Seduced by the 'Cue
Atlanta's Havens for Barbeque Lovers
by Emily Horton
One of the most attractive elements of barbeque at its best is its simplicity. Both road food hounds and regional cuisine detectives agree that their favorite discoveries are informal places off the beaten track, but run by a (usually) friendly face who knows his way around the kitchen. Take Dean's, one of south Atlanta's greatest hideaways since 1947. Dean's offers one of the city's purest takes on barbeque. Turning only pork out of the kitchen (no beef or chicken to speak of, and you shouldn't), Dean's is a shrine to the pigópaying homage to every southeastern barbeque aficionado who waves the "barbeque = pork" flag with pride. Take your ultra-tender pulled and hand-chopped wood-fired pork with a bit of Western North Carolina-inspired tomato-vinegar sauce, and settle in on a bench with a bowl of no-frills Brunswick stew. This is one of the city's last real deals. 9480 S. Main St., Jonesboro, 770-471-0138.
Dusty's Barbeque Restaurant
North Carolinians may be the most finicky lot in the South about their barbequeó so much so that the state itself is divided upon what constitutes a proper barbeque sauce. (Both sides agree, however, that barbeque constitutes pork, and only pork). Pit masters in Eastern North Carolina favor the simplest of sauces, a vinegar-based concoction with only red peppers, black pepper and occasionally a few other spices for seasoning. Barbeque fans in the western part of the state take that same foundation and add a bit of ketchup for sweetness and tang. (Go farther south into South Carolina, and you'll find the Eastern North Carolina-based sauce with a bit of mustard thrown in for even more character).
Since 1981, Dusty's has been a haven for Carolina refugees and Atlantans who just favor the Carolina barbeque way. Lightly-smoked pulled pork, beef and chicken are eager to be doused with any of Dusty's three vinegar-based sauces (or an absurdly hot version the owners don't even leave out on the tables). Tuck the meat into sandwiches or pair it with any number of sides (including some rather habit-forming homemade potato chips and fried okra), and, please, don't forget the Carolina-reminiscent Cheerwine. 1815 Briarcliff Rd., 404-320-6264, www.dustys.com.
True to franchise form, this award-winning chain operates on a something-for- everyone platform. But unlike so many other restaurants with multiple outposts, Dave's formula is so well mastered that it has garnered accolades both above and below the Mason-Dixon line.
Founder and native Chicagoan Dave Anderson combed the country in search of the best barbeque methods but lingered in the nation's middle ground; hence, there's a strong emphasis on Texas and midwest-style barbecue at Dave's. Sauces are primarily tomato based, with a sweet, sometimes spicy slant, and even the "Georgia" chopped pork sandwich comes adorned with a hefty dose of Kansas City-style sauce. The restaurant's most devoted patrons hanker for the restaurant's melting beef brisket and tender, just- charred enough St. Louis-style ribs that have been critically acclaimed nationwide. Order them naked (sans the thick, sweet and tangy sauce) for a taste of ribs, perfected. 6400 North Point Hwy., Alpharetta, 678-566-1002; 1935 Powers Ferry Rd., Marietta, 770-933- 8998, www.famousdaves.com.
Though an Atlanta suburb seems an unlikely locale for authentic Kansas City 'cue, owners and Kansas City natives Jiles and Shannon Johnson, a husband and wife team, have culled a devoted following for their trade since they opened their restaurant in early 2003. Their take on the trademark cuisine of one of the nation's barbecue capitals (the other, of course, being Memphis), covers all the bases and adds a few twists. Kansas City's distinctive sauce combines a tomato base with any number of sassy additionsómaybe a bit of vinegar, pepper, sugar and molasses, and always a kicky blend of spices. Devotees of this style relish the sweet, spicy condiment often used in basting and almost always nearby for sopping. KC's house-made version is especially delectable and a well-suited complement to the smoked meats, though you may not need it. Protocol at the restaurant is to marinate all of the meats (among them rack of lamb, pork ribs, beef short ribs, beef brisket, pork roast and turkey) for 24-48 hours prior to slow-smoking them in a hickory-wood-lined pit. The result? Barely-clinging-to-the-bone meats and a degree of moist tenderness found in few other local institutions. 234 Hilderbrand Dr., Sandy Springs, 404-459-6497, www.kcpitbbq.com.
Maybe one of the only barbecue joints in the city decked out in modern (aluminum) dÈcor with contemporary artwork to boot, Potbellies is the brainchild of Tara Plumlee, who opened the restaurant in September 2003 at the age of 27. Plumlee spent years learning the ropes working alongside her dad in his Chattanooga restaurants before taking off on her own in Marietta.
Plumlee's peppy restaurant dishes out barbeque faithful to the Memphis-style tradition, as her house tart-sweet, tomato-based sauce (in both mild and fiery hot versions), attests. As expected of a barbecue house that takes its cues from Memphis, Potbellies' ribs, meaty and charred, are a standout. Shredded beef, pork and chicken (the former two of which cook, slowly, for 14 hours), laced with that nectar-like Memphis sauce, fill sandwich buns for a messy treat. 980 E. Piedmont Rd., Marietta, 770-971- 1550.
Williamson Bros Bar-B-Q
Owners of one of the Marietta's most recognized barbeque institutions, Williamson brothers Danny and Larry created a cult-like devotion when they brought their Alabama-style barbeque across the border from Talladega in 1989. They were sons of a barbeque master, whose effective teachings are evident in Williamson Bros' ever- growing fan base.
Their signature (and, many say, addictive) barbeque sauce, redolent of the deep South with its smoky, sweet flavor and chestnut hue, gained such a fan base that the brothers now have it bottled and shipped to anyone committed to using up an entire caseóand there are plenty of takers all across the country. The locals, though, clamor for Williamson Bros' meaty spare ribs and BBQ sandwiches. Whether you take your sauce or leave it (though many would argue against the point of denying your meat or your palate of the pleasure), chopped smoky pork, beef and chicken give pillowy white bread new life. And at $2.99 to $3.19, these are sandwiches that leave room in your wallet for another visit.
A wealth of sides round out the restaurant's eye-bogglingly long menu, but save (or make) room for the Brunswick stew, a heartier and sweeter rendition of the classic barbeque complement. 1425 Roswell Rd., Marietta, 770-971-3201, www.williamsonbros.com.