Rusty Pig is a Christian-based company, and unashamedly so. The restaurant's T-shirts bear a Bible verse, and each table has a tract next to the pair of sauce bottles: one vinegar based, one mustard. As for the 'cue itself, the brisket was cut at an angle and with a loose, moist texture, and came with plenty of fat to be trimmed off. It was quite good with either of the two sauces, but while I'm more used to the vinegar based, I preferred the mustard on it. Jason ordered the pork, and found it similarly tasty.
Jason broke the silence as we ate. "That was really hot, man."
"That was pretty terrible," I agreed. I got up to refill my sweet tea and stood there for a moment in the air conditioning, looking out across the parking lot to where Scarlett sat, like the line from "Thunder Road," like a killer in the sun. After close to an hour, my shirt had finally started to dry out.
"Yes," Jason interrupted my thoughts, "we have to go get back in. Sorry."
Ill-tempered in the heat, Scarlett didn't want to start, but finally roared to life, the 350 settling into its well-cammed idle as I burned myself on the gearshift and the thin chrome strip on top of the door. After a few miscues with road numbers, we successfully avoided the major traffic of Savannah and headed down 17 toward St. Simons, idling through Eulonia and Darien, where Scarlett and I had spent a pleasant afternoon last summer. The heat continued unabated.
We hit the hotel around 5:30, and promptly drained the courtesy water cooler in the lobby. The trip had taken a solid three hours longer than it would have on the Interstate. Once in the room, we turned the air all the way down and moved a pair of chairs in front of the vent, where we stayed for the next hour. Inertia had set in, and in this case, "inert" was the operative part of that word. The most energy I could muster was to start texting Street Shop, Inc.'s Tray Walden to price out a new A/C system to go with Scarlett's upcoming engine transplant. Jason was looking up the temperature in Baghdad on his phone. It was in the 80s.
Eventually we summoned the energy to wander around the island, visiting the historic Christ Church on St. Simons, near the oak where the Wesleys preached some 300 years ago, then crossing the Torras Causeway to the mainland and over to Jekyll Island, which is close enough to see from St. Simons. Once the private playground of the Rockefellers and other wealthy families who owned it, Jekyll is now almost completely owned by the government, an interesting analogue for our culture at large. And thanks to the focus on conservation, much of the island--such as its characteristic dunes--remains untouched and lovely.
Leaving Jekyll at sunset, we headed down the causeway and hung a right onto 17 North and the imposing cable-stayed Sidney Lanier Bridge, which is more than a mile long and towers almost 500 feet at its highest point. I aimed the Stingray's high fenders toward the sky like a gun sight and rolled on the throttle, and when I hit the top of the bridge a couple hundred feet above the water, the Lowcountry opened below, the salt marshes below practically vermeil in the fading light.
Back on St. Simons, the well-neoned face of Southern Soul sits just off the merry havoc of the traffic circle, near the end of the runway for the island airport. Last year, even with GPS, I'd had trouble finding it, and resorted to calling: They drily suggested I look for the plume of smoke rising from the front of the building. This time I knew where to look, and, a little after nine, I pulled Scarlett into a space in front of a large stack of firewood that bookended one side of the outdoor seating area.
Originally operated out of an old service station, Southern Soul burned a few years ago and has since been rebuilt, fortunately avoiding the sterile, plastic feel of new construction. Inside, the walls bear the customary indicia of a pork palace, including awards and a painting of a preternaturally large pig holding a PBR. Place your order on the left side of the long bar, then either pull up a stool or pick one of the four or five tables inside. Or, if you're more heat tolerant than we were at that moment, get comfortable at one of the long wooden tables outside.
I ordered a brisket sandwich and had a seat by the door to drain a glass of sweet tea while Jason ponied up for a pork sandwich. The brisket came, dry and cut square across the tight grain, with all the fat trimmed off and bearing a marvelous pink smoke ring. Even without sauce, it was incredible. Adding the "hot and spicy" sauce, which I selected over the mustard and vinegar variants, it was even better. Jason and I ate contently, me working steadily on the brisket and the fries, well-dusted with kosher salt, and then paused and looked up.
"It was worth it."
After dinner we swung by the fishing pier near the base of the St. Simons lighthouse. From that vantage point, we could make out the dark bulge of Jekyll to the south and the bobbing green and red lights of the shrimping fleet off in the distance to the east, enjoying the steady wind before heading back to the hotel for the night. One thing hung over our heads: When we arrived at the hotel after our brutal ride, Jason had reminded me that the ordeal was only half over. We still had to get home.
It was still dark when Scarlett snarled to life in the parking lot the next morning, and I reached under the front bumper to pull the covers off her Cibié driving lights. It was 5:30, and we were heading home--via the Interstate.