Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Mustard Seed B-B-Q (Atlanta, GA)

826 Westmont Drive
Atlanta, GA 30311

If suburban BBQ spots in close proximity to the nearest country club is your thing, then the Mustard Seed BBQ might not be the best place for you. Located in the heart of Atlanta off of I-20, this husband and wife team from Miami have been serving up ribs and chicken for the last six years. There are two locations within a mile of each other, but on this Wednesday for lunch I decided to visit the Westmont location. 

This business was definitely designed around take-out orders. There's enough seating at the high-top bar area for about six or seven people. You could smell the sweet smoke in the air. There are pretty much two options here to order: chicken or pork spare ribs...on a sandwich or as a combo. The friendly staff took my order, and after about five minutes I was given my chicken and ribs combo. For under $15 you can get a half chicken, five ribs, and two sides which pretty fair. I'd rather see a place with a smaller, concise menu allowing them to focus on a couple of things instead of overextending and under-delivering. 

If you read my blog at all you know that I'm more of a brisket and sausage guy. Unfortunately, a lot of places in Georgia don't cater to my Texas based needs but it's getting better. It doesn't mean I don't love some good smoked chicken though. The problem you'll see too often with chicken is it drying out. If you can manage to get some smoke into your chicken and still keep it moist in the white meat areas, then you've got something good. 

The ribs and chicken both had a high-heat flavor to them. I'm not sure how hot their smokers burn, but there's a difference in taste with something that's been smoked at 200 degrees or 500 (at least to me there is). I'd guess that they probably use charcoal to fuel the pits, but like I didn't get a good look. The best part was that both the ribs and the chicken were extremely juicy. The flavors on both were phenomenal. Both meats had just the right amount of rub to complement them. The ribs were a little tough and could've sat in the smoker a tad longer, but that would be my only complaint here. I don't have much to say about the beans (out of the can) or the mac 'n cheese (overcooked and falling apart) because they shouldn't really change your opinion on getting some quality BBQ at this downtown spot. Nothing comes with their sweet mustard BBQ sauce on it, but it makes for great dipping for the fluffy white bread that comes along with your meal. 

If chicken and ribs are your thing, then make a to-go stop at the Mustard Seed. They do a couple things really well and are a far better option than some of the other downtown rib joints that bake and grill their ribs. Flavorful food served up by some great people

 Mustard Seed BBQ on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Scott's Walk-Up Bar-B-Q (Cartersville, GA)

206 North Tennessee Street
Cartersville, GA 30120

Another spot that's been on my short list recently has been Scott's Walk-Up Bar-B-Que in Cartersville, GA. You walk up to the restaurant, walk up to the counter, place your order, and wait for the food to be brought out to you. I suppose a lot of BBQ places these days share the same "business model," but it still makes for an interesting BBQ joint name. I've heard that owner, Scott Panter, was very involved in the BBQ competition scene with a lot of success before deciding to open up his brick and mortar restaurant. Restaurant BBQ and competition BBQ aren't always a seamless transition so I was curious on what kind of food would make its way to the table. Restaurant BBQ and competition BBQ are two completely different beasts. Competition style focuses on one bite of BBQ while the other aims to make a great meal.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Neal's Bar-B-Que (Thomson, GA)

664 Augusta Road
Thomson, GA 30824

I've just returned from Austin, TX and had some damn fine BBQ. Will it make me be a little more tough on places recently visited in Georgia? Absolutely...and as it should be. BBQ is worldwide and should all be held to the same standard. I hate hearing "It's really good...for Georgia BBQ." It shouldn't matter where it's from. If it's good, it's good and if it's bad, it's bad. Call it like you see it.

