By Anna Ferguson
1944 Braselton Highway, Buford 770-963-0994
Open since: October 2006
Location: The restaurant is located in a new shopping center on Braselton Highway, near the intersection of Braselton Highway and Old Peachtree Road in Buford.
Owners: Mat Hathaway, Kenny Garren, Brian Hume
Hours: Holy Smokes is open from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sunday.
Atmosphere: Holy Smokes is truly a house divided. Of the three owners, two went to the University of Georgia, and one went to Georgia Tech - and it shows. Half of the restaurant is painted a bright yellow, while the other half is painted a vibrant red.
"Well, the designer planned that, but really, I think it was fate," Hathaway said. "During football season, we just might have to divide the restaurant down the center."
From the diner's casual ambiance, it is evident that, despite the school rivalry, Holy Smokes is a peaceful spot for a relaxed family dinner. Orders are placed at the counter in the restaurant's rear, and patrons seat themselves at square, hardwood tables.
The food: It's simple. Holy Smokes only does a few things, but does them expertly well. Barbecued ribs, served in half or full racks and taking about five hours to prepare, are a menu staple.
"We really push the ribs," Hathaway said. "That is our big specialty. We cook them slow, that's the secret. You can't rush great ribs."
Pulled pork, served in a plate or on a sandwich, is also a highlight at the eatery.
"We pull the pork ourselves and make sure it is high quality, lean and clean," Hathaway said. "Pulled pork is one of the standards of a good barbecue joint. It just has to be good."
As the glue that holds the restaurant together, the spicy yet sweet barbecue sauce is made in-house.
Dripping with cheese, sauce and barbecued pork, the loaded fries are a new addition to the menu. "Yeah, that's not for our customers on Weight Watchers," Hathaway said.
The smoked chicken salad, however, is. "It's not on the menu, but it's really great and it's one of our lighter dishes," Hathaway said.
Joining the barbecued meats on plates are side items such as cole slaw, macaroni and cheese, french fries and baked beans. Holy Smokes also does a large amount of catering, offering signature menu items as well as requested foods.
Beverages: The flagship beverage of the South, sweet tea, is a Holy Smokes mainstay.
"It's really sweet and really good," Hathaway said. Fountain drinks and water are also served. No alcoholic beverages are offered at the restaurant.
Dessert: The banana pudding is a sweet ending to a plate of spicy ribs.
Things you might not know: While none of the owners have a formal background in the restaurant industry, they do have a background in ministry. On a whim several years ago, the three decided to smoke 26 turkeys and deliver them to members of their church congregation for Thanksgiving.
"It was a nightmare. We cooked from 5 in the evening straight through to 7 a.m. with no sleep," Hathaway said. "It was one of the worst experiences of my life. But, from that, came this. And this has been a great experience."
Upon receiving her smoked Thanksgiving turkey, one patron replied, "Holy smokes! This is good," Garren said. "We just looked at each other and thought, bingo."
SideBar: ON THE MENU
Almost Famous rib plate (half rack $9.99, full rack $18.99)
Pulled pork sandwich (regular $3.29, jumbo $4.29)
Sliced smoked chicken plate ($6.99)
Brunswick Stew ($2.00)
Loaded fries ($3.99)