All Work, No Play, and BBQ in Hattiesburg

Many, many apologies to my loyal reader out there (no that’s not a typo).  I’m wrapping up a somewhat absolutely insane business trip that has had me working anywhere from 12 hours to 17 hours a day, every day, for the past 3 weeks straight.  I fly home Saturday morning, have Sunday off, and then I have to go back to work early Monday morning, despite it being a holiday.  Good Lord, I wish I got paid for overtime. . . .

Needless to say, I have much catching up to do.  Since I most likely won’t get any significant time off until November, expect to see a flood of blogging around that time and a dearth of it until then.  I hope all of [the two of] you don’t mind.

So here’s the deal: I’m in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  Crappy little college town (University of Southern Mississippi).  I’m here for work.  It’s probably my 25th or 30th trip down here or so in the past year alone, and their ain’t shit to do down here.  There’s a zoo in the historical downtown area — I think they’ve got a dog, a cat, and maybe some squirrels there.  Maybe baby deers.  I loves baby deers.  There’s a cool and thoroughly empty-looking library not far from the zoo, too.  Then, there’s Rockin’ Ropers cowboy bar (I don’t think they have a website, else I would have linked them.  Sorry.) off of highway 49 — a local hangout, painted in cowprint, and fittingly located in a sort of sinkhole off the side of the highway.  I’ve been there.  Five times.  Monday night is line dance night.

Suffice to say that I’ve eaten in pretty much every goddamn restaurant in this miserable stinkhole, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are pretty much only 2, maybe 3 places worth trudging through the ubiquitous mud and swarms of lovebugs to eat at.  Also suffice to say that I have the longest windups to my actual blogs evar.  EVAR.  I’ll try harder, I swear.

This blog is on barbecue.  The rest of it is, anyway.  For this entry, I will be focusing on the barbecued pulled pork I had at 5 places in Hattiesburg, as opposed to ribs or anything else.

The word “barbecue” comes from the Spanish Caribbean word barbacoa, which refers to a wooden, grill-like structure that the Arawaks used to dry or roast meat.  Although “barbeque” is an accepted alternate spelling of the word, I never liked it.  To me, it always looked like a bastardization of the other spelling, as if some lazy idiot came along and shortened the original word to “BBQ” (Q, obviously, because that’s what “-cue” sounds like), and some more idiotic idiot came along and reverse engineered the variant “barbeque” from the shortened form of the word.  No.  Judging from the origins of the word, I think spelling it with a “C” is the correct way.  Spelling it with a “Q” is just weird to me.  It’s like a question in Spanglish, as if a Spanish man is asking, “Barbe-que?/Barbe-what?”

Not that any of this matters.  I just enjoy nitpicking and beating dead horses.  I’m a miserable fuck, what do you want from me?

Divine Swine

Speaking of the bastardized version of the word, I noticed it printed all over the t-shirts on display behind the counter at this one barbecue joint in Hattiesburg, called “Divine Swine”.  How was the swine?  Cheap.  Fast enough.  Dry.  Flavorless by itself.  Soulless overall.  Thoroughly doused in a thoroughly awful sauce.  Served on a bland bun by a somewhat pretty, gloomy-looking, dour-faced, and probably underage girl.  It was the sort of place you’d go to if you were drunk, wanted something quick and easy, and in the mood to make bad decisions (about the food, not the underage girl you sick fucks).

I had cole slaw and baked beans with my pulled pork plate.  The cole slaw was all right.  Actually, it was thoroughly uninspiring, and drenched in mayo.  It was the kind of cole slaw that you can easily and cheaply buy in bulk at the store, and I certainly hoped it was purchased and not hand crafted, because the thought of a hand crafted cole slaw turning out like that makes me sad.  Likewise, the baked beans reminded me of Busch’s baked beans, only worse (if that were possible), and I sincerely hoped that what I was choking down came from a can and not from a kitchen.  But then again, what was I expecting for 8 bucks and change?

To make matters worse, I chose to eat on the premises, as opposed to taking the sorry meal back to my car to scarf and later barf in the privacy of my own rental vehicle.  The “dining room” (for lack of a better word) had cafeteria-style seating, was painted an obnoxious shade of yellow, and lit with fluorescent overhead lights which made it all the more obnoxious.  There was a bottle of “hot sauce” on every table, which was nothing more than rancid, whole chiles, steeped in vinegar.  Not a single bottle of that Louisiana “Just One Drop Does It!” stuff anywhere.  It was thoroughly sobering, and I wasn’t even sober.  I mean drunk.  Regardless, I was glad to get out of there.

