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North Georgia serves up barbecue with an Italian accent, surprising shrimp sandwiches, gracious gravy and lots more. And nearly all of it has its roots in some other part of the country—via people who fell in love with North Georgia on a visit and established food-based businesses.
They’ve come from New Jersey and from Delaware, from Ohio and Florida. And from the coast of North Carolina. All of these enterprising business owners have been captivated by the beauty of the north Georgia mountains.
Barbecue Meets Braciole
When we walked in the door at Hickory Stump Barbeque near Clarkesville, Georgia, owner Tom Feizet had just sold five orders of polenta. He says the guys down the road at 17 Lumber go for anything new.
An Italian cornmeal dish at a north Georgia barbecue joint might seem out of place, but with a little research into Feizet’s background, it makes perfect sense. He is the son of the late Marge Angelini Feizet, an Italian who grew up in New Jersey.
At Hickory Stump, barbecue meets braciole. The Italian stuffed beef roll was a side dish the day we visited, alongside more predictable barbecue accompaniments like collard greens and coleslaw.
Feizet makes braciole exactly the way his mother did, stuffing the beef with Pecorino-Romano cheese, parsley, and raisins. He says there’s a fundamental connection between southern barbecue and the cooking of his Italian-American family.
“This intrigued me, how you take really cheap stuff, and in the way you fix it, you make it really good—gnocchi, ravioli, polenta, barbecue.”
Feizet’s venture into the barbecue world took an unassuming start.
“My mother-in-law ran a church thrift shop on Long Island for years,” he tells us, absorbed in the story as a customer’s barbecue chicken pizza bakes away in the kitchen. “At that shop I found an old smoker and half a bag of Kingsford charcoal and bought them.”
When Feizet’s profession as a teacher of children with autism and their caregivers brought him to Georgia, he never forgot that latent fascination with smoked meat. On New Year’s Eve 2013, in an old gasoline station at a rural Georgia crossroads, he welcomed the first customers to Hickory Stump Barbeque.
“The light goes on in that smoker outside on Tuesday night, and it doesn’t go out until Saturday,” says server Crystal Day, as she brings three sauces to our table—one vinegary, one sweet with lots of black pepper, and one hot.
Pork shoulder, chicken and Wednesday-only ribs are not only served on traditional barbecue plates and sandwiches but also atop pizza. Feizet says the “semi-square, part round” shape of his pizzas is a clear tip-off that the dough is house-made. The pizza sauce is Feizet’s, too, with crushed tomatoes, oregano, garlic, and kosher salt. Whole-milk mozzarella is the final touch.
Feizet watches cooking shows and borrows cookbooks and magazines from the library with a scholar’s passion, inspiring him to offer unexpected sides like Country Captain, made with chicken thighs, tomato, and raisins and served over rice.
Eating at the Hickory Stump is a joyful lesson in the commonality of working-class foods worldwide.
Hickory Stump Barbeque
6725 Highway 17
Consider the caring hands and prolific gardens it took to create a seemingly simple lettuce salad at downtown Clarkesville’s Harvest Habersham. There is a mix of lettuce from local producers Melon Head Farm and Trillium Gardens. There are slivers of Pink Lady apples from Mountain Earth Farms. There are rounds of radishes from nearby Indian Ridge Farm. And from Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville comes a crowning touch of Tomme cheese.
“Our philosophy is to start with something really good and try not to do too much to change the beauty and the flavors. We call this style of cooking ‘Genuine Food,’” says co-owner Laura Farrelly, who opened Harvest Habersham with her partner Chris Bolton in a former hardware store, next to the Habersham Community Theater, in July of 2014.
Although she spent 15 years in the corporate world doing international business for large food corporations, Farrelly knows genuine food. She has lived it. She is a product of the rural farming country in lower Delaware.
"The garden and off-shore fishing were staples in my life," she says. "My mother was a canning marvel. Dinnertime in the Farrelly house was sacred."