape car.
Trailheads give a hearty recommendation for a trip into the state of mind that is Alpharetta and a visit to Loyal Q And Brew. Discover the joys of authentic smoaked meats. Next time, maybe we'll sample some beers.
Rating: Four Ribs*
Loyal Q And Brew
3655 Old Milton Parkway
Alpharetta, GA. 30005
*About Our Barbecue Rating System
Trailheads do not claim to be food experts, epicureans, or sophisticated palettes. We are hungry hikers who attack a selected barbecue venue and ravage our way through whatever smoked fare and fixings they're dishing.
Our reviews feature what we believe are the highlights of the menu we sampled. So our intent is not to trash talk the saintly folks who tend to smoldering smokers on hot, humid summer days. They are sacrificing themselves in the noble art of smoking meats and feeding the drooling masses. Many are independent entrepreneurs who are the backbone of this humming American economy.
Now that you know our standards, you may wonder why every barbecue place gets a four ribs rating. The answer is easy: our group has acclaimed designers, and they think the ribs graphic looks cool.
Who are we to argue? Enjoy.