Bryan County Sheriff Clyde Smith recently served up a suggestion to one of his best friends, retired Bryan County Probate Court Judge Hermon Butler.
“The sheriff came out about three weeks ago and said, ‘Why don’t we do another cookin’?’” Butler said.
And with that, a Bryan County tradition was reborn.
A “cookin’” refers to the community meals Butler, Smith and a few other friends served for years in Pembroke to anyone who wanted to enjoy them. They also call it by the name they humorously coined in the mid-1980s — the “Road Kill Café.”
The men used to cook up three or four meals a year with seasonal entrees such as quail, deer, barbecue pork and low-country boil. However, the get-togethers fizzled out after Butler retired as probate judge in 2000.
“I sure miss it. It was really a great time for years and years,” said attorney Lloyd Murray, one of the original sponsors. “It was just good folks getting together and eating.”
The tradition had a simple beginning in 1986 when “a few of us decided to cook some fish one day for lunch at a garage up in Pembroke,” Murray said.
The lunches evolved into community meals and, simply by word-of-mouth, soon outgrew their meeting place on the Bryan County Courthouse grounds.
“It would shut down Pembroke. You’d have 200 people in downtown Pembroke,” Murray said with a laugh. “It got so big that Hermon had a place out here, so we came out here.”
They were back at Butler’s property off Highway 67 on Friday for the first Road Kill Café meal in 15 years. Following Smith’s suggestion, the surviving members of the original group put together a low-country boil just as they had so many times before.
“We’re really doing this in honor of Hermon,” Murray said.
“He’s the daddy of it,” Smith said of Butler. “We all just help him.”
Many of Friday’s attendees were from the local law-enforcement and legal communities. But, as always, the meal was open to anyone who heard about it — or who was passing along the highway and saw the group assembled under Butler’s pavilion, just beyond the roadside signs for the Georgia Wranglers Arena and Pop’s Fresh Produce.
“Everybody’s invited,” Butler said. “If you hear of it, you’re welcome.”
The crowd was a bit smaller this time than during the event’s heyday. Back then, it would take a dozen deer or 1,200 quail to feed the crowd, according to Murray.
There also was that one time someone donated saltwater fish to be on the menu.
“Of course, he didn’t tell us they weren’t clean,” Murray said. “We were out here ’til 2 o’clock in the morning cleaning fish and had to come back and cook ’em.”
Along with the many memorable stories, the Road Kill Café also had some well-known guests. Visitors through the years included former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, former U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.
In fact, Butler shared a tale he once heard about Pembroke Mayor Mary Warnell stopping by Isakson’s office while she was visiting Washington, D.C.
“He asked her where she was from,” Butler regaled. “She says, ‘Pembroke, and I guess you don’t know where that is.’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the home of the Road Kill Café.”