Updated: Jul 16
We were nervous. Nick, a public relations maven Hollywood George is working with, had pitched Trailheads as a story idea to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (or the AJC, as we say to save us time that we accumulate and then waste saying silly things). What had we done that was newsworthy? And were they all legal? It seems we reside at the intersection of many “newsy” avenues.
Recent studies have shown that two key indicators of happiness and longevity were being social and active. That’s us, socially active. And physical activities are also crucial to living longer. Hiking is exercise. But then we eat barbecue afterward, which shows balance––balance is always good, right?
We also have a worthy purpose: selling branded Trailheads apparel and donating all the profits to Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy (get your stylish duds here and be a do-gooder while looking great). Wow, that Trailheads shirt looks fantastic on you-- have you lost weight and been working out? You look incredible! We’re ticking boxes here, people!
The big news was that a reporter would be joining Trailheads for a hike at Island Ford Trail along the Hoochand lunch at City Barbecue in Sandy Springs. George claimed it was a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter assigned to little ol’ us! (The Pulitzer thing may be an exaggeration. George likes to exaggerate.)
Patrick, who watches a lot of black and white films on TCM, thought the ink-stained wretch would be a hard-drinking cigar-chomping cuss named Al with a “PRESS” card wedged in his fedora with an ear to the street and a nose for the news. The scribe would begin each question with, “Say––what’s the scuttlebutt about this here____?” or, “Wise guys, huh? You better gimme the straight dope before I stooge slap your kissers and give you what for but good!”
Patrick hears everything in the voice of movie stars from old films. Patrick’s wife must determine how everything she says will sound to him. Will she be Myrna Loy, Katharine Hepburn, or Bette Davis? Life gets confusing.
Then Nick told us the journalist was named Olivia, who didn’t have a Pulitzer Prize yet, and she wasn’t a crusty guy with a chip on his shoulder. That eased Patrick’s nervousness, although he usually deserves a good stooge slapping. Unfortunately, Steve wouldn’t join us because he was hiking Glacier National Park in Montana, so that we wouldn’t have the entire Trailheads crew.
He would have returned if he cared, but we suppose he likes bears better than us––and we hope bears don’t like him in a honey glaze. We missed Steve and described him to Olivia as “the nicest Trailhead” and “a sweetheart of a guy.” When he reads that, we presume he’ll smack us around and deliver some haymakers.
Roy still has his foot in a hard plastic walking cast, so he would not be on the trails but would join us pre-hike and post-hike. He’s on the injured reserve list because of a freak gardening accident. We’ve told him freaks shouldn’t garden, but Roy, like David Crosby before him, insists on letting his freak flag fly.
Because of the oppressive summer heat, we began our hike at 9 a.m. instead of 10. By tracking the angle of the Sun and plotting the upper air wind currents and pork belly futures, Guy determined this one-hour shift would make a huge difference. Right, Nostradamus.
Olivia was prompt, and Guy, Roy, and Patrick introduced themselves. In typical Trailheads fashion, some of us were late. While waiting in the parking lot, we met the new executive director of Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy, Brittany, as she walked from her car to the office. She is a good soul, and we enjoyed getting to know her. Welcome, Brittany. And thank you for welcoming us to the park.
The late crew arrived: Brad, George, Elvis, and Nilla. Bad, Trailheads, bad Trailheads! Olivia told us that the previous evening she attended the premiere of “Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” and Tom Cruise and co-writer-director Christopher McQuarrie were there. Uh-oh, where was our star power? Would we have to do death-defying stunts? We didn’t even have Roy Tumbles hiking with us (who does all his stunts).
She asked if it was okay to record our conversations, and we said sure. The last time we were asked that was by a famous MI6 agent concerning a missile base off Cuba. Perhaps we spoke too soon. Now the pressure was on: we had to outdo Cruise and say something ink worthy. Crap!
We told Olivia about Trailheads history, coming up with our name, logo, and slogan (“On the path to truth and barbecue”), developing a website, and writing entertaining reviews of the trails and barbecue joints with lots of pictures because people like Brad don’t read words, then creating other worthwhile content for the site Brad won’t read, designing Trailheads swag, selling the merch on the site and donating all profits to good causes, poker nights, and getting together for dinners and movies with our wives (when Trailheads magically transform to become “The Twelve”––we should have a superpower but we don’t).
All that sounded like a hell of a lot of work. Had we somehow managed to create corporate jobs for ourselves? When would we devolve into making PowerPoint presentations and filing action reports? Scary.
We told Olivia our personal histories and may have embellished them a bit. For the record:
Guy did not climb Mt. Everest “blind-folded while walking backward”
Roy was never a U.S. President or a Kentucky Derby winner
George did not receive a Nobel Prize (with free DQ Blizzard!)
Brad was not a power forward on the 1986 Houston Rockets Championship Team
Steve had nothing to do with inventing Google
Patrick never received a “Star Angel” on his Ben Franklin paper he wrote in seventh grade at St. Patrick’s Elementary School in Hubbard, Ohio. However, he swears the school was named after him (it wasn’t--where's a nun with a ruler?)
