Monday, December 1, 2008

Into The Pit: Southern Pit Barbecue

You can tell a lot about a barbecue place by the cars in it's parking lot. A lot of midsize american sedans mean the place has a dedicated older clientele, who are notoriously picky. Big pickups mean hungry blue collar guys. Old pickups and minivans mean the prices are reasonable. Southern Pit Barbecue in Griffin, Georgia, has all these.

I've been to Southern Pit three times since we started this blog. That in itself should tell you which direction this review will go. But this time something special happened. I'll get to that in a minute. But first let me describe the place. Most barbecue places tend to follow the modern concept of "put a bunch of old crap on the walls". Southern Pit takes this concept to the extreme. There's hardly a square foot on the walls that doesn't have something hanging on it. Deer heads, old farm implements, signs, posters, shrines to NASCAR drivers, It's all here. But Southern Pit has a couple of (so far ) unique touches. First is the hats. There are literally hundreds of baseball style caps lining the walls of the place! Second is the train. They have a small model train that runs continously around the restaurant on a track about eight feet off the ground. Take my word for it, you'll never run out of things to look at on the walls here. If I have a bad thing to say, it's that you get a sense of being overwhelmed by advertising. It's on the walls. It's on the hats. It's in the tabletops. It's even on the little train! Mercy! Grade: B

But we're not here to stare slackjawed at the decoration. We're here to stare slackjawed at the food! Southern Pit doesn't disappoint. As of this writing, I haven't experienced any barbecue better than the grub they serve at Southern Pit. It's nothing fancy, just barbecue done right. I find the stew has just the right consistency, not too soupy, not too chunky. It does have small chunks of tomatoes in it, so you people that are bothered by that sort of thing, consider yourself warned. I find the chopped pork sandwich delightful. I have a hard time describing it, because, again, it just seems right. I would like to mention that at Southern Pit, they've got the chopping formula down pat. Some places don't chop it enough, leaving you at risk to have a slice of pork sticking out your piehole after you take a bite. Some places chop it too much, and it falls apart before it ever gets to your mouth. Southern Pit, I think, strikes a happy medium. Grade: A!

Here's where we hit extra credit. Southern Pit serves cornbread with their stew (or do they just serve it with everything?). Now I'm more of a crackers kinda guy, so this cornbread is kinda wasted on me. However, I am a fan of a peculiar southern delicacy: Cornbread and buttermilk, together in a glass! It's just one of those things. Either you're into it, or you think it's gross. Me, I was raised on it. I la-huv it! So this time out, I decided to ask my waitress if they had any buttermilk. "Sure!" she answered, like it was a silly question. So folks here it is, feast your eyes!:

Ok, I know it just looks like a glass of milk, but it's a site for southern sore eyes to me. So I must say I give Southern Pit extra credit in the food category for making this come together. It boosts them to A+!

I'd like to add as a footnote that this entire meal (sandwich, stew, cornbread, buttermilk, and a coke) cost $7.44 . Take that, Jim and Nick's!

Southern Pit Barbecue is located just north of Griffin, Georgia on highway 19/41. Feel free to play that Allman Brothers song on your way there.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Inevitable: Jim and Nick's

