I love barbecue. I always have. I always will. I have respect for the folks that do it well, and want to encourage those who don't. When we walk into any barbecue restaurant we hope for the best. The restaurant business is competitive. Everyone knows that. The last thing I feel like anyone needs is someone going into their restaurant looking for any excuse to shred their credibility and post it all over the internet. This isn't right. If you truly loved something you'd like to see others succeed. Families have often worked hard for what they own and it's not my job to take that lightly. Sure, we're going to be disappointed at times, but I want to see more good places succeed and take what they do seriously by offering consistant, respectable food. We take it seriously and so should they. We're here to offer unbiased, informative reviews for anyone who's interested in barbecue.
A couple months back my Dad let me know that he'd be visiting Atlanta for a couple days. He's originally from Houston, Texas and has lived there his entire life. Growing up working in butcher shops for most of his life, he definitely knows a thing or two about good meat and barbecue. Fat Matt's Rib Shack is arguably one of Atlanta's most popular barbecue restaurants. It's considered a local's place, but has received national attention, even mentioned in recent movies such as "Up in the Air". It was a Thursday night and I told him about Fat Matt's so we decided to pile into the truck and head over.
When you pull up to Fat Matt's it feels like you came to the right place. Barbecue is unique in the fact that the more interesting the eating establishment looks, then the better it probably tastes. In no way do I mean that Fat Matt's is a dump, but it definitely has character. The character of the restaurant teamed up with the live blues echoing into the parking lot was a great first sign. Parking was limited and the line was out the door into the parking lot (which I hear is typical). We were starving and finally after about 20 minutes we could see our ordering options. I appreciate the simplicity of their menu. It can be easily summarized as pork spare ribs, chicken, brunswick stew, and beer. For anyone that's never had brunswick stew, it's essentially tomato based stew with corn, potatoes, beans, and usually pulled pork. Brunswick stew varies in different parts of Georgia but many believe that its true origins lie in its namesake, Brunswick, Georgia. If you're not a huge brunswick stew fan then don't worry, there are other side items such as potato salad, rum baked beans, and coleslaw. We each ordered a full slab of ribs. Fat Matt's offers only wet, pork spare ribs. I ordered the rum beans and slaw as sides, as well as a cup of brunswick stew to try for the table. We got a table close to the stage where some very talented blues musicians were performing that night. It was time to dive in.
Let me first start off by saying that if you're a barbecue purist then you'd immediately be disappointed with the ribs. "Fall off the bone" is a term that gets thrown around a lot in barbecue. It's important to have tender ribs that seperate easily from the bone, but sometimes it can get taken a little too far. The most common culprit for having ribs "fall off the bone" too much is when you boil or bake them. Fat Matt's clearly boils their ribs and then finishes them off on the grill. This was a huge disappointment. Cooking this way ultimately leaves you with a tasty, charred outside but almost flavorless ribs inside. This was definitely the case at Fat Matt's. The upside was the barbecue sauce that was used. Fat Matt's has great barbecue sauce. It had a little bit of sweet, tangy spice and wasn't too thick. It was great with the half loaf of soft, white bread that they also brought to our table. The rum baked beans were average with a lot of sweetness (presumably from the rum), and the coleslaw was good but definitely nothing special.
The highlight of the night by far was the music at Fat Matt's. They showcase nightly some of the most talented blues artists that I've ever seen in person. It was a fun, loud atmosphere and worth visiting for the music and beer alone...even if the ribs are just average. Fat Matt's Blues Shack.
Decent food (not traditional BBQ). Great atmosphere.
Company that evening. Please excuse the lack of food pics. No good light at this GBH stop.
On my first official GBH visit I decided to head up to Woodstock, Georgia. I've had a couple friends recommend Bub-Ba-Q claiming that it was "the best barbecue ever". Sadly, I've often found out that this doesn't mean much. Regardless, I'm always open for suggestions and headed up to championship pitmaster William “Bubba” Latimer's second barbecue establishment. He opened up the first Bub-Ba-Q in Jasper, Georgia back in 2005 (which I'd still like to visit). The Woodstock location has been open for about two years now and sits nestled in an Ingle's shopping center next to Stevi B's pizza.
When I walked in around 1pm on a Sunday there was a wait with about ten people in front of us. This is a great sign. As soon as you walk in it's apparent that the Bub-Ba-Q team has entered (and won) their fair share of barbecue contests. The whole restaurant doubles as Bubba Latimer's own impressive trophy collection including grand champion from numerous contests. Needless to say I got a little excited and was definitely glad we had picked this place to be the first Georgia Barbecue Hunt tour-stop. In the future I'll make sure to take more pictures of the interior of the restaurant. When we sat down they offered three different sauces, mustard based, spicy, and sweet. Sweet was my top choice as I'm not a huge fan of vinegar based sauces. I believe that sauce should be used sparingly if ever (except for dipping your bread). Barbecue sauce should follow the same rule as steak sauce...if the meat's good enough, you won't need it. One thing I immediately noticed was that they included a shaker full of their own rub on the table. I thought this was great since Bub-Ba-Q's rub is something they should be proud of. It wasn't high in black pepper like some traditional rubs, but it definitely had hints of sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. I liked their rub a lot.
We ordered our food starting with fried pickle spears as an appetizer. Living in Georgia for the last couple years, I've developed an appreciation for good fried pickles. They delivered. These pickles were fried lengthwise which I had never seen before. They were crunchy, full of flavor, and had a nice sauce with it as well. I then ordered the four meat combo which included brisket, chicken (white), dry pork ribs, and pulled pork. You also get two sides which I picked baked beans and mac 'n cheese. I was hesitant to order the macaroni since I'm not a huge fan of it being included with authentic barbecue, but the company I was with insisted. I was there for the meat anyways. The pulled pork was flavorful with nice bark pieces and had definitely spent some quality time in the smoker. The only problem is that it may have spent too much time in there. It was way too dry. Sometimes this is due to the pork being "shredded" instead of actually "pulled" and other times it's from being cooked too long. For whatever reason though, it was dry and immediately in need of sauce to be eaten. The rest of the meat lacked any real smoke flavor. All in all, I know Bub-Ba-Q can cook up some great food, today just wasn't their day though.
My mission?...Simple. Set out to find some of the best Barbecue that the great state of Georgia has to offer. Originally from Texas, I've always had a love for good barbecue. Now I just need to find some fine establishments in this state that have that same passion for the low 'n slow. Now don't get me wrong, Georgia is home to plenty of great restaurants and chefs, but can they barbecue like Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Carolina? We'll find out. For the past couple years I've found myself subconsciously searching for somewhere...anywhere that values the importance of a nice pit and knows how to cook some good brisket, sausage, pork, ribs, and chicken. About a year ago I started to take photos to document my trips and often found myself traveling out of the way for some properly smoked meat. Now I decided to write about it so others could share the same experience. While barbecue might not be rocket science, I've often found that a select few have truly mastered it. So join me as I set out to find some of the best Georgia barbecue and feel free to share your experiences as well.