Sunday, June 14, 2009
Old Clinton Barbeque, Gray GA ****
Edna Earl had been hearing about Old Clinton Barbeque for years, so when she happened to spy it along the roadside there one bright and sunny noonday, she was ecstatic! Well, truth be told, EE actually arrived about 11:00 AM, openin’ time. When she and her two lunch buddies entered the front door, they were immediately and warmly greeted by the three women behind the counter. And you know what happened after that – It wadn’t but about five seconds before Edna Earl and her party and the women behind the counter had figured out that they knew each others’ cousins’ cousins – or somethin’ like that. At any rate, the women behind the counter were most helpful and friendly. And not just to EE and party. EE saw the women similarly greet others who entered the place, and not at all in any obnoxious way. The women’s first offer was always to help the customer with the menu. And, you know, some folks do need help with a menu.
Old Clinton’s “BBQ plate” features, in a manner typical to other barbeque establishments around the South, barbeque, stew, bread, pickle, and choice of coleslaw or potato salad. And this is exactly what Edna Earl ordered. EE did find it interesting that unlike at many other BBQ establishments around the South, one does not get a choice of “chipped, chopped, or sliced” pork. All is one at Old Clinton – and it was what EE would describe as chipped.
Edna Earl feels impelled at this point to clarify for any non-Southern reader that the term “barbeque” always means pork.
Old Clinton also offers a “Rib Plate,” “Smoked Half Chicken Plate,” and “Turkey Plate.” Interestingly, the “Rib, “Smoked Half Chicken” and “Turkey” plates offer “BBQ beans” as a side rather than Brunswick stew. One in EE’s party ordered the ribs and beans, and liked them. In addition to the plates, Old Clinton offers a few other items, of course -- sandwiches, chips, slices of homemade cake, etc. -- but the aforelisted is what one receives on a “plate.” The only concession EE could see to modern times is the fact that Old Clinton now offers (with voiced apologies from the women behind the counter) the customer’s choice of “light, wheat, or rye” bread. They also serve, of course, tea – sweet and unsweet – and soft drinks. Old Clinton does not serve beer or wine.
Everybody who knows anything about Southern barbeque knows that each region – and each different BBQ joint – is distinguished by its sauce. Sauce at Old Clinton is the kind Edna Earl and her ilk describe as the “North Carolina variety,” thin and dark, applied at table. Sometimes this kind of sauce ill suits Edna Earl, but in this case, owing to the combination of the finely cooked meat with the particular quality of the sauce itself, Edna Earl approved. (It must be noted that Edna Earl’s lunchmates, both diehard Alabama Yellowsauce fans, only reluctantly approved, but we all know about those Alabama Yellowsauce fans, don’t we?!) All three in Edna Earl’s party just thanked god that there was none of that middle-Georgia “catchupy” sauce in evidence at Old Clinton.
With only seven tables, an interesting counter, and a couple of picnic tables outside under the portico, Old Clinton appears to be first and foremost a take-out establishment. Now, that is not to say that dining in was not a pleasant experience. It definitely was. A diner may browse the family photographs, the newspaper articles, the antiques and the other artifacts on display. There is no music; there is no television. A diner may engage in conversation with the women behind the counter as well as with other diners. One may even read and learn about that famous middle-Georgia legend The Goat Man. This is all to say that one may have a most pleasant dining experience at Old Clinton. However, Old Clinton is not exactly the kind of place one would go for, say, a romantic evening out or a prom night or even a ladies’ lunch. It is a place one goes to eat barbeque. Enough said.
So let’s just sum this whole thing up by saying that Edna Earl hereby declares Old Clinton Barbeque to be (You read it here first, folks!) – drum roll – THE REAL DEAL. Yessir, Old Clinton is the real deal. Yes, Edna Earl admits to the Styrofoam plates and the plastic utensils, but how else is a take-out BBQ joint supposed to function? And besides – one can always carry a little Old Clinton home and serve it with Grandma’s Chantilly on Great-Grandma’s Haviland. But, alas, in that case one would miss the opportunity to converse with the friendly women and read about The Goat Man!
Edna Earl says, “Visit Old Clinton soon. You won’t be disappointed.”