Sam Burnham, Curator
A few years ago I stumbled across a shuttered old roadhouse on the shores of Lake Allatoona in Cherokee County. As I looked at the old building and admired the signage, I wondered what all might have gone on at the Blue Cat Lodge.
I posted a picture of the place on the ABG Instagram page to document such a place existed. One of our followers there commented that the site was a filming location for the Netflix original series “Ozark.” Since that moment I’ve learned that the signage is the impressive work of a set design team who made use of the old roadhouse. I published my thoughts on this incredible show here.
While the Blue Cat Lodge, that happening spot where Marty Byrde laundered drug cartel money to keep his family alive, is a work of fiction, you can visit the location today. The roadside sign with its majestic blue catfish are gone. In its place you’ll find a sign for JD’s on the Lake, the current restaurant and bar that occupies the building.
The business is working off a limited menu during all of this *:gestures into the void:*. The good news is you can still get fried catfish and fries with hush puppies and slaw. Honestly I was expecting something colossally mediocre making a living off the building’s fame and notoriety. I was pleasantly surprised that the food was quite good.
The service is excellent and you can dine or drink inside or out. There is an inside dining room, screened in decks, and open air tables. Out back is a great location to sit on a comfortable evening to watch the sun set behind the Allatoona Mountains.
Remember that this location is reality. The dining room and bar are not decorated the same as the Blue Cat in the show. Most of the props are gone and the real place remains. The old sign that hung above the front porch now hangs over the bar but you won’t hear Bob Segar’s “Still the Same” on repeat. It’s unlikely that you’ll encounter Marty or Wendy but Ruth gets some love in the form of a cocktail on the menu. And no, middle aged gentlemen, Rachel Garrison is not working the bar.
While a lot is different, there’s plenty around that you’ll recognize. The floating fuel pumps where Marty stood, cooking the books, are updated, in use, and quite busy on the holiday weekend. If you’re a fan of the show, it feels like Ozark.
There’s a nice balance here. JD’s is it’s own place and it’s enjoyable on its own. It isn’t some campy place where the waitresses ask you Ozark trivia questions or dress in costume. They give some hat tips to Ozark and the Blue Cat while maintaining their own identity.
To see this for yourself, take Bells Ferry Rd south from GA 20 near Canton. Stay on Bells Ferry until the Blue Cat is dead ahead in the curve. If you cross the Ronnie Clay Chastain Memorial Bridge, you went too far. If you’re headed north from Woodstock, look on the left past the bridge.
Sam Burnham, Curator
The Netflix original series Chef’s Table has been around since 2015. The 2020 incarnation centers on that grandest of cuisines. BBQ isn’t just food, It’s a way of life. And nowhere will you find that statement more true than with South Carolina’s Rodney Scott.
This episode highlights his cooking style: whole hog cooked over smoldering coals. Scott burns wood in metal barrels and transfers the coals to the pits with a shovel. It’s slow and deliberate. It requires patience. All good things in time.
That style isn’t just food for Rodney Scott. Chef’s Table shows how that patience, that deliberate effort took him from a young boy with hopes but no real plans to the James Beard Award stage.
Scott’s story is inspiring. The soundtrack and cinematography are beautifully done. This is the quality we’re coming to expect from Netflix’s original programming. They bring a sense of real filmmaking to what we consider a television program. It’s setting a standard for entertainment.
Meanwhile, Rodney Scott is taking the art he learned working for his parents and is passing it on to his son. A classically trained chef spends years in culinary school and climbing the ladder of a kitchen. Scott's experience was different. Instead of classes, he was immersed in the craft. A good BBQ cook is an artist, a skilled craftsman. He isn't merely trained in the science of it all. He feels it. It is a part of him. Seeing the younger Scott walking among the pits or caring for hogs with his father is more than a good family story. It's hope for the future. It is a promise that this art will be available for my grandchildren to enjoy. Those lessons that were learned in Hemingway, South Carolina are being passed along. Those skills are a generational wealth the same as land or a trust fund. They may not seem as lucrative by our modern standards but by the right standards, they are priceless.
At roughly 45 minutes, the show is slightly longer than the actual content of a traditional one hour television show. I could have watched another 45 minutes of it. I found myself wanting to get better at my own craft. I felt encouraged to be more introspective of my own life. More than anything, I found myself wanting to eat some BBQ...I mean, more than usual. It is with good reason that this show is sitting at #6 in Netflix's US ratings right now. If you haven't seen it yet, it is well worth your time.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Time for a retro review.
A few days ago Florida author Wanda Suttle Duncan pointed me towards a documentary she thought I would enjoy. She was right. I wouldn’t be doing my job as ABG Curator if I didn’t pass this one on to you.
Back in 1981, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris planned to produce a film called “Nub City” to document the American city with the highest rate of amputations. The premise was to highlight insurance scams using a practice of voluntary amputation. His plan backfired when the people of Vernon, Florida found out what he was up to and ran him out of town. So Morris changed the plan and used footage he had collected in Vernon and assembled it into the quirkiest documentary I’ve ever seen.
There's plenty to love about this film.
The only speaking that goes on is done by the townspeople themselves. There’s no commentary from some outsider trying to skew your thoughts into any one direction. The viewer is presented with the people of Vernon and the stories they tell. The only editorial actions would be the choice of which footage to use, which order to present it in, and the addition of music in a few places.
The stories are so unique. There’s no single thread that ties these stories together. The topics are all over the place. Morris found some true characters and turned them loose.
Several of the stories do focus on a sense of place. The land, the woods, the water, even local real estate comes up. Vernon is home and there’s no suggestion that anyone in this film has a desire to be anywhere else. Oddly, none of them seem to be an amputee, voluntarily or otherwise.
Without airing out too many spoilers I’ll say that in this documentary you’ll hear one of the best fishing stories I’ve heard since Jaws, perhaps even Moby Dick. The story involves a pond, 114 warmouth, and the bloated corpse of a 65-year-old mule.
You’ll also hear some impressive turkey hunting stories, There’s some information and commentary regarding the care and raising of fishing worms. Of course you’ll catch up on local lore, local history, and local gossip. There’s opinions on local real estate, candid remarks from local law enforcement. It’s thick and honest. The people of Vernon didn’t realize they were supposed to be embellished characters in a reality show. The results are better because of that.
Most importantly there’s a rare peek into the world of a quirky and weird corner of the rural South. Are you curious about untamed Florida? Do you want to know what that Florida Man hashtag is really all about? Do you want to see all this without the commentary of outsiders? Then I suggest a viewing of Vernon, Florida. The film is available through several online services.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire