Friday, January 31, 2014
If you are not familiar with Hog Heaven, it is likely you are not a local.
As modest as its outward appearance suggests, this is a place with a long history and an even longer list of ardent fans.
Hog Heaven is located on Highway 17 just south of Pawleys Island. It sits beyond a curve, tucked beneath pines. Constructed of cement blocks and a very basic asphalt parking lot, it does not garner traffic based on curb appeal. Even its roadside sign is hand painted, and there are few ads in local publications to lure in customers.
Once upon a time, the place was known as Yum Young’s. It had its beginning with a talented pit master named George Young. For many years, Young worked as a valet for George Vanderbilt III, owner of Arcadia Plantation. (Vanderbilt descendants still own a huge swath of land between Pawleys Island and Georgetown.)
Young found himself spending a lot of time observing chefs from around the world make magic in the Vanderbilt kitchen. He also confessed to watching his mother cook, and “taking a pinch whenever I could get away with it.” He also watched whenever anyone was cooking over a pit and took note how they prepared the coals, turned the meat and fixed the sauce. “I’d watch and remember” he once said.
History has it he was given his first chance to barbecue for friends of the Vanderbilts – friends including John Wayne and Ginger Rogers. In time he cooked for senators, business moguls, and more movie stars and became legendary among barbecue enthusiasts.
Vanderbilt eventually carved five acres from his estate and gave it to Young, and that is where Hog Heaven sits today.
Now a landmark of sorts, the enterprise originally began with Young poking pork shoulders and beef ribs beneath a tent.
Eventually he graduated to a metal shed and finally a far more rustic version of the cinder block building that welcomes guests today. His special barbecue sauce, made from a recipe he guarded diligently, won a national trophy in 1979. He was the winner of other national competitions in 1981 and 1985, and placed in the top three for a number of years until he was named a judge and bowed out of competition. He sold it by the gallons.
Gregg Eaddy became a friend of Young before Young passed away in 2007. Young would not share his secret recipe, but Eaddy was relentless in trying to recreate it. He would whip up samples and deliver them to Young for approval.
Eventually he hit on the perfect recipe, and even Young was surprised.
Its tangy, sharp flavor is reminiscent of eastern North Carolina barbecue. In addition to vinegar, there’s a hint of mustard and tomato too. The taste is exceptional; ask any local.
Operating under a long-term lease from Young’s descendants, Eaddy spiffed up the place (without changing its character) and reopened it as Hog Heaven in April 1999. The barbecue still lives up to legend, but there’s plenty more to choose from these days. It is still a restaurant that caters to locals, but it is the lucky tourist who happens upon the place.
The buffet is now as legendary as Young’s barbecue. There is a variety of home style Southern fare that defies description in short order. The house-made fried chicken and macaroni and cheese are possibly better than “mama made.” So is the banana pudding.
It often surprises folks to discover Hog Heaven also serves fantastic seafood — from standard fried selections to perfectly roasted oysters and steamed crab legs. There’s an indoor bar with televisions, and a rustic and relaxed outdoor deck popular for private parties and live music.
Catering, onsite and off, represents a big chunk of Hog Heaven’s business these days.
“We do everything,” Eaddy said, “definitely not just barbecued pork and chicken.” Patrons can opt for fried shrimp, Lowcountry Boil, oyster roasts and more.
Anyone who passes this unremarkable building should definitely make time for a remarkable meal. Come hungry and bring the family.