It was a little after 7 on a rainy Sunday night when my husband and I, fresh off a traumatically turbulent flight, dragged ourselves through the doors of Community Q BBQ (1361 Clairmont Road, Decatur, 404-633-2080, www.communityqbbq.com). We were exhausted, hungry and frustrated because the two other places we tried were closed. Since we were so tired, we failed to notice that Community Q also had a "closed" sign on its door. Embarrassed for being one of those types of diners, you know, the kind who swoop into an establishment moments before it shutters for the night — the type of diner I cursed when I used to be a cook — I apologized profusely only to be met with the sweetest words anyone could have uttered that night: "No problem. We're here for ya, sweetheart."
That sentiment is at the core of Community Q's service and intent. Table runners pinch your kids' cheeks, seem genuinely concerned whether you're enjoying your meal, and just "get" what it means to make someone feel at home in an establishment. Truth be told, I didn't always like Community Q. When it first opened and despite its pedigree — one of the owners is David Roberts, a co-founder of Marietta's Sam & Dave's — I found the entire experience to be lackluster. The meats were cold and the flavors of most dishes were far from pronounced. About a year after it opened, however, I found myself there for lunch. My experience was entirely different. The meats, sides and service were all exceptional; a perfect example of why you should never write a place off after just one visit.
I don't have a go-to order at Community Q because everything is just too good. Sharp, chopped coleslaw dotted with poppy seeds expertly straddles the fence between creamy and tangy. Pleasantly imperfect hand-cut french fries with slivers of skin left on are fried to a golden brown before being showered with a savory, sweet and smoky seasoning that makes them so dangerous I've dubbed them "crack fries." The mac and cheese is rumored to use the recipe from Sam & Dave's, which happens to be the recipe I use in my own kitchen. Sure, it's greasy, but also creamy and made with pasta big enough to hide pockets of melted cheese. Even the bread that comes with each order of barbecue is buttered and toasted. No soggy, sad pieces of white bread under your ribs here.
Speaking of ribs, Community Q knows how to treat its pork. The meat is tender and moist with that ethereal ring of pink and a nice coating of blackened bark. There are no unpleasant hints of fluid, just that sweet, smoky beauty you expect in well-done barbecue. Brisket is so fork-tender it only takes a mere tug of the teeth to cut it. The board of specials always holds something of interest, including many dishes made with local produce. The "kitchen sink salad" is one such special. A hearty serving of local leafy greens are mixed with julienned pears, roasted beets and whatever else is fresh from the farm that day. You'll find many of these ingredients in the makeshift local farm stand near the cashier. You can order the salad with a side of meat — like the juicy smoked chicken — for an extra $3. And to finish off the meal, there's always some sort of homespun dessert like chocolate-dipped Rice Krispies Treats displayed on a cake stand just like your mom would. It's a sweet reminder of how Community Q — a fitting name — wants you to feel right at home.