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'Que Crazy
Josh Green

Daddy D'z

I know a self-professed “total redneck” radio personality who says eating barbecue is tantamount to having an orgasm. Seriously. But I couldn’t just take his word for it, so I’ve consulted my engineer buddy, among the city’s leading minds in underground drilling. He estimates that barbecue gluttony ranks somewhere on the meter of Southern male happiness between Cuban cigar and Sugar Bowl touchdown. For women, he puts it between free wine-tasting and Oprah marathon. Though polar opposites, these dudes concur that heaven’s clouds probably issue from a hickory-stuffed grill packed with tender meat. With options like Atlanta’s, who can blame them?


We all know that barbeque (or, in local parlance, “‘Que”) is a religion in the South, even in such a highly metropolitan bastion of the New South mindset as the Big Peach. But the hoopla surrounding each new establishment that’s opened lately in metro Atlanta--and the subsequent critical nitpicking that ensues--is downright mind-boggling. Transplanted snow birds from the North can’t help but get caught up in the madness, even those who weren’t ‘que crazy before. A popular assumption is that the dirtier and more rural (or more “ghetto-chic”) the restaurant, the better the grub. The pros quickly dismiss commercial ‘que as generic, watered down, soulless, and so forth. I’d beg to differ.


In my first year as an Atlantan, I ventured to find the area’s staples and random dives. In general, I found that each chophouse and smoke-shack offers a distinct take on sloppy-face dining, be it Carolina Vinegar-style ‘que or its sweeter brethren born closer to the Gnat Line. I won’t pretend to have found them all yet, but I’ve got a handle on the scene from Gwinnett to Cobb, from Decatur to Grant Park, where I’ve found proof by the pound that commercialized doesn’t necessarily mean marginalized. That said, the best stuff is typically off the beaten path.


Below I’ve categorized my personal pantheon of ‘que into a tidy highlight reel. When necessary, I’ve spotlighted the shortcomings of the rare crappy ‘que experience (Sonny’s, anyone?). So snag some wet naps, tuck that napkin deep in your collar, and dig in:


Most Underrated: Daddy D’z

This oft-overlooked option, located a rib-bone’s throw from Turner Field, is consistently amazing. Hands down my favorite sauce, meat, and sides in Georgia. The chopped brisket is succulent and lean, the pork tender without being stringy or burned. The sides, especially the broccoli casserole, are downright killer. And it’s all relatively cheap, too. Pay no mind to the occasional “Yankee ‘Que” label applied by Carolina-style diehards. Those who dis the Daddy are goddamn knuckleheads.

The Rusty Nail

Most Overrated: Fat Matt’s

Maybe it’s the myriad strip joints nearby that have skewed many-a reviewers’ opinion of this classic-looking but largely mediocre rib shack. On repeated visits the sauce has been watery and bland, and with it the meat--be it pork, beef, or the chicken served in its own building next door--suffers. The waitstaff, it has to be said, is consistently friendly as hell.


Second Most Overrated But Still Damn Good: Slopes BBQ

Through no fault of its own, Slopes let me down. Damn good, home-style food abounds, but way too many ‘que heads had forewarned me it would change my life. It did not. Only the Daddy does that.


Most Random: Unnamed BBQ shack near the airport      

The only exterior indication that this place, located on Virginia Avenue in Hapeville, serves food is a generic plastic billboard that reads “BBQ Here” and nothing else. It’s cool to venture in, during daylight hours at least. Lean more toward the spicy foods like hot wings than the ‘que. The place also doubles as a nifty package store and check-cashing business.


Most Hard-To-Find: Harold’s BBQ

Located somewhere near the University Avenue exit off Interstate 75, I’ve heard tons of praise for this culinary highpoint in a sketchy area. Unfortunately, after several attempts, I’ve quit wasting gas trying to find it.


Best Small-Town Appeal: The Rusty Nail

From the plastic table clothes to the Tobey Keith racket overhead, it’s hard to believe you’re next door to the sprawling estates of Buckhead when visiting the Rusty Nail. It’s distinguished by the famed giant pistol/smoker out front. Portions here challenge the heaviest eaters, especially the steamy pitcher’s mound that is the chopped chicken plate. Established in 1974, the Rusty Nail is a dinosaur of an eatery in fickle Atlanta, and one showing no signs of extinction.

Dusty's Barbecue

Most Nifty Drive-Thru: Rolling Bones

If you like your ‘que smoky and chopped chunky like they do in Texas, give this retro-looking former gas station on Edgewood a spin. They brilliantly incorporated a swift drive-thru when they opened last year. The sauce is top-notch.               


Best Texas-style joint: One Star Ranch

Soon to be a down-the-street neighbor to the ritzy, $1.5 billion Streets of Buckhead shopping Mecca, the One Star Ranch carries enough grit and soul to hearken the fun, drunken yesteryears of the neighborhood. Let’s hope the throngs of snobby shoppers understand.


Most Overly Smoked: Sonny’s

This chain seems to have permeated each region of Atlanta, except for Intown, where people know better. The smokiness lathering everything from ribs to chicken reminds me of cooking accidents had while camping. It overwhelms. The Brunswick Stew ain’t too bad. Prepare for all the ambiance of a Golden Corral.


Best Chain: Shane’s Rib Shack/Famous Dave’s

There’s nothing stale about either of these joints, available within two miles of you no matter where in metro Atlanta you are. Dave’s has a slight edge in the sauce category, but Shane’s chops chicken masterfully. Try the Shane’s chicken tenders in hot sauce if the rare calamity that is ‘que burnout befalls you.


Least Bullshit: Dusty’s

Popular with the Emory crowd, the wood-sided shack retains a remarkably small-town feel considering its high-minded clientele. I’ve had waitresses here tell me certain items suck, but never the excellent meats. Do yourself a favor and reach for the Sizzlin’ sauce.

Fox Bros. Barbecue

Most Worth The Drive: Hometown BBQ/A&J Tasty Pig

These Gwinnett classics offer a dichotomy for the ambitious ‘que fanatic. Hometown, which occupies a literal living room on Lawrenceville Highway, nails the vinegary zest Carolinians crave. A few miles east on Grayson Highway, nearly hidden by a tangle of highway construction, sits the unassuming shack that is the A&J Tasty Pig.  Unaccustomed northerners might find A&J’s owners and staff shockingly friendly. And that’s always a good thing.


Most Suddenly Popular: Fox Bros. 

Another taste of Texas in a very hip space down the street from Little Five Points. Don’t miss the potato salad. A bit on the pricey side, but just voted best in the entire city by Creative Loafing. A crown ruthlessly swiped from the Daddy.


Most Highly Anticipated: The Pig Sty

Occupying what looks like at least three stories of a former Payless Shoes in the heart of Downtown, The Pig Sty is gradually coming to life and brimming with promise. By the looks of things, this place should compliment its neighbors--Hooters and the Hard Rock Café--by infusing a distinctly Southern flair.

Listings associated with this Feature:

Daddy D'z Slopes BBQ
Dusty's Barbecue Fox Bros Bar-B-Q