The public was worried sick––where were their beloved Trailheads? The last Trailheads’ hiking dispatch was three weeks ago. Had the group disbanded, and if so, who was the Yoko?
Was there a family of bears with full bellies? “Those boys were mighty tasty with nice marbling and a smoky flavor,” Papa Bear would say between burps. “I thought George was a little gristly,” said Mama Bear. “Steve was just right,” said Baby Bear.
Had our hiking heroes gotten hopelessly lost, and no one cared enough to send out a search party? A concerned population asked, “What gives anyway?”
The answer was none of the above. The rain had sidelined the macho men two weeks running, and last week a skeletal crew of Guy and Patrick braved the “threat of rain” to hike McDaniel Farm in Duluth. But two Trailheads does not qualify as an official outing, so there was no write-up.
But this week, all hell broke loose. Strongman Trail Master Guy was tapping out of the adventure because he and his bride were traveling to Kentucky (or was it Virginia?), so the Trailheads were liberated from his iron fist and unreasonable demands like, “Ignore the ‘No Trespassing' signs, they’re stupid” and “Follow me into this thick growth off the trail and let’s see what kind of chiggers and ticks live there. I’ll bet they’re hungry for some company.”
The shocking news in Russia this past weekend gave us a clue about what to do in his absence. It was an opportune time to act against our unhinged oppressive autocrat. Patrick declared himself Trail Master.
His accomplices George, Roy, Steve, and Brad were all in for the rebellion. We’d strike earlier than usual to avoid the oppressive summer heat (and because some Trailheads had “to work” –– wah-wah-wah). The request was made to hike ITP since the workers wanted to be close to their homeland. Patrick Prigozhin studied AllTrails and selected a perfect attack plan: we would march on South Peachtree Creek Trail in Decatur.
We arrived at the pre-determined coordinates, and George said he was very familiar with this trail. Benevolent Patrick Prigozhin gave George the con to be acting Trail Master. Would this immense power go to George’s head? He got turned around almost immediately––maybe it was his wife Carole who was familiar with this trail. No matter, we followed George's lead.
South Peachtree Creek Trail is a well-maintained paved path with wooden bridges bisecting a beautiful swatch of Mother Nature’s finest fare. There’s water, ravines, more trees than you can shake a Louisville Slugger at, and natural eye candy at every turn. Of course, because it’s such a pretty trail, it is as popular as air conditioning in Texas.
As we began our journey, we encountered our old friends from Chattapoochee Dog Hiking Adventure Company (are they tracking us?). Elvis and Nilla checked out their pack of tails (we suspect they also considered defection––the Chattapoochee people seemed much nicer than Trailheads). But the dogs stuck with us. Were we mutineers beginning to get paranoid? Perhaps.
But caution is always wise. You never know who will turn on you. Dogs claim to be man’s best friend, but that could be a ruse. Cats promise nothing––and deliver. They may like you, or maybe not. They’ll let you know after you feed them. We walked on.
We saw a mother and her cute young child wearing a Cubs shirt. The kid wanted to pet the dogs. Elvis and Nilla love children and adore extra attention, so they happily complied. We were curious how the young boy became a Cubbies fan, and the mother explained that her husband is from Chicago. We asked if they watched “The Bear,” and she said they didn’t. They didn't get Hulu.
We gave this show a hearty recommendation––it is a love letter to Chicago and fine dining, and episode six of season two is one of the great TV moments of the past year. Give it a go.
Having come to the end of the road, we doubled back. The mutinous Trailheads discussed how Guy would have demanded we take some of the narrow natural trails that offshoot the safety of the concrete path. Then we saw a few hikers going off-road along Peachtree Creek. We watched them with curious interest. They seemed fine, and the trail was wide and looked safe. We decided to brave the dirt and left the security of our concrete—game on for the brave Trailheads (sound the jubilant trumpets, cue the majorettes!).
Then it happened. George saw an elevated railroad bridge in the distance and became excited. “Come on,” he rallied us. “Let’s go see the train tracks!” He had a wild, way-gone-daddy look in his eyes, untethered to reality or sanity. His mutinous mates cowered in fear, hoping it was a non-active railroad bridge for George's sake.
“That’s all right, George,” they said. “We think we’ll just stay here.”
Elvis and Nilla scampered into the water and drank and swam. There was an eerie rustling in the thick brush as George marched solo. He was mumbling crazed gibberish to himself. George had become Col. Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now.” We became jittery. Steve thought he smelled Napalm. It was morning, and we love that smell in the a.m.
Suddenly we heard him off in the distance. We looked up in shock and amazement, and there he was, like a Phoenix who’d risen–– George Kurtz, perched atop the elevated bridge. He had secured the train tracks alone and was cackling maniacally. “I have the high ground! I have the high ground.” He was high, all right.
Was Kurtz beginning a new faction dedicated to worshipping trains? Would he call his cult “Railheads?” Would we have a copyright infringement case to make? Would we dare? If George Kurtz had gone rogue, would he be waging war against us? Would Brad have to do a new brand architecture? Would there be more damn merch for us to sell?
We scanned the water, waiting for George’s head to surface. We trembled in fear, dread, and anxiety. Would the last words we heard be, “The horror, the horror” before George Kurtz attacked us and put our noggins on spikes? Where was Martin Sheen when you needed him?