Maybe it’s human nature to go overboard when the press is around.
As we hiked, the dogs went to the Chattahoochee to cool off. Soon, there was great excitement. Nilla made a break and escaped like a convict swimming from Alcatraz Island. Brad screamed for her to return, but she was motoring (it wasn’t a breaststroke or butterfly––but more of a doggie paddle). And that old man river just kept rolling along as Nilla swam upstream.
The dog was lucky she didn’t encounter a rabid 50 pound beaver in the water. One of those bad babies recently attacked a poor woman in Lake Lanier. Swim, doggie, swim!
Finally, Nilla heeded Brad’s frantic calls and returned to shore just as George had stripped to his skivvies to go in after her. We all formed a circle around him so Olivia didn’t have to witness that much of George. Elvis shook his head and muttered, “What a rascal that Nilla the pup is!” Fio was sitting on a rock doing a crossword, unaware of everything. With the excitement over and George dressed again, we moved on.
Island Ford Trail has many twists and turns and, fortunately, many maps. Trail Master Guy surveyed our whereabouts and chose a path forward. Onward we hiked. After a few minutes, Guy commanded, we turned around. “This is the wrong way. The map must have been wrong!” Uh-huh. We appreciate his honesty and modesty and backtracked. We were giving Olivia the complete Trailheads experience––late and lost.
As our group snaked through the forest and along the Hooch, we discussed many things with the inquisitive reporter. The temperature was rising, and we began vectoring our way back. Hyosub, the AJC photographer, was meeting us in the parking lot at 11. We arrived as Roy rolled up from spending the morning with a latte and pastry in an air-conditioned coffee shop (what a surprise). But were Trailheads ready for their closeup?
Not quite. Our stylists were standing by, and we sat in chairs getting made-up, having our hair mussed, and spritzing our shirts to make it look like we had worked up a good sweat exercising. Tom Cruise does the same kind of thing.
When it looked like we hiked well, we followed the photographer’s instructions and were like male models (without fit physiques, charisma, and sexiness). The shutterbug snapped away. Then it was time for lunch.
City Barbecue in Sandy Springs is one of our favorite spots (read a previous review here). The joint is close to many excellent Hooch hikes, and the restaurant is always on its game.
It had been a long while since we’d eaten here, and we were impressed that a restaurant chain could deliver such high-caliber grub. City Barbecue won the 2023 BBQ Showdown sponsored by “Nation’s Restaurant News.” After you sample one meal here, you’ll know why.
The pulled pork has a delicious smoky flavor. Patrick went nuts with the sauces, mixing all four varieties in one cup like a mad scientist. It was a spicy cocktail that kicked up everything it touched. All City Barbecue sauces are tasty. Have them straight up or be a mix master––you can’t go wrong.
George and Brad had the spareribs and loved them clean to the bones. The G-man is our ribs connoisseur and has his acid test––if the meat is tender enough to be chewed to the bone, it’s a fine specimen. The ribs came with a slab of Texas Toast. Good ballast.
Roy was adventurous and ordered the new Carolina Goldmine Sandwich. This sucker is built on a toasted brioche bun with hand-pulled smoked pork, tangy Carolina Gold BBQ sauce, smoked beef sausage, and crisp pickles. Roy loved it, especially the beef link he described as “tasty with a touch of heat.” But as Harry Truman famously said, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the Carolina Goldmine Sandwich.” Wise man.
Guy had smoked chicken and brisket. He said both meats were “perfect,” and “the hush puppies quieted this puppy.” We support anything that keeps Guy’s yap shut.
Considerate Trail Master had a gift for Olivia, our press guest––a pack of Oliva Serie E Club 20 cigarillos. What woman doesn’t crave a good cigar after lunch? She politely accepted the gift and said her father might like them. It’s the thought that counts, right?
Olivia went for the pulled pork sandwich and baked beans. That’s always a good test of any barbecue joint, and she was one happy word wizard.
All the sides were top-notch. The fried okra was crisp and appeared to be hand breaded. No frozen, bulk bag okra here. It was fried crispy, and City Barbecue served a generous portion.
The baked beans were smoky and thick. They were everything you expect from an award-winning barbecue spot. Beanies, baby!
Someone had corn pudding, or was it peach cobbler? We saw it, but the stuff disappeared so quickly we can’t be sure, and no one will fess up to having eaten it. Whatever it was, it must have been delicious.
And City's Cukes and Onions are back! We missed it the first time but apparently it's a summertime staple featuring fresh cucumbers and crisp onions, sliced by hand (we would have used a knife or mandoline) and served in a light, sweet vinaigrette.
We shoveled our food as Hyosub snapped more pics, and Olivia asked a few more questions. Trailheads had a wonderful time basking in the media limelight and the radiant heat of a 90+ degree day with 99% humidity. It was a good day, and we wobbled off to our cars. We had to get home and shower. It was getting to be nap time.
Thanks, Olivia, Hyosub, and the AJC. And please do not report that Trailheads have more issues than your paper.
Rating: Four Ribs*
6649 Roswell Rd NE
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
*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.