Rose’s Bar BQ & Catering

Rose’s is off of highway 49 South, somewhere between Hattiesburg and Camp Shelby.  If you see it and you’re in the mood for some goooood pulled pork, I enthusiastically suggest you drive past it.  On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for some vegetables that haven’t been dunked in a tank of melted butter, then I would stop here.  Then again, you don’t even have to be in the mood for it — your irregularity and your arteries can do the persuading, considering you’d be in a region that does not know how to prepare fresh vegetables.

“Turnip greens,” I said to the woman behind the counter, after ordering the chopped pork sandwich, with their version of cole slaw as my first side dish.  She proceeded to mechanically scoop, strain, and slap the stewed-to-heck greenery onto a plastic plate.  Then, she assembled a massive mound of pale green and white cole slaw, split a bun, and scooped some pre-sauced chopped pork from a warm, electric buffet pan.  I paid for my plate and went to sit down.  Seven bucks and some change.  Not bad.

I dug into the turnip greens first.  Almost three weeks without some decent vegetation (if you don’t count the kind of vegetating that I do when I’m laying around in the bed at the hotel while watching Food Network) left me desperate for any kind of roughage not drowning in fat.  I got what I wanted, and I kinda like the taste of southern style turnip greens.  Win.

Next was the cole slaw.  Unfortunately, there was a woman with an infant sitting behind me, and I think her baby threw up all over the table.  Coincidentally, the cole slaw reminded me exactly of that — vomit — with perhaps a touch of mucous.  Okay, a ton of mucous.  Disgusting.

Finally, I bit into the pulled chopped pork sandwich.  It was basically a barbecue-flavored, pork sloppy joe to me, since it was somewhat tangy, not quite tasty, and completely unwieldy and awkward to eat.  There were additional condiments on the table — hot sauce, hot bbq sauce, mild bbq sauce, regular bbq sauce (not quite sure what the difference between mild and regular are) — but they were completely superfluous, even though they were decent, since the pork was oozing with a disappointing, reddish, tomato-based sauce already.

I finished as much as I could stomach to be polite and left quickly, before the toddler could offer anyone else any more free cole slaw by the barf-ful.

Three Little Pigs BBQ

Just outside the South Gate of Camp Shelby, off of highway 49 North, there’s a joint known locally as Three Pigs BBQ.  They serve up your usual barbecued fare, and the soldiers who work at Camp Shelby seem to love it (probably because of the proximity, convenience, decent prices, and less than stellar, but all right taste).  You’ll regularly see men and women in uniform either eating here or ordering massive quantities of food to go.  And why not?  The food at 3 Pigs is magnitudes greater than anything offered on post, be it at the chow hall (straight up horror stories, yo), the PX, or the gut trucks in the area (gut trucks called “Catfish One,” although cute, do not inspire confidence.  At all.  Nor do the “Burrito Brothers,” or whatever-the-fuck.  There’s a Domino’s pizza truck, too, but it’s Domino’s, so who the fuck cares?).  Whatever.  Food on Camp Shelby will have to wait for another blog entry.

My problem with 3 Pigs is that the pork I got there was dry.  It had good flavor, there was a decently tasty crust on the pork, the hickory goodness was there (you had to look for it, but it was there), but it was utterly dry and overcooked.

I suppose when you’re truly barbecuing, your meat is going to be technically overcooked no matter what, but that’s why you’re cooking it so low and slow.  Am I wrong?  The connective tissue — the collagen — dissolves in the pork’s own natural juices at around 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and when the muscle fibers get cooked, they are able to reabsorb some of that gelatin-y liquid goodness.  The result?  Meat that is tender, tasty, and succulent.  Good barbecue is supposed to be succulent.  Three Little Pigs BBQ is dry.  The BBQ sauces offered (apparently, they’re made in-house, but they tasted conspicuously like the ones at Rose’s) are okay, but the sauce only did a mediocre job in covering up the texture of the meat.  For shame, Three Pigs.  For shame.

The saving grace, if you can even consider it a saving grace, is that 3 Pigs gives you unlimited fountain drinks or iced tea and 4 sides with your order of any BBQ plate.  You pay more for it, so I suppose it’s not really a perk at all.  Plus, it’s not even worth it.  The garlic bread that comes with every order is stale bread, smeared with too much of a somewhat garlicky herb butter, and cooked on a griddle top until crispy.  Eating that first bite of bread reminded me of that one research study where scientists discovered that people will happily eat stale potato chips as long as they play an audio tape of loud, crispy, crunchy sounds.  Idiots.  I think the guy won an Ig Nobel prize for the study, too.