The Jim and Nick's Experience

Jim and Nick's is the place that inspired this blog. High praise, huh? Not hardly. I was inspired because I thought the place was fake. Now, I had been to Jim and Nick's a few times before this emotion took hold. I had always thought their fare was ok. Not spectacular, not bad, merely ok. I was not a fan of going there, because this merely ok barbecue is damned expensive. More on that later. But what ignited my distaste was this: One day, I saw their takeout menu. On this takeout menu, at first glance, is a picture of presumably an old Jim and Nick's barbecue shack. By old, I mean it looks like it was taken in 1947. But if you look at it closer, it's obvious that the Jim and Nick's signs on the building are photoshopped on. Look closer, and you see that the building isn't even an eatery, it's a gas station, for crying out loud! (You can see this photo on the homepage of their website. While you're there, check out "our story" on the left side. Surprise, surprise, there isn't one. It's a mission statement.)
Truth be told, a lot of why I dislike J&N has to do with their theme park atmosphere. It's like the Hard Rock Cafe of BBQ. They have these old timey looking pics on the wall of people cooking barbecue. A real barbecue place would have a pic of the cook of your restaurant on the wall, probably with his arm around somebody famous who had the good fortune of stopping at his restaurant. You would know it was the cook, because you could look in the kitchen and see him, probably a little grayer in the temples, still on the job! To cut to the chase, You could plop J&N right down in the center of Buckhead, and it'd fit in perfect. If you like your barbecue culture served up at arms length, sanitized and safe, by all means go ahead. Me, give me something with a little grease on it's shirt.
Decor/Authenticity: D

Ok, on to the food. my greatest complaint about their food isn't that it's not good. It is. It's average good. On a realistic scale of 1 to 10 (not the modern day scale where things have to be an 8 or it's crap), it's a 5. Completely average. What gets me all riled up is the price: $8.50 for a sandwich and a (small side). Hey, a theme park doesn't run on good intentions, does it? The total tab today for myself and the Lovely Lady La La was $25! (a word of disclosure here: We didn't actually pay anything today. One of my bosses was at another table, and he told the manager I had a BBQ blog going on, and she came over and insisted the meal was on the house. I tried to talk her out of it, but even though I told her it probably wasn't going to be a favorable review, she insisted on it being free. I guess it proves you can't buy my vote. Oh yeah, another disclosure: the ticket said $6.99 for the sandwich. I don't know if that's a lunch price, or because I turned down the side order in favor of a full stew bowl. Should barbecue be this complicated? How about one price, all day?)

First up was the stew, which truth be told, was better than I remember it. It's still not gonna win any awards, though. It was pretty watery, but that's about the worst thing I can say about it. Not a big fan of beans in stew, but these were unobtrusive. At least it didn't go too far one way or another. Lady La La may have a different opinion. I think we may hear from her soon... My grade: C+

Here's the pulled pork sandwich. That's a quarter laying in the plate, for size reference, although I have to say it looks bigger in the pic than it was in real life. I prefer the meat a bit more shredded, but that's just me. Again, It's not bad, it's not extraordinary. I can't tell you much about the sauce, because it just didn't have much personality.Just average.
Again: C+

As a side note, I have to say these are the most pitiful pickles I've yet to see on a barbecue sandwich. Poor little fellows...

Well, there you have it. Damned by mediocrity, cursed by high prices. If money is no object, you could do worse. If price and authenticity is a factor, you can do much better.

Overall grade: C

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I have discovered the theme song for this Blog. Since I'm stupid and don't know how to add songs to this site, I found this on YouTube. The artist is Wendy Rene. She likes BarBQ. Enjoy:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Let's Not Let the Whole City of Atlanta Know

