Let’s go ahead. Let’s commit foodie suicide, Southern-style. Let’s express opinions about barbecue, the stuff that provokes more manly passions than guns and breasts. And let’s talk about effete intown barbecue!
Everyone knows that the once-popular Dusty’s on Briarcliff Road has closed. When it opened, 27 years ago, it was a complete novelty in Atlanta because it served ‘cue in the style of eastern North Carolina. That means the sauce was untainted by ketchup, featuring mainly vinegar and varying degrees of hot pepper. Since I spent a good bit of my childhood in Charlotte, I loved the place.
But I quit going to Dusty’s when its flavors made a decided turn toward the sweeter Georgia-style. I wasn’t alone in my observation and complaints about this, and I’m not sure if the restaurant ever returned to its roots.
Now, as I wrote recently, you can get very good Carolina-style barbecue at P’cheen (707 Highland Ave., 404-529-8800), but only on Monday nights.
Meanwhile, Rolling Bones (377 Edgewood Ave., 404-222-2324) in the Old Fourth Ward has sold a share to Todd Richards, who has a long history in Atlanta restaurants and is currently corporate chef of One Flew South at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (He’s doing about 500 other things, too.)
I dined there a few nights ago, having received reports that the Texas-style menu was undergoing a significant change to include items like smoked duck. But I found the food the same as always — with one difference. The portions seem about double their former size! I carried home a third of what I was served. The man behind the counter did tell me that a significant menu change is on the way but not for another week or longer.
Now, just up the road from the closed Dusty’s, D.B.A. Barbecue (1190 N. Highland Ave., 404-249-5000) has opened in the space last occupied by Vine, behind the post office, next to the Original El Taco. The main architectural features of the last redo of the space — the open kitchen, the bar — have been left intact, but things have been kitsched up a bit to include, for example, barn-wood paneling lettered with the names of popular blues artists.
“So,” I said to our server, noting the blues singers’ names, “are you going to be doing live blues here?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe. I hope so. I play the drums,” he replied. Okey dokey. Yup ‘cue!
The restaurant has been opened by three pros. James Ehrlich is the owner of Eclipse di Luna and a gifted chef. Matt Coggin, the managing partner, has worked at Harvest, La Tavola, Wisteria, Sala and Kevin Rathbun Steak. Lee Coggin, a designer, created the new look of the space.
The chef is Doug Morgan, whom DBA’s website identifies as “previously the pit master for the original Jim ‘n Nick’s BBQ in Birmingham.” As barbecue fanatics know, Jim ‘n Nick’s is a large chain with several restaurants in the Atlanta area.
I’m not sure what kind of cooking methods those restaurants actually use – probably not open pits – but if you’re a barbecue aficionado, you’ll notice one oddity as soon as you enter DBA. You don’t get a whiff of the smoke with which most barbecue joints in the South greet you well before you get to the front door.
I inquired about the cooking method and was told that the restaurant is using a special wood-burning smoker that doesn’t vent the usual smoky scent. (Rolling Bones likewise uses a custom-designed oven that keeps the smoke down.)
Whatever, I’m sorry to say one word best describes all of the meats: dry. Wayne and I both ordered the gigantic combo plates, so we were able to sample the pulled pork, the brisket, the smoked chicken, the smoked turkey, the baby back ribs and the St. Louis-style spare ribs. We even ordered a side of smoked tofu. I did not taste anything that was not notably dry.
This was true even though most of the meats were soaked with a dark red sauce that lacked virtually any kick at all. Even adding an allegedly spicy sauce on the table did little to raise the flavor quotient or counteract the dryness.
The restaurant is also serving 15 side dishes. We sampled fried whole okra, cole slaw, collards and broccoli casserole. They were all adequate but the collards, cooked with chicken stock, did not hold a candle to the pork-laden version at Daddy D’z in Grant Park or, for that matter, to the mustard greens at Rolling Bones.
Honestly, the starters were the best part of our meal. We ordered the pimento cheese finger sandwiches and the hummus made with butter beans and studded with corn and red bell peppers. The latter, which we scooped up with toasted pita bread, was fresh and authentically butter-beany.
The toasted finger sandwiches were stuffed with good pimento cheese as well as bacon and tomato. Honestly, if you order this starter for yourself alone, you’re going to kill your appetite before you even get to the meat. It’s delicious but humongous.
Other items on the menu here include salads, sandwiches, po'boys, shrimp and grits, and pecan-crusted trout. You can also make a meal of vegetable dishes. Desserts (banana pudding, peach cobbler and pecan pie) were out of the question for us.
The restaurant is open for lunch weekdays and dinner nightly. DBA has a great staff and vibe, so I hope the food improves. A more flavorful sauce and juicier meat, please. (Oh, I don't get the name. Yes, I understand DBA stands for "Doing Business As," but I still don't get it.)
Finally, I continue to be a regular at Daddy D’z (264 Memorial Drive, 404-222-0206), whose smoky, charred ribs don’t have much competition in our city. Its sides are still the best in town, too. I also continue to frequent Fox Bros. (1238 DeKalb Ave., 404-577-4030), but I’m still frustrated by the total inconsistency there. Nothing’s ever bad but sometimes it’s heaven and that makes the merely average visits painful.