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WQED TV producer and PITTSBURGH Magazine back-page writer writes about his current work and assorted other things.

VA to GA via Sweatman’s.

February 18th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Saturday morning, the 13th of February 2010, we head out of Wytheville on I-77 and I-81, and soon follow the signs for Charlotte.  The sun is out.  The snow piles at the side of the road are diminishing.  Bob wonders where we will finally see no more snow.


In a bit of weather-weirdness, states across the South from Texas east, including Georgia and the Carolinas, had a snow storm yesterday, Friday the 12th of February 2010.  We start to see cars that have skidded off the highway, some into the gulley beside the highway, some into the grassy median strip.  Cars that look like they just couldn’t deal with the white stuff on the roads.  The roads are clear now, but they must have been dangerously icy in the last 12 or 24 hours — or these Southern drivers just can’t control themselves when it starts to snow and they just go crazy and drive off the road.


At some point yesterday I realized that we’d be driving down Interstate 26 between Columbia SC and Charleston SC, and we could consider stopping at Sweatman’s Bar-B-Que near Holly Hill, my favorite barbecue joint in the Carolinas.


Holly Hill is a small town along SC Highway 176 that runs parallel to I-26 for most of its length.  It’s the old Columbia to Charleston Highway.


In downtown Holly Hill, you turn onto Highway 431 toward Eutawville.  Sweatman’s is out in the country, all by itself, an old house surrounded by trees.


The house is late 19th or early 20th century.  Rustic and country, with lots of weathered wood and creaky old steps.  One on-line review said it resembled the house where they shot “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”


It is still so much a house that you almost feel like an intruder when you open the front door, but the aroma of barbecue is everywhere.   (These rooms off to the right of the entranceway were closed off this Saturday afternoon.  A sign said RESERVED.  I immediately thought, It must be a wedding.  Or some other important event.  What a great place to celebrate.


So you’re inside.  Walk through the foyer and then look to your left.


It’s your basic cafeteria-style Carolina barbecue set-up.  Grab a styrofoam plate.


It’s hard (maybe impossible) to find this sort of barbecue up north.  And Sweatman’s has two fine sauces (including a mustard-vinegar that I crave), and it has great hash (the chopped pig parts that are simmered in a kind of soup that is usually spooned over rice), as well as light and dark meat pulled pork, ribs, and banana pudding.  This is heaven. Or lunch in heaven anyway.


After we go through the line twice, the cashier encourages me to wander back into the smoke house with my camera, although we soon figure out that probably not much is happening this late on a Saturday.  The barbecue is all cooked for this weekend.


But we go back anyway and meet Little John who stokes the coals, lays out the pigs, handles the ribs and skins in a separate room, and he’s happy to show us where everything happens even though nothing’s happening today.  He cooks the meat, and he makes the hash in a big metal cauldron in another room.


I’ve never seen snow at Sweatman’s before, and there’s not a lot of the white stuff left in the Carolina sunshine, but the pork here is still as sublime as I remembered.  The prices are still reasonable.


And I will look forward to my next visit whenever that may be.  This was a good stop.


Back in the van, we’re supposed to take I-95 south to Savannah but decide to avoid the interstate (packed with cars on this sunny Saturday) and we take Highway 17 into Georgia.  Good road.


Tags: "Breakfast Special"

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dave Young // Mar 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Great rundown on Sweatman’s. I’m a transplanted yankee from Northern PA now living in Greenville, SC. You hit the nail on the head when you talk about BBQ and how you can’t find it done this way anywhere up north. The BBQ here is my first of many loves of the south. If you get a chance in your travels, stop in Greenville at Bucky’s BBQ. The pulled pork sandwiches are the best around this area and cheap to boot. And the sauce is the perfect blend of sweet with a hint of heat. Hope you have safe travels.

  • 2 Ben Kelley // Jul 15, 2010 at 9:09 am

    Thanks for the stop at Sweatman. I’m a transplanted South Carolina native living in Pittsburgh that truly misses good BBQ and I’ve yet to find a restaurant in western PA with decent mustard based sauce. However, there is a caterer in Aspinwall that makes a one that’s nearly good enough to bottle. Unfortunately, I can’t just order it up anytime I want.

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