Since my place of employment has recently moved, we are now within five miles of two barbecue establishments. One being Atlanta Ribs. It is located on Highlands Camp Parkway, which is right off the east-west connector in Smyrna. It resides in a small strip mall, along with a bike shop, smoothie store, and a few other businesses. On this trip Scott did not go with me. If he had, he would have kicked me. Luckily I talked the lovely Stephanie into coming along.
Anyways, it's been there for under two years, and it looks like it. Still somewhat clean, somewhat ordered out of a catalog, and somewhat scary. Not scary like "I'm going to be shot!", but scary like, "This is a flooring store or a nouvelle-fusion-chain restaurant and not a BBQ joint." They do not have a line of sight into the kitchen or a visual of where the actual cookers or pits are located. Instead you are shown pictures of what the food supposed to look like. Very disconcerting. The menu is large right behind the cashier, who is ready to take you order and give you a number on a stick. The menu is not that confusing & it does have nice descriptions of what you will be getting.
I step up to the mike and give the attendant the order: pork plate with Brunswick stew and french fries. I get my number and find a seat in their dining room. Again, dining room...? .It looks like it was ordered from dining roomstogo or Ikea or the budget haverty's for kids. Light woods, hanging lamps; someone paid for cheap art direction or designer. OK, OK, all places have to start somewhere and someplace. Maybe it will get seasoned over the next several years...we'll see. But we're not here to talk about interior design, we're here about mouth-watering good BBQ, that only heart attacks dream about!
After a very short wait, maybe 4 minutes 30 seconds (or what ever a good microwave time would be), they bring out the stuff. Looks very clean. A great mound of pulled pork, small dish of stew, and a massive amount of crinkle-cut french fries. I love crinkle-cut fries. The fries are very good. They do put some type of season mixture on them, but if you drag them through ketchup, then it nullifies the seasoned salt. The stew is okay. It does have all the ingredients you want, pork/chicken, corn, tomato, etc. It lacks something. It doesn't have the tangy-ness like most good Brunswick stews have. It is chunky and you can actually see the ingredients. It is not a blended mess. The pile of pork is tender, thick, and pulled. They cook it and give it to you, then you put their sauce on it. On the table have a regular sauce and a spicy sauce, as well as store bought hot sauce and pepper vinegar sauce. The sauces are heavy on sugar; brown sugar and ketchup. It gums up any sense of tastes of the meat and suffocates any other flavors from the rest of the food. Use it sparingly. I got Stephanie to make me a drink, a sweet/un-sweet half & half mixture. And from I could tell, one half was corn syrup and the other half was sweet tea. Unfortunately the corn syrup sweetened tea along with the heavily sugared BBQ sauce sent my taste buds into a diabetic coma, unable to be re-awakened. Needless to say, I felt like I had to finish the meal, but even with my fat body trying to do it's job, I had to quit eating. And Stephanie kicked me.
With a name like Atlanta Ribs, you're putting the whole city on the line. Hopefully the rest of Atlanta doesn't know about it and will not come with torches & pitchforks. You would hope that the smell of smoking ribs and barbecuing meats would extend all throughout the city, but you cannot even tell they are a BBQ establishment at all. You can be driving by a paper mill, and smell a BBQ joint. When you're on the road to no-where going through Smyrna and you smell nothing and you see a BBQ sign...just keep on moving. Unless you want to a basket of french fries.
BBQ Sauces = D-
Pork = B-
Brunswick Stew = C
Fries = B
Corn Syrup with Tea flavoring = D-

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Branching Out; Dunk's BBQ

Hi, Folks. Hiwatt Scott here. Grant and I have decided that it's better for us to split up and go solo on some reviews, since he lives on the north side of town, and I am on the south side (on the weekends, at least). Expect reviews from Grant on Dreamland BBQ and Williamson Brother's BBQ, while I'll provide reviews on several places in Griffin (my hometown), places in Jonesboro (Dean's, Harold's), and beyond (Fresh Air Barbecue in Jackson, Fincher's in Macon). We shall continue to do reviews together of places we can reach on our lunch hour.

Moving on, it's with a heavy heart I submit my first review of a Griffin area barbecue place: Dunk's Barbecue. Why so glum? well I realized that now I have to cast a critical eye upon places that, as a result, might be the worst for it. Read on...

