I'm surprised that in this overly-sensitive, super-politically-correct world of ours that the billboards for South Carolina's South of the Border, um, attraction haven't come under relentless fire from the PC Police. How can Pedro (taking a siesta at right), the tourist trap's sleepy, stereotypical Mexican continue to exist in a world where the Frito Bandito (far right) is but a vague memory? (Frito Bandito image courtesy of TheBandito.org)
Much has taken place since our last post, including: the wedding that we drove to Georgia for; another 10 hours in the car; a somewhat delusional trip to the supermarket; a torrential "scattered shower" that drove us from the beach and down to the end of the island; and, the kind of low-key relaxation that can only come when the house you're staying in sits on the edge of five undisturbed miles of nature preserve.
But I'd be remiss if I didn't provide a review of Southern Soul BBQ, an authentic Southern barbecue shack located on Saint Simons Island. After spending the early afternoon driving to and from Savannah (see previous post), we arrived back at our hotel to find friends enjoying a rainy dip in the resort's oceanside pools. Once Hanna's rains became steadier and less enjoyable we moved the party inside and spent some time relaxing in the hot tub and pool located in the resort's atrium.
Since none of us were in the mood to get dressed and geared up for a dinner out we decided to try some take-out from Southern Soul BBQ. Unable to decide what to get (smoked chicken? pulled pork sandwich?) and knowing it would probably be awhile before I got a chance to come back and give the place another go I figured I'd simply stock up and see how it compared to some of my favorite BBQ joints, like Andy Nelson's and Head Country.
And stock up we did... our order included a pulled pork platter with mac & cheese and baked beans on the side; a pulled pork sandwich on white toast; a half-smoked chicken with sides of potato salad and hushpuppies; plus a side of cornbread and a last-minute addition of banana bread pudding, which I knew I couldn't mention once I got back to the hotel without having picked up an order.
You can imagine my dismay when the woman at Southern Soul asked me how many sets of utensils I needed and I sheepishly admitted "just two". What you can't imagine is my dismay when the order was rung up on the cash register and it came to less than $30 – and it appeared to be the right price!
Forget Southern hospitality and the way everybody says "please" and "thank you" and seems to genuinely care how your day is going. The most shocking thing about the South may be the absurdly low cost of eating out. This was a frequent topic of discussion during the weekend with other wedding guests – our typical meal out including tip and drinks came to about $30-35 per person. Not bad at all, especially when you add in the huge, and I mean huge, portions.
But you can have all the huge portions and low cost you want if the food isn't good. I really wanted to love Southern Soul, with its cool logo and a charming setting in an old fish market, conveniently located next to a small but stocked liquor store (where I picked up a six-pack of the teriffic Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale mentioned in a previous post).
When I pulled in to the small parking lot to pick up the order I knew right away we'd made a good choice. The aroma from the smokers parked in front of the restaurant greets you the moment you open your door, signalling the fact that you're getting real hardwood-smoked meats, the kind of meal that only comes with time.
After spending a few minutes enjoying the shack's photo-filled interior and contemplating whether or not I wanted a soda to go with my sandwich our order was ready and I headed back to the hotel where I had to juggle the bulging sack of BBQ and a bag of soda and beer.
We spread the meal out on the room's table and started to dig in, sampling bites from each platter, container and tub as we got utensils ready and noted our favorites in our head. From a flavor and aroma standpoint, Southern Soul's pulled pork is hard to beat. Decidedly different than the more finely chopped and sauced barbecue served up at Andy Nelson's, the sandwich and platter from Southern Soul came packed with large, smoky hunks and flavorful strands of shredded meat.
Unfortunately, there was one thing that kept us from immediately declaring that this was the best pulled pork we'd ever tried – it was kinda dry. Luckily, I'd grabbed a half-dozen or more takeout tubs of Southern Soul's own sauces, one a sweet, thick sauce with a hickory flavor while the other was a more vinegar-based sauce that I believe is more popular in North Carolina.
Once the pork was soaked with some sauce it definitely started to come closer to the taste my mind had created when I first got a whiff of the aroma from the smokers. And while the sandwich usually comes on a toasted bun I'm glad I went off the menu with the large, thick slices of lightly-toasted white bread (a choice even the woman who took my order said sounded good)... they provided a hearty handful of a sandwich that got better as the sauce soaked into the hunks of pork.
The half-smoked chicken (shown at right), however, had no flavor or juiciness issues. The flavor was prominent without being overwhelming and meat below the darkly-colored skin was moist, juicy and bursting with smoky goodness.
As far as the sides went, I found the hushpuppies, Soul Slaw, potato salad and cornbread to be good but unmemorable while Chris really liked the baked beans and the gooey mac & cheese. I didn't try the banana bread pudding (I'm not much of a banana guy) and Chris thought it was a bit sweet but that didn't stop it from being finished the next day before we headed out for a walk on the beach and an afternoon by the pool.
Had the pulled pork been a little juicier I wouldn't hesitate to name Southern Soul one of the best barbecue joints I've ever tried. That quibble aside, Southern Soul is well worth a side trip to Saint Simons if you find yourself heading up or down I-95 and want a bite of smoky, southern flavor.