With that being said, I recently visited a little place named Neal's outside of Augusta in Thomson. It's a little hard to find, but once you're there you're greeted like an old friend. The tin roof covered wooden porch leads you into a patriotic themed dining room. Whole hog cooked pulled pork and slow cooked spare ribs are kept warm in Crock Pots just over the counter....yes, Crock Pots. It's either chicken or pork here at Neal's. No beef on the menu. I didn't try the chicken on this visit and just stuck with the spare ribs and "spicy" pulled pork sandwich. Being so close to South Carolina, hash is naturally served as a side instead of the usual Georgia Brunswick stew.  You don't see BBQ hash in Georgia that often, but the further northeast you visit, the more it pops up on BBQ menus. If you've never had it, then just think "thicker Brunswick stew with potatoes." These side items are very similar in taste just not texture.

I don't have a lot of great things to say about the food here at Neal's. They cook whole hog which means you won't find a lot of smoke on the pork. For what you lack in smoke you usually make up with a juicy pork flavor in whole hog cooking....not here. The dry sandwich had a little kick of pepper with some vinegar flavors, but overall wasn't appealing. The grey, chewy, overcooked ribs that were covered in a sweet BBQ sauce should've been chopped up and added to the hash or thrown out.

For what it's worth, the hash and rice was better here than the last couple places I've tried. The staff here is amazingly friendly and will put a smile on your face as you stomach the sub-par BBQ.

Neal's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 4, 2012

Burnt Fork BBQ (Decatur, GA)

614 Church Street
Decatur, GA 30030

Vegans, organics, locals, vegetarians, food snobs, and BBQ lovers...Did we miss anyone? Burnt Fork BBQ aims to please...everyone. I know the whole adage about "when you try to please everyone...blah blah blah." We came as BBQ lovers to burnt fork and that's all we really cared about. I'll admit that it's nice to see "hormone free" and "local" on the menu, but the real test is what you can do with that piece of meat. All of that doesn't mean a thing if the food isn't cooked properly.

We don't visit the Decatur area that much, and I wish I did more. There are a lot of cool places/people and Burnt Fork BBQ fits right in. Only being open for a little over a year, I've already heard a lot of good things from people I trust. They've got the whole "old, renovated convenience store mixed with industrial metals, exposed ceilings" vibe down. The indoor, stainless steel smoker faces away but looked like a pellet smoker...possibly a Cook Shack. I've mentioned some places that happen to do great things with these types of smokers, but please don't think that every thing that comes out of them is always gold. There is still room for error that has a LOT of BBQ joint owners scratching their heads. My dad always used to tell me that "When you're aiming a bow, it's not about the arrows, it's about the Indian." Just because a lot of guys have mastered these smokers, it doesn't mean that it's that easy.

We got to Burnt Fork pretty early at around 11:30. Being the only diners there, we looked over the interesting menu which features items from "Smoked Beef Brisket" to "Tofu Spring Rolls."  I bet you can guess which one we ordered. Along with the brisket, we ordered ribs, brisket nachos, and a pulled pork sandwich. They boast of their Brunswick stew so we tried that along with some mac 'n cheese and homemade sweet potato chips. If you need it, they've got a couple different sauces to accommodate most preferences.

No food distributor tortilla chips here. We had freshly fried pieces of tortilla topped with small bits of brisket and cheese on our nachos. Be warned that the amount of cheese and brisket is minimal (is there ever enough?). Not a lot to say about this dish, although it did tide us over until the rest of our food came.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Southern Soul Barbeque (St. Simons Island, GA)

2020 Demere Road
St. Simons Island, GA 31522

Unvisited Georgia BBQ destination number one...Southern Soul Barbeque in St. Simons Island. Considered one of the state's BBQ heavyweights, I couldn't make the trip here soon enough. Memorial Day weekend seemed like an appropriate time to pay owners Harrison Sapp, Griffin "Griff" Bufkin, and the rest of the SS crew a visit. They're becoming a big name in the BBQ world, but even still, I try not to get my hopes up too much as it can sometimes unfairly diminish some of the food experience. I never got the chance to visit the original location which unfortunately burned down in a fire back in 2011. There were no visible signs that I could see of the fire that occurred just a year before. It's nice to see a place like this make a full recovery from something like that.