Dunk's is located on the spot where another barbecue place used to stand: Leon's. I have very fond memories of Leon's. I can remember going there with my uncle Ed, drinking coke from a bottle (later on, they switched to bringing you a can of coke and a glass of ice, which is somehow endearing, if a tad lazy). Leon's also planted the seed in my head that you had to have objects of pig worship in your BBQ joint: Statues of pigs, postcards of pigs, carvings of pigs, just all around pig idolatry. The kind of stuff that'd have you heading out the side door in a hurry if Moses happened in. Their barbecue was good enough to risk getting caught skipping school, which I did, just for lunch sometimes (it helped that Leon's was next door to my high school). Anyway, as things go, Leon's was eventually torn down, and Dunk's rose in it's place. Dunk's was a place famous in Griffin before my time, but was revived for this venture. Here's a front view:

(sorry for the lousy quality photos, they are from my phone)

As barbecue places go, it's a nice looking place, somewhere between the charm of a genuine hole in the wall and the bbq theme park look of some of your chain restaurants. There's a nice stairway leading up to the restaurant:

Here's where the trouble starts: The sign that greets you as you walk in...

It is quite a pet peeve of mine when people misspell "y'all". The apostrophe goes between the Y and the A, people! It's a contraction of the words "You all"! why would you put the apostrophe between the A and the first L? You're not removing any letters there!

Inside, the place is pleasant enough, although it feels unfinished. I have a love/hate relationship with the kind of junk that normally gets put on the wall at restaurants. It's become such a cliche to have a bunch of mismatched junk hanging on your restaurant's walls, so much so that there are now companies that provide such "flair" from a catalog! On the other hand, when the clutter is amassed genuinely over a number of years, such as the aforementioned pig paraphernalia, it can bequite comforting, which is why I guess places like Zaxby's have enough fake junk on their wall to choke a flea market. But check out the walls at Dunk's:

There's nothing on the walls! Perhaps this is a transitory state. I do admit that Dunk's looks a little different every time I go in, so maybe they're working on it as they go along.

So I sit down and order my usual from the waitress: Pork sandwich, brunswick stew, and a coke. She brings the drink while I'm fooling around with the camera phone, so I don't even take notice of it until she brings a curiously light brown liquid in a little mini pitcher, and leaves it on my table. Hmm, that looks like tea, I think to myself. At this point, I sample the cup.Sure enough, it's tea. Strike two. Soon, she brings the rest of the order. Here's what it looked like:

It tastes better than it looks, being quite vinegary, which is how most Griffin area places make it, and subsequently how I like it. The stew is actually a bit disappointing. It tastes ok, but looks like a soup with a bunch of cornbread in it. Overall, I'm going to have to give the grub a B-. It's good, but I don't expect it stand up to the offerings I will be experiencing in the near future. Like people say about the way kids are brought up today (i.e. constantly praised): "They can't all be above average".

Speaking of kids, take a look at this paper towel holder:

Now, does this belong in a family restaurant? Does it belong in any restaurant? Does it even make sense without a question mark?

So, it's with a sigh that I give Dunk's Barbecue of Griffin a grade of C-. You can do better, guys. I hope ya do. I'm pulling for ya.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The BBQ Song

This says it all. Good find, Grant!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fat Matt's Rib Shack Grant's Version

OH YEAH!! Fat Matt's Rib Shack

If you are in town for business or if you are in some type of music group or if you are a big fat person, then Fat Matt's is the place to be. Rumor is that: there is a Matt, but he is not Fat. I know, kinda depressing. Great name for the place, but if everyone knew that Fat Matt wasn't fat then there will be rioting in Buckhead. Parking can be a bit hairy, depending if there is construction on Piedmont or if it is a prime feeding hour.

We really got lucky going in; after we got there the place got packed. It is a small place with a small stage for bands. The stage takes up about 1/4 of the inside. They also have a tables outside. You can even sit in the same seats that Tenacious D sat in; as seen in their DVD set.

Their menu is a painted 4X8 sheet of plywood. You can't miss it. It is short and sweet, and Oh so sweet it is. The menu consists of ribs, pork sandwich, chicken, sides, & drinks. Nothing fancy, unless you like the colors of the menu. Order at the counter and have a seat. The food comes out pretty quick.