We soon imagined we had been set up by Guy, who was watching this harrowing scene in a crystal ball like the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz” –– he would point his crooked green finger at us, but rather than dispatch flying monkeys, he had programmed George to kill us. Our eyes were slick with tears, our teeth chattering, and our hands trembling.
Then it was over. George returned, smiling and happy. He hadn’t become Col. Kurtz. He was our lovable George. We realized we were hungry, and maybe Trail Master Guy could keep the Trail Master job. For now, at least. We decided the mutineers needed provisions, returned to the safety of the vast concrete path, and made fast tracks for the parking lot. We were off to a new spot: Ford’s BBQ in Oakhurst.
Trailheads had sampled Ford’s BBQ-Tucker in September (read about it here), and we were eager to taste what the Oakhurst restaurant was all about. The joint has ample parking, a cozy interior with a full bar where one can get their drinks on, and a comfortable covered patio. We found a table about thirty feet from a smoker named “Mattie Ross.” She is a round black beauty that looked like it meant business. Trailheads settled in and perused the menu.
Ashley, our server, came over and smiled 10,000 watts of sunshine. We felt at home with her warm hospitality on this 90+ degrees day. Ashley took our drink orders. The Diet Coke and Coke Zero contingency got their glasses of refreshing chemicals, and the rest of us ordered Arnold Palmers with unsweetened iced tea. We declared that Ford’s BBQ serves the best Arnies we’ve had in our travels.
We want to air a beef with Chick-fil-A. On a recent trip there, Patrick discovered the monolithic chicken restaurant chain is branding an Arnold Palmer as the “Sunjoy” ––with a trademark! What's that all about?! Is stealing Christian? Come on, Chick-fil-A, give Arnold Palmer his due (the poor guy’s dead for crying out loud). You wouldn’t have liked it if he had called your waffle fries “Arnie Taters!” Do the right thing, Chick-fil-A, and kill your Sunjoy scam. Let’s get back to Ford’s BBQ.
While waiting for our orders, a man approached Mattie Ross with an aluminum tray of four thick pork butts. He opened Mattie’s mouth and began feeding her meaty offerings. Inquisitive journalist Patrick ambled over and asked if he was the Pit Master––he was, and his name was Justin. He’s a nice guy who knows Mattie Ross inside and out and how to get the best out of her. He only feeds his baby oak and pecan wood, adds meats, and lets the old girl do her magic as he assists.
This joint serves some unique apps: Chicharrones (homemade pork rinds), BBQ Poutine, fried plantains, and fried sweet corn. As appetizing as the apps sounded, we passed on them and went to the main event. There are many unique offerings here also, but we kept to the basics. We’re simple folk–or is it, simpletons?
Brad went for the daily special of a gigantic beef rib, which looked like it came from a T-Rex. Fred Flintstone would be drooling. Brad devoured it, leaving little meat for poor Elvis and Nilla. “This is the best beef rib I’ve ever had,” he said, picking the massive bone clean. He also liked his sides of collard greens and jalapeno creamed corn. We had a happy Brad, which is always a good thing.
George had a half rack of spareribs. They had a nice spice rub with a barbecue sauce glaze. Our author/filmmaker/Olympics honoree liked his ribs, Brunswick Stew sides, and tossed salad. George said the stew had a savory flavor he couldn’t identify, and whatever it was, it was very good. As barbecue fans know, no two Brunswick Stews are the same. The pot is a canvas where pit masters apply their art and forge an identity. Ford’s BBQ has concocted a tasty creation.
Steve and Roy had the chopped pork platters. They liked the moist meat with a subtle smokey flavor and adorned it with Ford’s house sauce. It’s a tasty recipe, but they wanted to pump up the volume, so they gave the pork a few squirts of the Hot Carolina Mustard Sauce. Yow-wee! It has some kick, a kick we liked.
Patrick had the “Fresh Air Special,” chopped pork with vinegar slaw on a Vidalia onion bun, and it was a feast. But the sandwich was more than he could handle, so Ashley brought him a to-go box. He also had a side of brisket and pork chili––it’s not super spicy, but it does have some attitude.
The other sides we sampled were jalapeno-creamed corn (the cobs did not surrender their kernels in vain––it was hearty and flavorful) and the vinegar slaw. And boy, howdy, that slaw is vinegary. It’s got a twang to it that marries to the meat. The collards were dense and chewy, with lots of meat.
Ashley came by to check on us. We gave her Trailheads stickers and told her about our Trailheads merch benefitting the Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy. Get your cool gear here, and be nature’s hero while looking like a million bucks. Ashley said she, her son, and her dog frequently hike the Sweetwater Hootch Trail and promised to buy a shirt or two. We’re holding her to that!
Roy said he would pick up the check, and we quickly asked Ashley to get us cases of vodka and bourbon to go. Roy clarified that he’d pay for the lunch but not our booze. It seems his generosity has limits. Dammit.
The mutineers disbanded, not to the haven of Belarus to escape the wrath of Trail Master Guy, but to our homes where we would gladly wait and let him lead us on our journey next week.
As George Kurtz says, “The horror, the horror.”
Try some grub at Ford’s BBQ in Oakhurst, and tell Justin, Mattie Ross, and Ashley to keep up their excellent work. They have Trailheads fans.
Rating: Four Ribs*
Ford's BBQ Oakhurst
350 Mead Rd Suite A & B, Decatur, GA 30030
*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.