Atlanta Archived Features
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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: