Judging by the mail I receive, Mr. and Ms. ATL are way more interested in barbecue and Brunswick stew than in trendier comestibles such as sushi, stone crabs and blood-orange sorbet. Leaving aside the implications that this may hold for The Next Great International City, it's fair to say that the typical citizen of metro Atlanta believes that the next great 'cue, stew and onion rings should always be right around the corner.
For intowners, it ain't necessarily so. Memorable, reliable barbecue restaurants, in my experience, nearly always lie at the far end of a long drive. Such restaurants have usually been in business at least a decade. Meat is slow-cooked on site. Sauce ingredients and the finer points of hardwood smoking are treated as trade secrets. Prices are reasonable, portions moderate.
Wallace Barbecue, among the state's best, qualifies on all counts. Kicking butt since 1966, Mickey Taylor's 'cue cathedral in Austell is convenient for residents of Lithia Springs, Powder Springs and Mableton. The rest of us must journey beyond the Perimeter to the South Cobb-Douglas County line in order to experience the restaurant's first-rate barbecue and fixings.
Wallace's pulled pork alone makes the trip worthwhile. 'Cue connoisseurs will treat the lightly smoked, slightly pink meat as the Georgia communion that it is, consuming initial morsels without sauce or bread. Bits of sweet char cling to the edges of the savory pork. Smidgens of fat are few. The meat is surprisingly tender without a trace of mushiness, moist but not wet, subtly flavored but definitely pork -- in short, a lesson in the deliciousness of properly prepared country fare.
Beyond naked, how do I like Wallace's pulled pork (called chopped on the menu)? Let me count the ways. Standard pork plates may provide the best value ($4.95). Served with a sandwich bun, creamy slaw and skin-on fries or baked potato, plates also can be upgraded by the addition of a bowl of stew ($5.50). On the other hand, the pork thrift plate -- sandwich, fries and slaw ($3.95) or salad ($4.35) -- makes sense for dainty appetites. So does a simple sandwich ($2.10) or a salad topped with chopped pork ($3.95). Hungry guys unwilling to mess around with greenery might consider the baked potato stuffed with cheese and pork ($2.80). Wise guys will add a side of fried onion rings ($1.20).
The rings are lightly coated with batter, fried in clean oil, neither overly greasy nor salty and as tasty as any I know. Wallace is a quality operation. The breading not only tastes fresh, it stays on the rings when they're bitten.
Stew is comparatively less adorable -- bisque-like, dense but thin, with a pleasant chicken-barbecue flavor and containing traces of tomato and corn ($2.10). Shots of Wallace's dark, thin everyday sauce and the thicker, moderately spicy, mustard-and-vinegar-edged sauce (marked "HOT") perk up the stew agreeably. For those that want it on the pulled pork, a combination of both sauces seems to work best.
Pork ribs are meaty, dry-tender, practically fat-free and correctly served with a bowl of sauce on the side. The rib plate -- about half a rack -- costs $8, a rib-stew combination the same, a child's rib plate $7.10. Take-out ribs go for $9.50 per pound, pulled pork $8, whole barbecued chickens $6.75 each.
Barbecue chicken, unlike commonly sold commercial products, is mildly, delicately smoked, not a semi-solidified cake of char-flavored chemicals. Meat is moist and easily pulled from the bones. Sandwiches can easily be assembled from the components of a half-bird plate ($4.95).
A takeout counter with a separate entrance keeps crowds in line and hungry customers constantly satisfied. Service by a cadre of pleasant women is polite, helpful and fast. Eisenhower-era rumpus-room decor -- wood-panel walls, jukebox, model planes, children's go-cars and a framed print of Lee and his generals -- would suit any coal miner's daughter or gimme-cap bubba. Country music burbles from the sound system like acoustic candy.
One caution only: Desserts can be skipped. Even at $1 per factory-cut slice, Edwards brand pies shouldn't inhabit the same building as Wallace Barbecue. Surely someone in Austell knows how to bake.
Contact Elliott Mackle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-614-2514.