Jan 8, 2021

A commoner dines at Southern Soul Barbeque, St. Simons Island, Ga.

The never-ending quest for the best barbeque a commoner can find in the United States took an unexpected but highly rewarding turn during our trip last year to Jekyll Island, Ga.  It was Independence Day, appropriately enough, and the family and I were craving some ‘que (and me specifically some Brunswick stew).  So, we ventured off the island, through Brunswick, Ga., then onto the F.J. Torras Causeway to see what the Golden Isle of St. Simons had to offer. 

Our search was rewarded when, at a roundabout on Demere Road, we spotted a cluttered wooden shack, a crowd of people both standing and seated at picnic tables in front of the entrance, the billowing smoke from a nearby smoker, and a food truck in the parking lot.  We had arrived at Southern Soul Barbeque

To be fair, this was not the first time I had heard of Southern Soul Barbeque.  I had recalled the restaurant being featured on the foodie show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and it had been on my mental bucket list of barbecue joints ever since.  So, once I learned we were in the area, stumbling across Southern Soul Barbeque did not happen by mere chance.  I just had to know what to look for. 

And with a storefront like this, how could you miss it?  By the time we walked up, the line was no longer out the door, just to the door.  Punky and the Kiddo grabbed a seat at one of the picnic tables out front, and I got in line to place our order. 

With outside seating relatively easy to pull off with a tin roof and enough fans operating outside, it wasn’t much of a surprise to find the inside of Southern Soul Barbeque to be very small, and on this July 4 holiday, it was packed wall to wall.  No stool at the counter stayed unoccupied very long, as the line of customers slowly ambled to the order station. 

Even as I trudged along with the jam-packed crowd, I was able to admire the fun and funky, busy and bustling vibe of the place.  From the collection of books crowding the shelves, to the blue-colored exposed ventilation system to the old fridge stocking the canned beer selection, there was no shortage of things to ponder.  That also applied to the chalkboard of advertised daily off-menu specials, which would have been much more tempting if this had not been my first visit. 

I was already well aware of Southern Soul’s reputation for having outstanding smoked pork, as well as its Brunswick stew (fittingly for a Georgia barbecue joint so near the town of Brunswick), so I had already made my mind up – I would be ordering a classic barbecue plate here.  But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t tempted to change my mind many times before I ordered.   Fortunately, the wait for our food didn’t seem nearly as long as the wait in line. 

So, how good did it turn out to be?  Let’s start with Punky’s pulled pork platter:  it’s obvious from the first tender juicy bite that this pig has been smoked low and slow with lots of soul.  Bits of pinkness from the smoke ring left behind by the oak-wood fire combine with the fattier portions of the pork butt to deliver what Punky described as just about the best pulled pork she ever had. 

Judging by the one bite she allowed me to sample, I have to agree it was stellar.  And the samples of potato salad and cole slaw – her two sides of choice – were every bit as good as you’d hope to round out a superior plate of barbecue.  Both were seasoned with just a hint of added smokiness to them. 

As I’ve stated many times, the best approach on a first visit to any great barbecue joint is to order the combo platter.  In this case, the Southern Soul Sampler offered two meats, stew and one side.  Knowing I had to try the stew, it was the perfect storm. 

The smoked sausage, which I ordered to be different from my typical combo choice and to allow greater opportunities to share with Punky and the Kiddo, turned out to be fantastic.  But the ribs, quite simply, blew me away. Whether you order pork, beef or chicken, the rub is the same, but I can’t see it working any better than it does on these wonderfully chewy yet soft and fall-off-the bone ribs. And if you need any more proof that these ribs are some of the best you’ll find, just look at the smoke ring on them. 

The Brunswick stew was almost as good as the ribs and probably the best I’ve ever tasted – loaded with stew veggies (including lima beans!), just heavy enough on the pulled pork and perfectly tangy with what undoubtedly must be one of their outstanding barbecue sauces.  And if you love your southern-style greens like I do, the collards here do not disappoint.    

Of course, the meat here is darn near perfection without any sauce, but you’re going to want to sample all their varieties anyway.  My personal recommendations:  the red wine swine and low country soul are both perfect for the pulled pork, the hot Georgia soul works best with the smoked sausage and the sweet Georgia soul perfectly intensifies the tangy coating on the ribs.

It’s no wonder why Southern Soul Barbeque has garnered so many accolades from its customers and food critics alike.  In addition to being one of the best barbecue experiences you can imagine, they do (as the name would lead you to imagine) soul food, low country cuisine and their legendary sandwiches all on about the same level of excellence. Regulars would definitely need to check out their Facebook page in advance for the daily specials before visiting.  The cooks here are definitely not afraid to branch out. I consider Southern Soul Barbeque a must-try for any barbecue or Southern cooking aficionado.

You can even grab some sauce to go or a souvenir while you’re there. 

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