Updated: Oct 29
Elvis may be looking for a divorce attorney. Once again, the poor pup could not hike with the Trailheads because his pal Brad was obsessed with something called "work." Since Brad won't let the dog drive his car, he depends on the human to be his wheelman.
Elvis would call for an Uber but he can't work the app with his paws. And his credit card is in arrears. Bummer, he missed an incredible journey on the Sweetwater Creek White Loop Trail, a popular location for film and TV shoots.
That left Trail Master Guy leading George, Steve, Roy, and Patrick on the path to truth and barbecue while Fio handled people-wrangling duties, always a challenge with our crew of misfit meanderers. Everyone dressed in their official Trailheads attire (you can get yours here) except nonconformist Patrick, who wore an Indiana Jones-wannabe hat instead of our logo cap. And like Indy, he also hates snakes.
It was a gorgeous autumn morning near Lithia Springs, Georgia, as we gathered to begin our journey into the great unknown. Although we had hiked one of these trails before, there is no recorded evidence of it on this site. Did we imagine a write-up of that hike? Were we too lazy to write one? Was it whitewashed from history? Conspiracies abound.
As we entered the state park, a woman in a booth greeted us. She seemed friendly, but that's because she wanted money (people rarely tolerate our presence if they're not paid). The booth woman demanded five bucks for entry. Small denominations are preferred. To make it easy, she extended a fish net to collect the currency, then gave our change the same way. We asked if this was Covid inspired. She said it had come in handy since then, but no, she devised this clever tool some time back.
At the start of our hike, we encountered a gaggle of school kids with their adult handlers. We were frightened by them and hurried on our way, looking over our shoulders in fright to make sure they weren't attacking us from behind.
Kids are sneaky.
We engaged in our usual Mensa-worthy conversations, including beers we knew and loved growing up: Stegmaier, Stroh's, Old Style, Iron City, Coors (when it was legendary because of its limited distribution), Country Club Malt Liquor, and Old Milwaukee––see one of the Old Mil Swedish Bikini Team spots Patrick created here, and read the twisty history of the infamous campaign here. We also shared awful memories of recycling Colt 45 through our digestive tracts and back up again. Ahhh, youth. Yes, we are a pitiful lot.
Along the way, we came to the New Manchester Manufacturing Mills ruins. In 1861, the confederate government contracted this five-story brick manufacturing facility on the banks of Sweetwater Creek to make the cloth used in making rebel uniforms. Throughout the Civil War, this is where gray became the color of rebellion.
In 1864, General William T. Sherman and his boys in blue decided to end the gray fashion craze. On July 2, Union soldiers went inside the mill, pulled the belts from the milling machines, and stopped manufacturing. A week later, the factory was burned to the ground––except for what remains today. That's your history lesson, students. There will be a pop quiz later.
We opined that putting blue dye into the gray tanks might have been a better strategy. The confederates would then make blue uniforms and shoot each other. Now that's wartime efficiency. Then again, people do like to burn things.
After inspecting the remains, we continued our hike. We heard a woman's voice from behind us, "Is that George?" George turned and said, "Britta! So great to see you again." They hugged it out, and Britta introduced us to her parents visiting from Germany. Her mother competed as a rower in the '76 Olympics (she came in fifth place of eight), and Britta is a strong swimmer who still dominates the local pool lanes. Her father is involved with FIBA Europe (the International Basketball Association).
We told them our illustrious history––a bunch of nonathletic mooks who wander around forests and then scarf down barbecue. But we world-class athletes share a common bond in our love of the game. We had a pleasant visit and journeyed on.
Guy led us up the hill. "It's a shortcut," he said. We hiked behind him sliding on leaves and tripping over unseen rocks and roots to the top. Then, Trail Master Guy got a mischievous glint in his eyes and pointed to his right into a thicket of trees. "Let's walk back down to the river, guys."
"But there's no trail," we whined.
"We just walked up!" Roy exclaimed (he is the designated official bitcher and moaner).
"Maybe we should backtrack the way we came and head off to lunch," our group proposed.
But Guy shamed us and began descending the virgin territory, blazing a new trail down the hill, on beds of leaves. We cried like lost children worried about starving to death, so we followed him. We're hiking athletes, remember?
