Just weeks after the opening of Rodney Scott’s second location in Birmingham, Ala., Scott’s friend and fellow esteemed pit master Pat Martin has announced plans to open his tenth Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in the former Sermet’s Southernterranean on James Island.
In the pantheon of contemporary barbecue empire builders, Martin stands for family-friendly dining rooms pressed up close to his pits, pulled pork sandwiches with slaw and whole hogs cooked over hickory wood, a practice peculiar in his native Tennessee to five western counties.
“Nobody can put a finger on how whole hog catapulted over” from the Carolinas, Martin says. “So when I opened up in Nashville, people didn’t appreciate it and give me the credit for the work that I wanted.”
On James Island, by contrast, “It won’t be a cultural hurdle.”
Thirteen years ago, Martin opened his first restaurant on the outskirts of Nashville, and now operates stores in Kentucky and Alabama. Rapid expansion “wasn’t why I got in the business, but I’ve been really blessed, and here we are I guess,” says Martin, whose original location was last year named the tenth best barbecue joint in the South by Southern Living magazine. (The ninth spot went to Charleston’s Lewis Barbecue, another example of a highly regional barbecue style re-situated in the Lowcountry.)
“The pork is among the best in the South,” raved contributing barbecue editor Robert Moss, who also co-hosts The Post and Courier’s food podcast, The Winnow. Although Martin swears he’d ask for one of his sandwiches if he was destined for the electric chair, Moss instead recommends the “redneck taco,” built atop a cornmeal hoe cake.
Other menu items at Martin’s typically include ribs, chicken, a brisket burger and pies made according to family recipes, but Martin says no two of his locations are precisely alike. “I always enter a space and kind of take what it gives me,” he says. “Obviously, I build my pit house, but I take the hand I’m dealt and wrap my brand around it.”
When Martin decided to open in the Charleston area, he was keen to find a venue removed from downtown and its hard-drinking crowds.
“I wanted to come in with humility; I didn’t want to come into Charleston proper,” he says. “I like to go into little neighborhoods where the feel is very much kids and strollers. I don’t like staying up late. I don’t like cleaning up vomit.”
John Haire, who currently serves as Martin’s chief operating officer, is a partner in the project. Haire spent years with Jim ‘N Nick’s prior to a split that pained many players on the Southern barbecue scene. He joined Martin’s last April.
“It didn’t take but a couple of months for us to look at each other and say ‘I love you’; ‘I love you too’,” Martin says, adding that a Charleston location became inevitable almost as soon as Haire was on board. He’s now trying to coax him into bringing his burger chain, Hugh-Baby, to the area.
But first they’re focused on opening Martin’s Bar-B-Que at 1622 Highland Ave. Martin is aiming for the end of April, although he allows it “could ease into May.”