ONE question that finds its way into just about any conversation on food, at least with me, is, "Where do you look for the BEST BBQ in town?"
It’s a long standing lust, this need for juicy, smoked meat that carries a fragrance of the wood and charcoal, whether it’s a fine pork butt or a tender chicken, I’m happy to investigate! If the Brunswick stew is rich and meaty, well, ya get extra points there!
While covering the grand opening and ribbon cutting for Michael Lee Wedicamp’s new Savannah Auction Exchange in Bloomingdale I had just a taste of some decent ‘Q between photographing the event and perusing the goods for sale—it made me long for a full meal of the stuff.
So, I asked around, and nearly all the locals ‘bout fell over themselves to enthusiastically respond, “Ma-Maw’s!!”
Now, I could have spent an hour or so researching this online, but the response was so very definite, and I was assured the place was so near—about 6 miles away—that I decided then and there to have a look-see. Just up Hwy 80, coming outta Bloomingdale, on your left—the Family Dollar nearby makes a good landmark—you’ll find a lil’ ole shack with a red front.
A portrait of the bespectacled Ma-Maw herself, with kindly eyes, flowered bodice and string of pearls, graces the big sign out front and makes you wonder if she’s an actual person—the answer is a definite yes.
The oldest grandson, inspired by her incredible BBQ sauce and wizardry in the kitchen, opened up this little place in her honor. Nice to know.
Of course, if you’re gonna dive into the business of BBQ, if helps if you’re used to clouds of smoke and fires burning with a red glow of beast’s eyes in the dark—Jason Bouchea knows all about that.
He was a Savannah firefighter for 12 years. Combine a deep love of cooking with a background mastering flames and it can lead to a mighty fine career—as a pit master acquaintance of mine once stated, “BBQ is a serious business!”
Jason’s smoked-up apron and big grin echoed his attitude: “There’s not a day that I come to work that I’m not genuinely happy to be here!” So maybe that’s the secret that calls folks out to the wilds of Eden, Ga.—sure, it’s a 25-minute drive from downtown Savannah, and yet none of the customers, some from as far away as Tybee, seemed to mind.
“I love helping people,” Jason tells me, “and as my kids were born and I decided on a safer career, that need translated itself naturally into doing something I love, something my Ma-Maw and her cookin’ inspired in me from an early age.”
“Everything we make here is fresh—it goes from raw to smoked or fried—never, ever frozen. Every day it needs to be better and better. That’s one of the reasons we offer weekly specials—I like to introduce something different and new, expand local tastes. A popular special is our Pork Carnitas served with warm corn tortillas.”
We visited his smokehouse out back, where the fragrant wood was stacked high and the smoker still warm from the day’s work. A small covered pavilion where the magic happens, it looks humble enough, and yet, the wonders of taste, smokiness and full flavor that immerge make it a BBQ shrine of note, my friends!
Once I’d tasted the smoky, tender chicken and juicy, chopped pork, I had to bring my kids out there to feast on one of these renowned specials: the fried gator tail po-boy. My, oh, my—somewhere between chicken and nicely chewy shrimp—delicately fried gold chunks piled up on a hoagie roll—and definitely worth the time it took to get there.
I can honestly say I was an instant fan of his BBQ sauce: “I think our sauce, though inspired by Johnny’s Harris’, is rather more ... clever!” Jason laughingly asserts, “It has a depth and complexity of flavor that only my Ma-Maw could’ve invented.”
With a mustardy base and a twang of vinegar that hits the tongue just right, without making your jaws suck in, that sauce is pure gustatory joy on one of the 8-12 smoked pork butts he serves daily, or poured over the famous “Eden Fries.”
While hanging around waiting to chat with Jason between customers lining up at the window (strictly take-out here, folks), I noticed a lot of orders for “Eden Fries, please!” These incredible hand-cut, fresh made fries piled high with shredded cheddar, his tasty Brunswick stew and pulled pork, dressed in Ma-Maw’s BBQ sauce and finished off with a drizzle of Ranch dressing, is a local favorite of legendary proportions. At only $6.99 it makes a full meal big enough for sharing, or a tummy-soother for one hungry dude or dudette!
Witness the line of cars each evening, patiently awaiting MaMaw’s deliciously crisp, golden fried chicken, fish and shrimp. The customers idle their engines happily, sending lazy smoke rings out the windows, chatting amongst themselves or with friends waiting on the wooden benches out front, because they know how truly good that chicken and seafood is gonna be.
Add a side of Eden Fries or the deeply tasty BBQ beans or Southern potato salad (both his Ma-Maw’s cherished recipes) and get ready to ring the dinner bell fast!