No chopped beef or brisket on the menu, so I go with what has made them famous: Ribs. I get a 1/2 slab and some brunswick stew. The stew is quite blended, but not too bad and not soupy. It's like a good hash. It is flavorful and a tad smokey. Not the prettiest but it is still tasty. The ribs are it!! Probably the best is in Georgia if not the south. No hard work needed to get the meat to fall off the bone. It can get very sloppy. You will probably want to bathe your baby with one of these ribs. They are that good. The slab comes with some sliced white bread and a cup of bbq sauce. The sauce is a tomato based sauce. It is sweet but not overly sweet, ketchupy, and again a little bit smokey. It also as a very mild heat to it. Just enough to tickle the back of your throat after you've left.

Fat Matt's is really a special place and is getting to be an Atlanta landmark. Just remember to get the ribs and bring a baby.

Fat Matt's Rib Shack: A Good Solid "A"

Episode 2: Fat Matt's Rib Shack

First, a little history. This blog was started in part to my negative reaction to a certain barbecue chain that will go unnamed until we get around to doing an actual review. This mystery restaurant is the favorite of one of my bosses. When I finished giving my reasons for
detesting this place ( and in the process probably killing any slim chance for a raise I may have had), he asked me where I thought the best place in Atlanta was. My answer?

Fat Matt's Rib Shack

Now, before you start typing up your emotional rebuttals, Let me remind you he asked me for the best in Atlanta, not the best in the metro area, not the best in the state. There are better barbecue places around, but I have yet to find one in the ATL city limits to top them. That may change in the coming months.

To Be honest, Fat Matt's Rib Shack's specialty is, obviously, ribs. Ribs are not what I judge a barbecue place on. For the purposes of this blog, I'm sticking to the pork sandwich and the brunswick stew, the hamburger and fries of the barbecue world. Fatt Matt's makes an excellent chopped pork sandwich. There's is different than most because they somehow infuse the meat with the sauce, so it comes to you kinda orangish looking, and stays together well. Sauce is also added on top of the meat, as with a regular sandwich you'd get anywhere. I have an admission to make: The sandwich was so good, I didn't even realize it didn't have a pickle on it, which I complained about in my Wallace's review last time. I guess I owe Wallace's a slight apology in that regard. Sandwich: A

The stew at Fat Matt's is also very good. I'd say it was a couple of notches on the rich side, just enough to provoke such a comment, but not enough to effect your enjoyment. It's pleasing to look at as well, not blended into soupy sameness. Stew: A-

Of course, The place itself is an exercise in authenticity. It seems to emanate a wonderful greasy, neon glow, even at 1:00 in the afternoon! It is kinda small, so don't be surprised if you bump a few elbows maneuvering around inside. They have an outside area that handles the overflow from inside very well in the warmer months. If you like to hear the blues played for the pure love of it, Fat Matt's hosts some fine bands at night as well. Decor/ambiance: A

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wallace BBQ From Grant's Side of the Table

I agree with Scott, if you see a bunch of fat guys hanging out around outside the place, it's got potential. Plus the number of work trucks right along side Cadillacs, Audi's, & nicer sedans makes me think this place is somewhat well established. Inside everything is brown. No dankness. Maybe cause it had been renovated in the past several years. It also has a big wait area inside.

Sit anywhere you like, just remember to grab a menu off the mantel or china hutch by the door, or make sure a waitress sees you come in. During a busy lunch you may not get noticed for a while. Menus are easy to navigate. No extra frilly appetizer section or franchise-jargon ; it goes right into plates, sides, sandwiches, and a la carte. Very good for a BBQ joint. No Sass to cover up for poor food. I'm very hopeful and excited after looking at the menu.

It get my standard, a beef plate & some Brunswick stew. "Beef??", you say. Yes beef, maybe I have a little bit of Texas in me. But if it is good enough, I may come back for other things. Besides I do not eat pork, except for Bacon, Pork Chops, BBQ Pork, & Pork Rinds. Sorry, I don't dine on swine. Anyways... I noticed you can add extra meat for $2 more. OK, do that to me too, I'm excited about heart attacks. So I have a beef plate, fries and some stew coming to me. After Betty leaves (all waiters & waitress are Betty), I realize I forgot to ask if it is going to be sliced, chopped, shredded, etc. So I get worried.

