Oh, the tattered tales Trailheads tell. We had two hikers down (George and Steve) due to weak "conflicts" –– housesitting while a plumber worked and waiting for an appliance service call. Worry not, hiking fans, that left four dedicated Trailheads (Roy, Brad, Guy, and Patrick) to answer the call.
Elvis, absent from the past few hikes, rejoined Fio as the Trailheads once again attacked the Gold Branch Trail (read about it here). Trail Master Guy took us in the opposite direction we hiked last time––he's wildly imaginative that way. Of course, none of us remembered the last time, but we gladly followed him since we were babes in the woods.
The Gold Branch is an excellent trail that runs along the banks of the Chattahoochee River and Bull Sluice Lake in Roswell. It is also a treacherous trail with lots of exposed roots creeping like Mother Nature's varicose veins––ready to trip hikers unaware of the whereabouts of their feet.
This time, since we took the trail in reverse, we experienced the roots backward, upping the degree of difficulty. As if exposed roots weren't enough of a challenge, there are tons of rocks to clamber across. Roy and Patrick strolled with their trusty walking sticks, but Brad and Guy are he-men macho tough guys who aren't afraid of silly things like gravity that might take them down.
Before hiking, we met a lovely woman named Aubrey in the parking lot and talked about dogs. She has a beautiful GSP (German Shorthaired Pointer) that Roy thought looked like an emaciated bird dog. Aubrey and her dog, Gilmore, would undoubtedly take great offense to that. But hey, Roy's a cat guy. We discussed the trail, and she and her friend Kat began the trail one way, and we took off the backward way. Not surprisingly, we met somewhere in the middle, compared roots notes, the dogs had a moment, and we grabbed a group photo. We wanted to make George and Steve think we were recruiting their replacements. We're evil that way. We made it back to the parking lot. We hope Aubrey, Kat, and Gilmore did as well.
We hiked and had an eclectic conversational stew––the importance of strategic dinking in pickleball, the looming threats to democracy, the effect of spatial dimensionality on the chaotic properties of turbulent flow––you know, the usual stuff.
As we discussed these heady matters, Elvis went down to the river, jumped in, and played. Fio would admonish him when he exited the water (ever the disciplinarian, Fio). Elvis paid her never no mind and scampered up to the trail to shake himself off dousing Trailheads. We suspect in his dog brain that he thinks he's baptizing us. Good luck with that, Elvis. You may need an exorcist.
After two and half hours, we convoyed to our barbecue selection, McDaniel's QN2, in Sandy Springs. It's where we ate after hiking the Gold Branch Trail the last time (read our review here).
The barbecue joint is in a plaza close to the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. It's been around since 2002, and the McDaniel family has been in the restaurant game for over 50 years. You walk in the door, and there is a bowl of homemade pork rinds to sample. Eat one or two. They are incredible.
Across from the counter is a dividing wall with an assortment of ceramic pig figures lining its top ledge (how those pigs must hate seeing rinds served). The menu has all the smoked meats you know and love, plus whatever sides tickle your tongue and float your fancy. We went for the combo plates because that's how we are.
Two walls are covered with autographed 8" x 10" photos of Ronnie Reagan, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Jan & Mickey Rooney, Rip Taylor, Mickey Dolenz, George Takei, Dana Carvey, Billy Dee Williams–– and a galaxy more of stars. We can believe some of these celebs sampled the fare because they were performing across the street, but some political luminaries seem like a stretch. But we like the sense of humor of all these autographed pics. They say that McDaniel's QN2 has fed a president, the drummer of The Monkees, Garth, and Sulu from Star Trek. Maybe old Winston the cigar chomper got takeout. Who knows?
We grabbed a table outside so the pups could join us. The smoked meats are good. The turkey smoked on a Big Green Egg was moist and tender, with a subtle hint of smoke. The chopped pulled pork was very moist, almost wet. It had a nice smokey flavor, definitely enhanced by the barbecue sauces. The regular sweet sauce has a flavorful bouquet, but we preferred the spicy attitude of the Carolina mustard sauce.
The rib eaters were happy––they gnawed the tender meat off its bones while Elvis and Fio looked on hungrily. The slaw was the chopped variety, with a comforting flavor. The cornbread had a sweetness to it––like a mother kissing a boo-boo. Well, at least one of us thought that. The others thought it tasted like cornbread. And since that's what it was, we felt like that was a good thing.
We also enjoyed the spicy jalapeño cheese grits and the Brunswick Stew loaded with pulled pork, studded with yellow corn kernels, and the occasional piece of tomato, living in harmony in a vinegary-based sauce. Roy liked his fried okra. McDaniel's had him at "fried." The pickles are excellent, dill pickles with attitude—wedges of crunchy heaven.
But the big hit of our cake-hole stuffing session was the homemade chocolate chip cookie. While in line, we spied a tray of flat, brown disks (at least 5" in diameter). These bad boys are thin, crispy, and addictive. The chocolate is gooey, and the cookie is buttery, sugar goodness, with what we thought was a hint of salt for balance. It's a treat that will make you want to start a McDaniel's QN2 chocolate chip cookie diet. We're not sure if you'll lose much weight, but we are sure you'll enjoy yourself.
In fact, next time, we plan to go light on the barbecue and all in on the cookies. As we thought about it, we wondered what the barbecue tasted like at cookie shops. If you run across some, please let us know. We'd love to try some.
Next time you're in Sandy Springs, drop by and bring an autographed 8" x 10"––you may make the wall. It might help if you spring for a nice frame.
One note for improvement, swap out the lame French’s ketchup for the real deal, Heinz, the only ketchup approved by Trailheads.
Rating: Four Ribs*
200 Johnson Ferry Road
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.