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Ace is the place

Tasty paper-plate food at Ace Barbecue Barn


It's hard not to trust a spot with an honest name like Ace, especially one with a tiny Astroturf patio ringed with Christmas lights. Located just a few clicks away from the Sweet Auburn Curb market, Ace doesn't do fluff. The dining room is as worn as the wood-fired ovens gone sooty from years of smoking ribs. Everything is served on orange plastic trays.

2 Legit: Inside, just past the screened swinging door is a small dry-erase board announcing the meat and vegetables of the day. A mountain of fried chicken rises out of a metal pan on the stove, next to a giant pot bubbling with collard greens. The steam table is laden with black-eyed peas, rice, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, green beans, smothered chicken, smothered pork chops and baked chicken. A wire rack houses sweet-potato pie, and glazed, downy lemon pound cake is sliced into thick wedges, wrapped and reconstructed into its original Bundt form under a glass bell on the counter. Understanding the prices on the yellowing menu board, choppy with dropped letters, takes a bit of deciphering. A dinner plate with meat of choice and two side orders is $5.50 and meat with one vegetable is $3.90. Photos of visiting celebrities such as Martin Sheen and MC Hammer adorn the walls.

Stick to your ribs: At a place called Barbecue Barn, the ribs are required eating. My heart sank at the sight of a microwave being used to reheat the ribs on both visits, but they were nonetheless wonderfully smoky, with a proper amount of meat interspersed with charred fat. It's best to avoid the rib tips, though, which are a jumble of bone, fat, gristle, little meat and too much sauce. The collards are tender but not mushy and are properly slow-cooked daily from fresh greens. Macaroni and cheese here is more like macaroni pie, held together with a bit of egg, but still creamy, soft and suitably capped with a lid of orange cheese. Brunswick stew ($2.65) is a hearty, tomatoey delight dotted with sweet corn. The cornbread is thankfully as non-sweet and crumbly as the Atlanta summer is long. Sweet tea ($1.05) is unabashedly syrupy.

Wing and a prayer: The eyes of a diner seated at the counter brightened with glee when he saw the fried fish he requested being dredged in flour, then set into the sizzling oil of a blackened skillet. Pork chops are similarly fried to order. But the fried chicken is where Ace knocks it out of the park. There's no inch-thick layer of doughy batter on grease-dripping drumsticks here. Instead, Ace's fried chicken is the way it was meant to be: dredged in flour with nothing more than salt and pepper for seasoning. It's pan-fried rather than deep-fried, with a skin that is mica-thin, crispy and delicate. The juicy meat barely clings to the bone.

Ace offers respite to the tired palate with its honest, delicious food and great value. The fried chicken is a revelation in itself, worthy of worship and addiction. Just don't forget the Handi Wipes.

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