Likewise, the thick-cut French fries that come with your meal are pretty bad.  Properly fried French fries are thick, crispy on the outside, and almost like mashed potatoes on the inside.  Additionally, they are salted as soon as they come out of the fryer.  The dual textures result from frying the potatoes twice — once at a lower temperature, and again at a higher temperature, e.g. at 300 degrees F first, then at 350 or 375 degrees F.  Three Pig’s fries are neither salty, crispy, mashed potato-y, nor are they good.

For my other two sides, I opted for baked beans and for cole slaw.  The beans tasted just like the ones at Rose’s — bad.  The slaw was the same slaw I got at Divine Swine — also bad.  Nuff said.  Moving on . . .

Brownstones

Brownstones is a bar and grill located in historical downtown H-burg, not far from the “zoo.”  Strictly speaking, this place is by no means a BBQ restaurant, but I decided to give it an honorable mention here, since their pulled pork sandwich is pretty tasty.  The pork comes on a tasty buttered bun, and you can get a side of pineapple cole slaw with it.  Even though the slaw is usually watery (the cook really ought to salt them cabbages with some kosher and allow the veg to drain), it’s tasty, and I often order it for both my sides, even though I’m sure they skimp on me whenever I do so.  Whatever you do, though, don’t order the gumbo.  I made the mistake of ordering it the first time I was there (I was on a gumbo mission, but that’s another blog . . . ), and what I got instead was dirty, lukewarm water with cracked crab claws and broken bits of shell.  Nastytastic.

Leatha’s BBQ Inn

This one is the diamond in the rough, kids.  This one is the mother lode. Leatha’s is this rundown little dive, tucked away, off of the Highway 98 stretch of Hardy St.  It’s hard to find, since you can’t really see it from the road.  Hell, it’s located behind a freakin’ RV and trailer dealership for God’s sake.  But ohhh, is it worth it.  It’s worth driving up and down Hardy Street repeatedly, scratching your head and straining your eyes, searching for this goddamn hole.  There’s a big sign that points the place out that I just noticed a little while ago.  Not sure if it’s new or if I was just unobservant.  Either way, look it up — that’s what Google is for.

Eating at Leatha’s is awesome.  The BBQ isn’t necessarily the best in the world, but no other place I know of has the history, the hospitality, or the love that Leatha has in spades.  Upon entering, you can seat yourself.  If you don’t, Ms. Leatha’s daughter, Bonnie Jackson (or either of her sisters, Carolyn or Myrtis, or any one of their relatives), will quickly and easily makes you feel right at home.  Bonnie is fantastic.  Her memory is also sharp as a tack — she will not only remember every order for two or three or ten or fifty (yes, fifty) people, but she will repeat them back to you, spitting out orders in rapid fire, complete with drawl and “y’all”.  Hell, she remembered me nine months after I first ate there.  NINE MONTHS!

The pulled pork here is fantastic, too.  It’s not as smoky as I prefer, and there isn’t too much seasoning to it, but sometimes you just want the meat, with a touch of the sauce, to speak for themselves.  Best of all, the meat has that succulence I was talking about.  Fantastic.

The BBQ sauce here is sweet, tangy, and delicious.  Bonnie will bring you your two sides (cole slaw, simply dressed with some honey mustard; potato salad; house salad; or baked beans), along with a carafe of BBQ sauce, and warm, soft buns.  The price tag for all this food?  About $12.  Not.  Friggin.  Bad.

If you’ve still got room for dessert after all that food, you’ve got one option: pecan pie.  It’s made by a friend of theirs and is always in high demand.  In fact, I’m sad to say that I’ve never had it yet, even though I’ve eaten there 10 or 15 times now.  Maybe one of these days . . .

So there you have it kids: the bottom line is that Leatha’s is the only place that’s worth eating at if you’re going to have BBQ in Hattiesburg.  Hell, like I mentioned earlier, Leatha’s is one of the only places worth eating at at all in all of Hattiesburg.  I plan on returning many, many times.  I’ll bring my camera and I’ll document this place.  Leatha deserves it.  Bless that wonderful, wonderful woman.

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One Response to “All Work, No Play, and BBQ in Hattiesburg”

  1. hmmmm I don’t understand why everyone talks about Leatha’s BBQ and no way is it the jewel …The sauce taste like ketchup with spices. No flavor not enough salt. The slaw was sour. I have eaten there twice…thinking it must have been an off month so I went another year…all the same…not good!

    Rose’s Bar BQ is the best to me. The road house up the road is good too but Rose’s is best! and yeah the slaw is thick and yucky!

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