Original Southern Soul before the fire. Trailer they used during rebuild on bottom right.
Southern Soul owners, Harrison and Griffin, are often visible and play very active roles in the success of this restaurant. I only saw Griffin during our brief visit. If he wasn't helping expedite orders, he was mingling with locals or grabbing t-shirts for tourists like me. From what I've heard, Harrison's got BBQ in his blood being a third generation "smoker." Griff's been cooking up Brunswick stew at this same location even back when it was called Frannie's over ten years ago. While it's hard work, I get the feeling that these guys love what they do.

There was a group of six of us that showed up on Saturday afternoon to this old fill station turned young-famous BBQ house. Smoke was in the air on this hot 93 degree day. The all-wood, oak fueled Lang smoker out front was running at full strength. Southern Soul has a very authentic BBQ vibe. There's no ridiculous decor that tries to fake you into thinking you're going to get some good food. Even though the spot that we visited has only been around for about a year, it feels real. It feels like it belongs in the area.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Old Hickory House (Tucker, GA)

2202 Northlake Parkway
Tucker, GA 30084

Old Hickory House is no stranger to the Georgia BBQ landscape. Being part of Atlanta's BBQ scene for almost sixty years, it's become a favorite spot to many including 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. Loving Old Hickory House so much, he had it flown to Washington D.C. during his term on at least one occasion. Places like these have history...they have regulars...but do they have above average food?

The GBH team (with the addition of Jamie's grandparents, Betty and Leland) headed over to the Old Hickory House in Tucker on a Tuesday night. They're currently under construction due to an errant car that managed to slam right through the front of the restaurant, but they're still open for business. The dim lit interior's got an old log cabin type feel (imagine that!). We did notice the hickory-fueled open pit at the entrance behind the counter. The gentleman working the counter assured me that all of the meat is cooked 100% on their open pit. I was quite impressed as I looked over the ribs, chicken, and pork butts. The typical crowd here was a little older, probably coming here for decades.

We sat at a large booth in the corner, looked over the old plastic covered menus, and finally ordered when our waitress came. They have a platter called the "People Pleaser" that included sliced pork, beef, and ribs. I'm a person...I like to be pleased. Easy decision. Jamie went with the chicken plate so we could get a good feel for everything they have to offer. There's no shortage of vegetable/side options here. I wouldn't ever recommend a BBQ place based solely on their sides, but I think it does say something great if you've got great meats AND sides.

After eating a lot of BBQ, you can usually make a pretty fair assessment of food as soon as you see it. The easiest to spot is, of course, how dry/moist it is. I was let down that the beef wasn't brisket, but instead a dry, tough, grey top round roast. The pork was also just as boring and dry. All meats had smoky flavor, but that just might be the only positive note. The ribs were also dried out and covered in a sweet glaze that didn't help out much. The chicken plate was not all. Resembling more of a soup/stew, this chicken had no redeeming quality and was actually sent back and taken off of our bill. The Brunswick stew and pit beans kept our bellies full before we left, but are in no way alone worth the trip.

I appreciate the longevity of this BBQ joint and respect them cooking everything on an open pit.  We didn't have a great experience with the food though and don't plan on going back anytime soon with the amount of BBQ spots left to try...onward!

Old Hickory House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bradley's Real Pit Bar-B-Que (Covington, GA)

1160 Church Street
Covington, GA 30014

Allured by the advertising of "Real Pit BBQ" was enough for me to stop at this BBQ joint located just off the square in downtown Covington, GA. I'll go ahead and alleviate any curiosity by explaining that the real pit was a Southern Pride "gasser." Some great things can be done with these contraptions as evident with Fox Brothers, Community Q, Grand Champion, and others. As one reader said though, "Don't ever let your gas bill be more than your wood bill." While somewhat unrealistic, I thought that was some pretty sound advice for any new BBQ venture.

I arrived at 7:30 on a Wednesday night. I double-checked their closing time to make sure I wasn't late (it's 8:30) because staff members were already cleaning and starting to close up. Needless to say it wasn't busy at all. I appreciated the case of Monster Energy Drinks being displayed at the front counter since sometimes those might be the only things that get me through the long drives. Pulled pork, two meaty spare ribs, coleslaw, and "Bradley's Beans" would be paired with a side of smoked chicken wings.

