"A very old barbecue master once told me, 'Hey, if your shack don't burn down once in a while it ain't really that good a barbecue anyways!'"
So says Tommy Thompkins, manager of Babe’s BBQ Shack, out on HWY 80 in Garden City, and he knows all about it from personal experience.
This is the second time, since opening in April 2010, his smoke shack has burned to the ground. His custom-made smokers are set up under an aluminum shed at the moment, but the soul-satisfying business of make some righteously good ‘Q continues nonetheless.
I keep an ear, eye, and yes, a nose, out for a good BBQ place, and when I took my daughter to Acme Costumes in June to find an elusive pair of mouse ears for her birthday party (Alice in Wonderland themed—she was the Dormouse), I made note of an enticing fragrance on HWY 80.
After a little researching and asking around I discovered this place late one night while out riding the highways, and there it was, with a statue of Babe Ruth out in front pointing the way, in case you didn’t notice the sign with the pig smokin’ a stogie.
It was a shack all right, situated right across from a certain local restaurant that has seen better days and was once—oh, many years ago!—renowned for its BBQ. Babe’s is definitely up to the challenge, which exudes the sort of cocky confidence that made me smile and want to know more.
For over four years they’ve been cooking up the ‘Q and gaining a steady stream of customers all over Chatham County. The ribs here have got to be some of the juiciest, tender slabs I’ve ever feasted upon, plenty of lean laced with just the right amount of fat, that had me lickin’ my fingers—in public.
You won’t find any bottled store-bought sauces here—they make their own uniquely flavored sauce, with a spicy version as well, which offers the familiar tang reminiscent of Johnny Harris, but with a light sweetness and almost buttery texture that ramps up the flavor of the smoked meats to dizzy heights of delight.
When Tommy tells me that the sausage is from an old Thompson family recipe, made especially for Babe’s by a little place up in Keysville, Ga., I had to try some. The sausage here is a rare treat, lightly seasoned, softly textured, with a thin outer skin that cracks just right when you bite into them.
Beef lovers will find a fine dish of smoky brisket here, so tender that I could cut it with my plastic fork! On weekends only, Tommy serves up his golden, smoked & saucy Jumbo Wings, and if you’re really starving’, try the Hogzilla along with ‘em: a massive baked potato stuffed with chopped pork, bacon, cheese, and more, that will just take your breath away!
Those inclined towards salad, well, let’s just say I hope you have a carnivorous streak as well, because you’ll get your green stuff topped with plentiful sliced portions of savory meats, cheese & eggs, which comes in one size: BIG!
A spécialité de maison, usually served as a side, came from a small accidental spill in the kitchen: a pan of Brunswick stew tipped over into the home made Mac n’Cheese, and—Voilà!—‘Redneck Ravioli’ was born!
This delectable side has many devoted fans, and a police officer, who saw us tasting and trying, actually brought me a bowl to sample, enthusiastically declaring, “You just GOTTA try this!!” Far be it from me to deny such a request!
Babe’s boasts the baking skills of “The Highway 80 Cake Lady”, AKA Michelle Thompkins, wife of Tommy’s brother, Sam, who shares in the management of this famous Shack. When photos of her Red Velvet, creamy & cool Southern Banana Pudding, & Pineapple pound cake show up on the Shack’s Facebook page, paths are beaten to the door.
Sam and Michelle’s recipes form the basis of the cuisine, along with Tommy’s tour de force BBQ talent, and they are happy to cater any party. They’ve practiced big time, too, with huge monthly luncheons at Gulfstream, International Paper and the like, which is how they decided to go ahead and just open the Shack, so EVERYbody could enjoy the goodies.
A family history of running local popular bars (known for the great eats as well) also helped—you may remember the popular Malone’s— and I’d say that good business sense, great BBQ and fabulous baked goods make a triumvirate of powerful incentives that has produced the perfect home run.