Updated: Feb 22
The entire Trailhead squad, with Fio and Elvis, attacked the Heritage Park Trail near Mableton, GA. The know-it-all app AllTrails calls this hike "easy." Being manly men, we decided to make it a bit more challenging, so each Trailhead carried an anvil as we hiked the "easy" trail blindfolded. We think this may have raised the trail's difficulty to "moderate," but we'll check with the AllTrails experts to make sure.
Heritage Park is a nice trail that runs along Nickajack Creek. We think that's a terrific creek name, packing lots of hard consonants for verbal punch. Nickajack Creek, BAM! The meandering, and at times muddy, trail runs past the ruins of Concord Woolen Mills, opened in 1847, one of the first industrial employers in the country. The Mills specialized in gray uniforms. Word has it that one of their interns, one Martin George "Sonny" Hoglagger suggested expanding the product line to include navy blue uniforms. No one listened, so Sherman's troops came along and burned The Mills down on July 4, 1864.
The structure was rebuilt after the war and began manufacturing "Georgia Jeans" in different colors and textures. (Finally, they embraced the navy blue Sonny had suggested.) The business prospered until it burned down again in 1889 (Gen. Sherman had an alibi this time). Rebuilt in 1900, The Mills began manufacturing suits and elephant bells (just kidding––wanted to see if you were paying attention). The factory was bought and sold and eventually went out of business. Steel beams and the brute strength of many ghosts support the remains of The Mills today. We thought with a little bit of work; the dilapidated structure could become a perfect outdoor event space for weddings and corporate retreats. Brad began designing a corporate identity package on the spot.
Up the trail is Ruff's Mill, where they churned out some of the best flour for making biscuits your tastebuds would have ever met if they were around way back when. Mmm, mmm, they were probably some tasty biscuits. And just up from Ruff's Mill is The Concord Covered Bridge, built in the mid-1800s and the only covered bridge in the Atlanta metro area. Across the road from the bridge is some private property that bad boy Guy led us across (just like that, Trailheads became trespassers). If busted, we would have pleaded that Guy is above the law. Or so he tells us.
Enough history. Suffice to say, it was a wonderful walk on a beautiful day, and we had earned ourselves an honest hunger––the kind that manly men get. We scoped out the local barbecue scene and selected Herb's Rib Shack in Marietta.
We are partial to joints calling themselves shacks (and shacks calling themselves joints). Sure enough, Herb has a shack (joint) with no indoor seating. Two friendly women greeted us. One gave free samples of smoked rib tips, and the other took our orders. A third woman rang up the checks, and we were soon on our way with our barbecue in containers with a table of sauces at our disposal. The sauces are free. They charge 75 cents for the small plastic cups—a bargain. Being marketers, we love that you can see Herb advertising his wares with plumes of smoke pouring from his bevy of black smokers out front. The Pitmaster was bouncing from one smoker to the next – a smoked meat maestro carefully monitoring his juicy charges.
Thanks to our free sample rib tips, we all ordered some. These babies are delectable morsels of meat with a peppery punch (is there a little cayenne in there, Herb, or is that shaved nuclear matter?). The menu here is remarkable for its simplicity. The Pitmaster is a specialist. He smokes ribs, chicken, and sausage (beef, pork, or turkey). You won't find pulled pork, beef brisket, Brunswick Stew, cornbread, or lizard gizzard pate. Nope. The sides offered this day were potato salad, baked beans, "corn off the cob," and mac 'n cheese. You can get plates with combos of meats on some white bread and two sides, meat sammies, entrée meat solo, and sides a la carte. That's it. Herb does Bauhaus barbecue, baby. Most of us went for ribs and sausage.
The ribs are spectacular. Brad declared them better than any on our travels (we're huge fans of Brad's ribs–– he serves them poker nights, with Roy's wife Karlenne's Hager family secret sauce recipe). George also loved the ribs, ditto Steve, Roy, and Patrick. While Herb doesn't smoke baby back ribs, his St. Louis style ribs are not big-boned with more gristle than meat. No siree bob. Herb smokes lean, meaty ribs. They are not fall off the bone tender––they're gnaw-off the bone heaven. "The ribs are the star of the show," declared Roy. "There's no need for sauce. They're perfect as is." However, it was difficult to understand what he was saying through his gnawing and slurping of meat and fat. Patrick slathered on some of the Kansas City-style sauce. It's good and sweet but hardly an improvement to the naked smoked meat flavor.
The folks who got sausages raved about them. Roy called the links, "Exceptional. Not too dense. Juicy. Flavorful. With a nice snap to the casings." Potato salad received polite comments, the baked beans were fine, but no Trailhead declared them a great moment in bean history. Brad was not impressed by his mac 'n cheese, and the "corn off the cob" eaters were unimpressed. Nothing could stand up to the exceptional smoky flavor of the meats. Herb didn't call it "Herb's Corn Off The Cob Shack" after all.
But Herb needs to up his beverage game. There are no diet soft drinks offered. You're probably saying to yourself, why would they want diet drinks when they're gorging themselves with massive amounts of smoky cholesterol? Balance, dear friends. Balance. We're watching our figures. The soft drinks and water are reasonably priced, but if you go for iced tea or lemonade, it's $5. Much like Travolta's Vincent Vega in "Pulp Fiction," who was curious about the $5 milkshake, Guy and Patrick wanted to experience a $5 unsweetened tea and a $5 strawberry lemonade. Both were very sweet and not worth the cost. Pity.
Bottom line: if you want delicious smoky ribs and sausages, get to Herb's Rib Shack. The rest of the menu is just adornment, but the ribs and links are the stars of the show and worthy of standing ovations.
Rating: Four Ribs*
Herb's Rib Shack
186 Windy Hill Rd
Marietta, GA 30060
*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: we have acclaimed designers in our group, and they think the ribs graphic looks cool.
Who are we to argue? Enjoy.