The pork and ribs were both seasoned well. I've found a lot of BBQ joints not seasoning their meat enough. Either they think that the smoke is adequate flavor or they're just scared to over season. Don't be scared to over season large cuts of meat. With that being said, the pork was extremely dry. It reminded me a lot of Cowboy's BBQ which is not far down the road (this isn't a good thing). The ribs were average. My favorite part of the meal were these hickory smoked wings. Strong smoke flavor and nice texture easily made these wings the star of my meal. I ordered six but could've easily eaten ten more, in large part due to how boring the rest of the meal was.

The coleslaw was not anything special, but I should definitely mention something about "Bradley's Beans." Tasting eerily similar to refried beans at your closest Mexican dive, these beans are topped with cheese and somehow have found their way onto this BBQ menu. I'm not sure what the reason is behind it, but they're available if you're into refried beans with smoked wings.

I left Bradley's still wishing for great BBQ off of a nice open pit. I had to settle for some smoked wings instead. My best advice would be to not get your hopes up too high if ever visiting and not straying too far from the hickory smoked wings. Jim 'N Nick's in nearby Conyers is a better alternative at this point.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sconyers Bar-B-Que (Augusta, GA)

2250 Sconyers Way
Augusta, GA 30906

I've been wanting to try Sconyers Bar-B-Que in Augusta, GA for quite some time now. They have limited hours being only open Thursday-Saturday which has caused me to miss them a number of times while driving through. However, this past week's timing was finally on my side. There was a time in the 1980's when Sconyers was even mentioned in the same sentences as some as the nation's top BBQ spots. People Magazine (not greatly known for BBQ information) did a piece in 1989 which ranked them as one of the top ten BBQ destinations in the nation. You can read the full article here.

When you pull into the gravel parking lot it's hard not to think that you're visiting some kind of BBQ theme park. The scene here tries to take you back to the 1800's during the plantation era. Old farming equipment lines the covered walkway as you pass the fish ponds. Once in the main door, you're greeted by women wearing bonnets and Southern 1800'esue clothing. I found this extremely odd. I just wanted some good food. I've seen at numerous BBQ establishments that if they can get the customers to THINK that the BBQ is the real deal before they eat it, then they have no choice but to agree. This is evident with all of the fake open pits out there, "Best BBQ in the World!" claims, and in this case, faux-Southern garb and props. It's not a bad business strategy, and I don't blame them...just try not to get fooled.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Keith-A-Que (Ashburn, GA)

260 East Washington Avenue
Ashburn, GA 31714

Sometimes I make a special trip to BBQ destinations with a purpose and other times the opportunity just presents itself and I kindly indulge. Keith-A-Que has never really been on my radar, but after passing numerous billboards on I-75 I decided to give it a try.

They boast a 99¢ pulled pork sandwich but have a lot of other different options besides your traditional BBQ. You can get burgers, hot dogs, chicken salad, chicken fingers, pork chops, and plenty of other types of food. I've never really understood as a BBQ place why you'd put meats on your menu that aren't smoked. If someone wants chicken fingers then I'm sure there's a Zaxby's nearby.

I stuck with the traditional options and got the pulled pork, spare ribs, coleslaw, and baked beans. The smoky pulled pork comes with sauce already mixed into it...lots of sauce. The best thing I can compare it to is "Lloyd's" or "Curly's" pulled pork from your closest grocery store. It's tolerable, but I'm sure a lot of (or at least some) time goes into their pork butts so it's kind of a shame to mix in a ton of sauce before serving.

The spare ribs were my meal's low-highlight. They were smoky and cooked to a good tenderness yet under seasoned. They had evidence of being reheated after their initial trip to the smoker. If you've ever made ribs then you can tell the difference between freshly sliced ribs and ribs that aren't. They were OK at best. The beans were simply Bush's with onions added while the coleslaw was creamy and satisfying. There are a couple sauces here that all have a nice kick to them.

