Mr. D’s Barbeque, Austell GA (CLOSED)

One evening last month, while the girlchild was busy with football and friends, Marie and I took a badly overstimulated baby over to Austell to strike another Atlanta-area barbecue joint off our to-do list. The little fellow fell asleep in the car, exhausted after an afternoon spent refusing to nap, and so he missed all the deterioration and sprawl of the southern part of the county. After crossing the East-West Connector, Austell Road takes drivers through some really ugly dilapidation. I’ve always had a soft spot for South Cobb High School because I like the way their stadium is backed right up to and above the street, but all this blight around it and Clay Road is unfortunate. Continue reading “Mr. D’s Barbeque, Austell GA (CLOSED)”

Martin’s, Austell GA

Ages back, sometime in this blog’s infancy, I intended to follow a metaphor to its conclusion and tell you good readers a little about Martin’s. As metaphors go, this is not the most accurate, but you know how Birmingham is home to a fast food chain called Milo’s and it is surrounded in the suburbs by another chain called Jack’s? Well, Zesto in Atlanta is similarly surrounded in this city’s suburbs by Martin’s. Kind of. I mean, there are something like 140 Jack’s all over north Alabama and peeking into neighboring states, and there are only fifteen Martin’s, almost all of which are in the northwestern suburbs and nowhere near an interstate exit, but it’s a little bit similar. Continue reading “Martin’s, Austell GA”

Wallace Barbecue, Austell GA (take two)

I started craving some of the interesting barbecue from Atlanta’s western side that I’ve mentioned in these pages before. This is the barbecue served with what’s called either Hudson’s-style sauce, or juice by its fans, and longtime readers may know all too well that I’ve preached its unique style many times before. What I haven’t done, however, is attempt to provide photographs of what the heck I’m talking about, relying instead on descriptions. So one Friday last month, Marie and I had a day off and decided to give the girlchild a little attention and quality time. We left the baby in daycare and took the teenager out to Austell for lunch at Wallace Barbecue. We covered this restaurant in 2010, but I don’t believe that we did a good job. I certainly no longer advise ordering the meat dry. In order to best experience Hudson’s-style sauce, you need to just get a pork and stew plate as it comes. Continue reading “Wallace Barbecue, Austell GA (take two)”

Johnny’s Bar-B-Que & Steaks, Powder Springs GA

Somewhat overlooked in all the talk of regional barbecue styles is that there is a little outpost of restaurants in western Cobb County and Douglas County that all have very similar takes on presentation, sauce and preparing the chopped pork. I know that I’m not the first one to notice this. I wish that I could take credit for it, but somebody who actually deserves credit – and, you probably know me, I’m just not very good about remembering where I read things – noted an interesting similarity between the chopped pork at Austell’s Wallace Barbecue and a place in Douglasville that I have not yet tried, Hudson Hickory House in Douglasville. I made the connection, but didn’t note it anywhere, between Wallace and Briar Patch Restaurant, which is near Dallas and Hiram. A couple of weeks ago, I revisited Johnny’s Bar-B-Que and Steaks for the first time in four or five years and realized just how similar this place is to the others.

If you pull up these on a map, you’ll see that they’re all in the same little quadrant, north of I-20 and east of I-285. Now, I can’t speak with certainty about Hudson Hickory House, but I have seen a photograph of a chopped pork plate at Courthouse Bites and read a description of the meal at BBQ Biker and I think I’m on pretty safe ground when I discuss it in general terms. All four of these older restaurants serve very soft chopped pork that is presauced and swimming in a very thin, red-to-black, mild and very tangy vinegar-based sauce, while also offering a much hotter mustard-based sauce on the table. The fries are freshly-cut, whole potato-style and very greasy. BBQ Biker describes Hudson’s as “floppy,” which can certainly be used to define the fries at the other three restaurants. The stew at each is very thick, heavy on the onions but not too many other vegetables.

When I do get the chance to visit Hudson’s, and I will, soon, I will definitely have to ask about the similarities that I’m seeing here. I’ll make a note to go after the lunch rush so somebody might have a chance to talk with me. It might not be to everybody’s taste, but this is an absolutely fascinating discovery. Barbecue lovers, you need to get out here and dig into this region and see what I’m talking about!

A couple of Saturdays ago, Marie’s mother came to town and we had a pretty good time and enjoyed some good meals, although I think her favorite of the dinners out must have been our lunchtime trip to Vingenzo’s in Woodstock. That really is some unbelievably amazing pizza. She doesn’t actually care for barbecue, madly, and so, for supper, I tried to come up with someplace that we hadn’t covered in the blog before that I knew also offered pretty good steaks and burgers. David had taken Neal and me to Johnny’s several years ago, and while I didn’t remember the details, I remembered that it was a big Saturday night family dinner place, so I asked whether we could meet at David’s place and ride over there.

If you’ve eaten at Wallace recently, then Johnny’s will give you a case of déjà vu. It’s not merely the similar style of cooking the pork; the interior and the design is very familiar. The great big room with rustic 1930s bric-a-brac on the walls feels very comfortably similar, like you’ve been here before.