We arrived at the banks of Sweetwater Creek (incredibly, no one died in our descent) and enjoyed its colorful beauty. A couple of us were confused. They thought we were going to tour the Sweetwater Brewery. This body of water was very different (and not nearly as tasty). We found a well-worn path and began the long march back to the parking lot. Our lunch destination? Wallace Barbecue, serving Austell since 1966.
With a long history, it's obvious this is a popular joint. We have never seen a parking lot so big. We walked into what looked like a country-themed TGI Friday's with lots of Coca-Cola signs, a barbershop chair, old-timey Texaco, Sinclair, and Shell gas pumps, vintage metal car models––you get the picture, the joint has nostalgia out the wazoo.
There were also two curio cabinets loaded with an impressive collection of swine figurines––armies of ceramic piggies on display. The Wallace family has a proud affinity for pigs. We're not so sure pigs care much for them.
Wallace Barbecue had an eclectic lunch crowd, including a young dude wearing pajama bottoms and a guy with a glorious long white beard that could get him membership in ZZ Top or a slot in "Duck Dynasty."
Trailheads felt right at home.
We became even more at ease when Kim, our friendly server, greeted us. She is a waitress we would nominate on the first ballot into the Barbecue Server Hall of Fame. Kim gave us a warm welcome and acted as our guide to the menu. She told us the ribs were the way to go, but everything here was good. We placed our orders and sopped up the ambiance.
In two shakes of a tail, Kim returned with a large platter on which she somehow balanced all five of our lunches. We were impressed. Now, let's dig in, barbecue fans.
The ribs were terrific. George, our resident rib expert, was delighted with his half rack of ribliciousness. Wallace Barbecue serves meaty baby backs so tender they fight to stay on the bone, slathered in a vinegary sauce with a mild flavor. We loved the bark on the babies and gnawed our way into pork paradise.
Each platter came with a sandwich bun serving as a blank canvas if one desired to slap some meat inside and eat neatly with a hand. The only one who created sandwich art was Steve, who is always the artistic trailblazer.
Roy dug his fork into his order of pulled pork, also in the house vinegary sauce. He liked it. The meat was tender and satisfying after a long walk in the woods. Since he's watching his shapely figure, Roy avoided the fried sides and doubled down on orders of coleslaw-- crisp cabbage in creamy goodness. Slaw seemed a little more dietetic, assuming you ignore the sugar, which Roy did.
Many of us had bowls of Wallace Brunswick stew, a hearty, curious concoction with a puree consistency. We believe we saw bits of corn, potato, and pork meat, but we would have to take it into our Trailheads Lab for in-depth analysis and identification.
We felt the stew benefitted from a generous squirt of the Wallace Hot Sauce. It gave the bowl a nice zing. Unfortunately, after we shoveled the creamy tastiness into our Brunswick Stew holes, there was no stew sample to gather, so no lab work was performed.
Guy got an order of baked beans. The passengers in his car for the return trip tried to steer him elsewhere on the menu, but he held firm and loved him some beans.
His passengers gave nervous grins.
Steve had a side of fries. They were homemade and reminiscent of the French fries of his youth found at fairs and carnivals in the wilds of Indiana. Little Steve followed the carnivals going from town to town, riding the Tilt-A-Whirl, devouring corn dogs and cotton candy, and filling up on the greasy fries. Yes, it was a hard life for a child of five, but he learned valuable life lessons like guessing ages and weights. He felt Wallace Barbecue's fries would have been better with a more extended stay in the fryer. They were a little on the soggy side.
But that was not the case for Patrick's onion rings. They were homemade fresh onion circles, batter-dipped, and sent for a long swim in Hot Grease Lake. The onion rings were crispy and no doubt healthy.
Guy had discovered the house barbecue sauce was also improved with a squeeze of the hot sauce. We followed his lead and agreed––the hot sauce kicked up the game and was mighty fine. We added it to everything except the unsweetened Arnold Palmers.
A hush fell over our table while we devoured our meals. Kim came and gave us free refills and smiles. The kind woman provided our motley crew world-class service, and we loved her for it.
Bellies full, we wobbled to the register and paid. It had been a good day, and we would all return home, happy as ceramic pigs displayed in a curio case.
If you're down Austell way, give Wallace Barbecue a go. Tell 'em Trailheads sent you. They'll probably say, "Who?"
Rating: Four Ribs*
Wallace Barbecue Restaurant
3035 Veterans Memorial Hwy SW
Austell GA 30168
*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.