After a short wait, Betty brings back some grub. My plate is a circular divided cafeteria-standard issue plate, and an extra bowl full of stew. Betty also brings out an extra bowl of sauce. Luckily the beef is chopped. Everything looks good and cafeteria safe.

Their sauce is a vinegar based sauce. So it does not lay on top of the the food. It kinda soaks right in. I'm more partial to the tomato based sauces, but when in Austell. A little peppery more than vinegary tasting. It seems to separate after a few minutes. The beef is great, very tender especially cause I'm tossing more sauce onto it every few moments. Fries are poor, but it may have been a bad day for the spuds. I did get some bread with the plate. Just white a hamburger bun. I would have liked some sliced white bread instead. All BBQ joints should have sliced white bread ready and waiting. The stew is soupy and very generic. Really it seems like the ol' standard put everything into the processor & blended it up type of stew. Not a lot of spice in it, not lot of flavor. Adding Wallace's own hot sauce (provided at the table) does help out.

After leaving we become some of the fat guys hanging around outside. The parking lot seems a lot more empty now. I think Scott was wanting to have a cigarette. I was very happy with the chopped beef. I will probably get the stew again. But next time I may go for the ribs. Also I did over hear the guys behind us order what type of cut they want. So if you're into asking for center-cut, or side-cut, or end pieces, you may be in luck.

Wallace BBQ on a very good day would get an A-. On a regular day B-.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Our first review: Wallace's BBQ in Austell

Wallace's Barbecue

Pulling into the parking lot, Grant and I see a couple of hopeful signs: a healthy amount of pickup trucks in the lot, and a few large white guys milling about outside. When your clientle looks well fed, that's a good sign. It's an even better sign when some of the white guys standing around outside are in suits. That means the food inside is good enough to impress potential business partners, or is good enough to make important decisions easier.
Wallace's appears to be in it's second or third incarnation, because the place is pretty large and somewhat new looking for a barbecue joint. To me this dulls the experience a bit. The decorations on the wall (flair?), while not out of place at a barbecue establishment, somehow look like they were purchased out of the same catalog Zaxby's gets their stuff from. A picture of Elvis here, the front grill of a 57 Chevy hanging there, you get the idea. While there are a few pig figurines strategically placed about the restaurant, I don't think there are quite enough. A proper barbecue shrine has more idols of worship. I give the decor a B.
It takes a little while to get noticed by a waitress, and it takes just enough time to get our food that it's noticeable, but not overly tardy. Perhaps we're sweating the fact we're so far away from work on our lunch break. These are the lengths we have to go to find good barbecue here in NW Atlanta. The food arrives, and we dig in. Finally, some good barbecue in reach of our workplace! My meters for a good barbecue place are the pork sandwich, and the Brunswick stew. My sandwich gets good marks for being, first of all, chopped pork, moist (but not runny), having good kick with it's vinegar based sauce, and being small enough to hold in one hand (there is such a thing as a sandwich that's too big). However...there's a problem. No pickles! Ya gotta have pickles on a pork sandwich! Anyone who's ever eaten a Chik-Fil-A knows that ya gotta have that little extra something that pickle juice brings to the table! I give the sandwich an A-, which is easily upgradeable to a solid A by just asking for pickles to be added.
On to the stew. Overall, it was excellent! a couple of very small nitpicks: It was blended a little too much. In other words it was souplike in the fact that there weren't discernable pieces of the ingredients visible. I like to see little bits of corn, meat, or whatever in the stew. Just a visual thing. On the taste side, it was a bit "peppery", but delicious nonetheless. I give it an A!

Overall, I give Wallace's Barbecue a B+.
They are located at 3035 Veteran's Memorial Highway in Austell