The creed of The Boy Scouts is "Be prepared." (Girl Scouts laugh. They're born prepared.) The Trailheads' mission is "On the path to truth and barbecue."
No wonder Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts want to grow up and be Trailheads.
We did a Wednesday hike rather than our usual Thursday trek this week since the weather showed rains coming. George was in Hawaii with his family on vacation (eating all kinds of Maui barbecued goodness), and Steve was off attending a Search Engine Optimization class (Mr. Hi Tech Show Off!). That left a dedicated crew of Roy, Brad, Guy, and Patrick (plus the ever-present Elvis and Fio) to fly our flag.
Brad has been jonesing for a hike in the vicinity of Socks' Love Barbecue, the first joint we reviewed in July 2021. Brad missed that visit and drooled every time he heard us regale the glory of Socks' beef brisket. Trail Master Guy selected Charleston Park Trail near Cumming (where Socks smokes). We knew Guy had chosen well when we saw a parking lot sign reading "TRAILHEAD PARKING ONLY." We felt special and now expect this VIP treatment at every stop.
We marched on the beaten path with our loyal dogs running ahead, behind, and all-around. This trail has more twists and turns than a Stephen King mystery novel, and we hoped it would end better. There were hills, valleys, switchbacks, and hundreds of exposed tree roots ready to trip unsuspecting feet. Patrick almost took a face plant but was saved by his trusty stick and the grace of gravity, suspending its evil laws temporarily and not slamming him to the ground.
There are many trails marked for hikers or bikers. Signs direct hikers one way and bikers the other on alternate days, so there are no pileups in the woods. We stuck to our hiking trails but still encountered some bikers looking to mow us down like pins at the bowling alley. Bikers have a reputation, you know––"Get the hell outta the way!".
Elvis and Fio played in Lake Lanier, trotted back, and shook the water off themselves and onto us. They think they're so damn funny. Or perhaps they believe they're doing us a favor and cooling us off.
Guy led a meandering journey that forced some of us to consider mutiny, but then we realized we'd die in about 28-minutes. We suspected our Trail Master was lost, but who were we to challenge him? Guy assured us we were still on planet earth, putting our minds at ease. He repeated some profound saying he read once in a dead man's trail journal: "One is never lost as long as you stay on the trail and keep love in your heart." Love was the end goal of this hike, so we followed.
We tramped along and heard the alarming sound of sirens. Was this the rapture? If so, we knew our crew was ground-bound. The heavens would not part and transport us up and through the Pearly Gates. Or were these sirens warning us Putin had pushed the button? When we got out of the tree canopy, would we see mushroom clouds crowding the sky on the horizon? Or perhaps the alarming shrills of sirens were announcing that the endgames were on––the zombie apocalypse was underway, and Bigfoot was loose and wilding. Run for your lives!!!
Alas, after a good five minutes of sirens, they stopped. We stopped our screaming soon after. It apparently was just a test. Sweet silence filled the air, and we found our way back to the TRAILHEADS ONLY parking lot. It was time to celebrate our survival with Socks' barbecue.
So, what's up with the name? It began 11 years ago when Steven Hartsock, a Columbus native who worked in the construction industry, got married. He had a passion for smoking meats and invented a spice rub to give his wedding guests. He called it Socks' Love Rub after his family nickname. The spice became popular, and Hartsock turned it into a commercial brand. Then the meat-smokin' man got serious.
Hartsock became a professional caterer, perfecting his pulled pork and Texas-style brisket recipes on a smoker borrowed from Johnathan Fox, co-owner of Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, a favorite of Trailheads. He continued his Catering Kitchen business until March 2019, when he relaunched as Sock's Love Barbecue in a strip center on Buford Highway in Cumming (across from Lou Sobh Honda). It became a sensation. Yelpers selected it as the best barbecue in Georgia, and the legend spread like Socks' spicy barbecue sauce on smoked meat. Before the pandemic, Socks' was named Best Barbecue in the AJC's Best of Atlanta reader poll.
Let's cut to the chase. We loved our return visit as we sat outside at a picnic table, and stuffed ourselves silly. Brad declared his brisket "the best" he's had in our travels. Roy and Guy were also brisket boys, raving about the fork-tender beef with smokey flavor and incredible bark.
Patrick had the pulled pork and loved every shred of the moist hickory smoke-infused meat. He also had the brisket chili, which was delicious, a flavorful mixture of beef and kidney beans in a spicy sauce you will happily shovel into your gob.
The sides were also a hit. Guy loved his squash casserole, a special of the day with a delectable taste topped with a crispy crust. Sons of the south Roy and Brad raved about their collard greens. "There's meat in every bite," gushed Brad. "That's my kind of vegetable!" declared Roy. Guy and Roy were fans of the Socks' country coleslaw, shredded cabbage coated with a tangy sauce. And Brad was a big fan of the OMG mac 'n cheese and beef link sausage with pickled pepper and white cheddar cheese. Interestingly, while the sauces are terrific, we hardly used them. The meats were perfect without saucing.
But the special ingredient of Socks is its people. They are friendly, helpful, and dedicated to hospitality. The restaurant announces its mission for all. A Bitter Southerner flag pronounces "Practice Radical Empathy," along with a sign quoting Anthony Bourdain: "BBQ may not be the road to world peace, but it's a start." Tony was a wise man, RIP. The communal tables were full of an eclectic mix of people communalizing and shoveling Socks' tasty goodness into their happy faces.
Trailheads were delighted to meet and talk with the man, myth, and legend, Steven Hartsock, who could not have been nicer. He showed us his smoker where the magic happens and told us his secret recipe for the fantastic beef brisket bark–– "Salt, pepper, and hickory smoke."
Hartsock said he smokes 225 lbs. of prime grade brisket on an average day and about 70 lbs. of pork butts. The restaurant has Socks' rubs, sauces, logo hats, apparel, and some of the best barbecues and sides you'll find anywhere. While we're partial to rocking our Trailheads swag (available on our website), we might have to spring for a couple of those cool SLB caps.
The Beatles sang, "All you need is love," Trailheads would add, "And some Socks' Love Barbecue." Don't miss this one. This joint is Trailheads Approved.
Rating: Four Ribs*
Socks Love Barbecue
1050 Buford Hwy. Suite 104
Cumming GA 30041
*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.