I don't have a lot of great things to say about Keith-A-Que. I'm sure there are better options right off of the interstate and will keep you updated as I find them. Shane's Rib Shack (gasp!) might even be a better option if you need a quick BBQ fix on I-75.

Keith-A Que on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fresh Air Barbecue (Jackson, GA)

1164 Highway 42 South
Jackson, GA 30233

Fresh Air Barbecue Place on Urbanspoon

Georgia's oldest BBQ joint lies somewhere between Jackson and Flovilla, Georgia. Originating during the Great Depression in 1929, local veterinarian, Dr. Watkins, found himself BBQ'ing whatever decent meat he could find to help get by during tough times. Hard times eventually passed, Fresh Air Barbecue was born, and his legacy would live to this day. Dr. Watkins would eventually sell the business to the Caston family in the 1940's. This didn't stop him from working and playing an active role every day until 1996 at ninety years old.

When you pull up you know you've found a place that's special to generations of locals. There's nothing fancy or pretentious about it. It's just a place doing what it knows, how it's always done it. I've mentioned in previous posts how a lot of times people have a favorite BBQ spot mainly because of all of the memories associated with it. I can guarantee that Fresh Air Barbecue is a favorite to many.

You'll pass the old weathered picnic tables walking on scattered sawdust to make your way through the main door. Subsequently, there's another entrance in the back that was used to serve African-Americans up until the 60's. I've heard some customers still come through that back door to get served. The restaurant revolves around the massive hickory wood-fueled brick pit behind the counter. There is also another smoker in the building behind the dining area. An area for additional seating was built in the 80's to accommodate the ever growing crowd.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Moonie's Texas Barbecue (Flowery Branch, GA)

5545 Atlanta Highway
Flowery Branch, GA 30542

Moonie's Texas Barbecue on Urbanspoon

A Texas-style BBQ joint in Georgia...really original. We're already littered with many places making this claim. Some really good (Fox Brothers BBQ) and many not worth your time at all. But no, Moonie's isn't just "Texas-style" or Texas inspired, this is a real-deal Texas Barbecue joint that somehow has made its way into Georgia's graces. From the woods used, decor, meats offered, and beer selection, this place feels like you've stepped straight into some outlying town near Austin. Our friends at Socks Love Rub were actually the first to let us know about this up and coming BBQ spot in Flowery Branch near their house . I don't know much about Flowery Branch besides that the Atlanta Falcons train and are headquartered there. It's nowhere near where I live so I made a special trip to see how this food could compare to anything we've tried to date.

We pulled into Moonie's on a Friday evening around 6PM. I made sure to call ahead to ensure nothing was sold out just yet. With the limited hours I've heard Moonie's sells out more often than not. As soon as we got out of the car Jamie and I immediately noticed something different in the air. It wasn't your typical hickory log smoke that most Georgia BBQ restaurants use. There's nothing wrong with hickory. I actually enjoy it. This was post oak though. Post oak is something that you'll find at a lot of Texas joints across the state. I didn't realize how different it smelled until our Georgia BBQ adventures began. I haven't had enough experience with woods to be able to just pick smells out of the air (just yet), but it didn't take much to know that this wasn't our usual wood smoking. The outside has a small resemblance to Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor, TX. It even has the double flags out front signifying if meat is sold out yet (flag's up, you're in luck...down, sold out). 

Once inside, the line was already formed about seven people deep. There's meat by the pound as well as some "plates" that Moonie offers (all served on butcher paper). Moonie (computer programmer by day) and family just recently joined the Atlanta BBQ scene after moving from the Austin area a couple years ago. After a lot of hard work, the doors finally opened to his dream job in the summer of 2011. When you walk in though it's still evident that Texas is very close to their hearts. Lone Star beer waits in the tubs while the Texas staples such as brisket, sausage, and ribs are available by the pound. Pulled pork and turkey are also available if the Texas trinity doesn't particularly do it for you. The sides are simple and few including baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, and creamed corn.