George Hooks was cooking whole hogs over open pits long before the New York Times discovered Rodney Scott and he became all the rage.
Scott now has Whole Hog BBQ restaurants in Charleston and around the Southeast.
But so what?
Long ago, Hooks had his whole hog BBQ restaurant outside Milledgeville on the Sandersville highway, and what a place it was.
Let me tell you what I remember: My uncle from California used to visit us back in the ‘60s. Uncle Paul was a world traveler, a man who loved to eat and loved to try food from different countries. He could have hosted “Bizarre Eats” on Travel Channel before Andrew Zimmern.
My dad wanted to take Uncle Paul to somewhere unique. Hook’s BBQ was the place.
You could watch those whole hogs, which had been split down the middle, roasting directly over the hot embers under the direction of pitmaster George Hooks.
When a hog was done, you could help yourself. You could cut off as much pulled pork as you wanted to buy.
Those were the days. We had real restaurants run by real people serving real food. It was not chain after chain after chain serving fast food.
I believe there was another BBQ place east of town toward Deepstep called Pat’s Place. I don’t remember many details about it. Maybe you do. Let me know.
Here are some other Milledgeville restaurants that are gone, but not forgotten. My friend Ed Robinson, a longtime resident, and several other Kiwanis Club members helped me with their restaurant memories. I have included a few chains, but they were rare then.
Pizza Villa: It opened in the early ‘60s on South Elbert Street and was run by Michaelina Simmons. It might have been the first restaurant pizza I ever ate. I think I always got hamburger topping because back then pepperonis might as well have been flying saucers.
Burger Chef: This was back before we had McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and all those other fast-food hamburger places. At its peak in 1973, there were more than 1,000 Burger Chefs in the U.S. and Canada. It was on South Wayne, not far from the Dairy Queen.
Mike’s Snack Shack: It straddled the corner of Hancock and Wayne streets with an entrance on each street. Known for its tasty hamburgers.
Grant’s Restaurant: The downtown dining establishment owned by the Grant family was where businessmen would gather for breakfast. The late Larry Allen loved to go there and talk sports. “Miss Minnie” used to rule the roost. “She’d say, ‘Move your feet,’ so she could sweep under the table,” Robinson told me. Grant’s was famous for its jello sunshine salad — crushed pineapple with shredded carrots.
Ray’s Restaurant: Ray’s was near Grant’s on Hancock Street and owned by the Bouchillon family. Robinson said he and other cadets who lived in the GMC barracks would go there on Sunday nights and have steak, fries and a glass of tea for $1.67. Ray’s also had a location near the old Milledgeville and John Milledge motels.
Mr. Sirloin: John Farmer bought it from Bill Carter and specialized in breakfast and lunch. Farmer said he’d get up every morning around 3 to get ready for the breakfast crowd. Grady Torrance would hold court at one of the tables, telling Cajun stories to his buddies. Farmer sold out to Clark and Arlene Downer.
Cornbread Café: The Downers changed Mr. Sirloin to Cornbread Café, because the restaurant was known for its cornbread muffins. They ran it for 17 years, changing locations and adding a music hall.
Maryland Fried Chicken: Workers at the old Madison Throwing Company used to walk across the street for lunch. You used to be able to order a three-piece pulley bone dinner. Who even knows what a pulley bone is nowadays. My brother and I used to fight over who got the pulley bone (wishbone) when my mother fried chicken.
Twilite: Run by the Newton family, this restaurant was south of town on Highway 441. It was famous for hamburger steak smothered in onion gravy.
Sanford House: Fine dining in downtown. Where Flannery O’Connor used to dine on fried shrimp and peppermint chiffon pie.
Hal Graham’s Diner: Used to be on McIntosh Street. Meat and two vegetables kind of place. Ellen Harrington remembers when she and her late dad Ralph would eat there. Robinson said they had great fried pork chops.
Henry Veal’s Cafe: Veal went to war, learned to cook and learned to speak French. He came back to Milledgeville, opened his restaurant on then McIntosh Street and served “the best pig ear sandwich in Baldwin County,” Robinson said.
McCoy’s: Famous for its hot dogs and hamburgers. Also, remembered for having two doors – Black patrons ate on one side and whites ate on the other side with the lunch counter running down the middle.
I know I’ve forgotten some other old places. Thornton’s Dairy Bar, the Plow Boy (now the Goodie Gallery) and Café South to name a few. I’ll have to get to them in future columns.
Also, I have intentionally left out a place that was not a restaurant but was world-renowned (well, maybe state-renowned) for its chili dogs. I’m talking about Dodo’s Pool Hall.
Next week: the mystery of the Dodo Pool Hall chili dog recipe.
Rick Millians, a 1970 Baldwin High graduate, worked at newspapers in Georgia, Ohio and South Carolina before retiring. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.