I was pretty taken with the food at Johnny’s, though I would have preferred to try the meat dry. The sauce is gently tangy and not very sweet, but the mustard sauce on the table is among the hottest barbecue sauces that I have tried recently. It’s a menace, and makes a great dip for the “floppy” fries. Marie had the ribs and enjoyed them very much, her mother had a burger with some really good baked beans that she liked more than the main course, and David had a steak that didn’t set his taste buds alight, but he said it was pretty good.

Well, now the next question – as soon as I’ve made my way to Hudson, anyhow – is how many more restaurants in the area serve barbecue in this style? Four big established places in such a small radius definitely makes a trend, but I wonder how widespread it is? More research, as ever, is needed!

Joe’s Mexicana Grill, Austell GA (CLOSED)

A couple of Saturdays back, I had one of those fluid days where everything kept changing based on traffic and other people’s plans. Marie had an excellent baby shower thrown for her by our friend Samantha, and some of our friends from Nashville came to attend. Later, David and I took our Nashville buddies out for a couple of hours shopping for records and for yarn, and while time didn’t afford us the chance to go enjoy a great dinner in Atlanta, we did, at least, stop by King of Pops at their usual location at North Avenue and North Highlands and have some awesome handcrafted snacks. Still no Arnold Palmer flavor for me – I’m optimistic that I’ll try it one of these days – but I can confirm that their orange basil is just about better than you could imagine.

Later in the evening, after our friends made their way back to Tennesee, David and I spent a little while trying to figure out what to eat around his place. We finally settled on Joe’s Mexicana Grill, which is a quite new place – it opened in March – on the East-West Connector in that same strip mall as the wonderful Miyako. A very good chicken place called Famous Yardbirds had briefly lived and died in the space now occupied by a package store. Joe’s itself seems, if memory holds, to be in the space where a Moe’s Southwestern Grill once was. This, in itself, was surprising. Despite the inescapable reality that you cannot spell “mediocre” without M-O-E, I didn’t think those darn places ever closed down.

Joe’s follows the same template as Moe’s and Willy’s and Hollie Guacamole! and the like. It’s assembly-line burritos, tacos and nachos, made with smiles on the other side of a sneeze guard. However, there are a pair of extras here that none of their competitors offer, which warrant commentary, even though I did not sample either. First, there’s the surprising and notable choice of artichoke as a primary ingredient. Somehow or another, I just plain misread this on the menu, said to myself that I’d rather have spicy chicken than what I thought was avocado, and when I left, stuffed from an enormous burrito bowl, I was kicking myself for not trying an artichoke taco. Further investigation is required here.

The other thing they have is a really impressive dessert counter. Their competitors work under the assumption that all anybody ever wants for dessert after a burrito is a chocolate chip cookie. Joe’s suggests that you might like a big slice of cheesecake or something exquisitely decadent. Again, I was too stuffed from a burrito bowl and some chips to even have a taco, much less a slab of chocolate cake this large, but it sure did do my eyes a favor to look at what was on offer.

Joe’s might not be destination dining, and its unfortunate interior design doesn’t really lend itself to quiet evenings out. With very high ceilings and piping and ventilation above, the sound is terrible and loud here. One television was on Nickelodeon and one was on Faux News and we couldn’t make out a word from either. Sounds just turn into howling noise here; TVs should be shut off and lower ceiling tiles installed. But for its neighborhood, it’s a pretty good addition, and the quality of the food is infinitely preferable to Moe’s.

And for those of you who noted with sadness my inability to land an Arnold Palmer-flavored pop earlier in the afternoon, you can breathe a sigh of relief that I mixed myself one to drink with my burrito. It probably wasn’t as good as a frozen popsicle on a nice spring afternoon, but it was still pretty good.

(Update 7/12/12: Unfortunately, Joe’s closed earlier this month. I never did try one of those artichoke tacos…!)

Miyako, Austell GA

My daughter had enjoyed her November trip to Happy Sumo in Norcross, one of our friend Matt’s favorite places, so darn much that she wanted to go to a Japanese steakhouse for her birthday. In doing so, she ensured that one particular establishment in Kennerietta got my undying hatred. Before I can tell you about my very good trip to Miyako, I have to mention that.

This is the first restaurant story that I’ve actually sat down to write since my father passed away earlier this month, which accounts for the short break in sharing stories last week. Well, we knew that it was coming, which is how I was able to pre-plan a break in the blog. For years, my parents have taken the family out for birthday suppers, and my daughter has usually announced hers about ten months in advance. She then spends the rest of the year changing her mind about where she wants to go, but this time, she finally settled on a Japanese teppanyaki steakhouse. Well, we knew that my dad’s deterioration was getting worse, and that this one mid-December evening was going to be my daughter’s last birthday with my father and so we hoped the evening would be pretty special. It was not. We ended up leaving this establishment (which shall remain nameless here, although I doubt anybody who wants to learn it will have much difficulty) after more than an hour’s wait at the table and constant lying assurances that a teppanyaki chef was right around the corner. I finally, roaring, bawled the owner or manager or whomever the incompetent fool was out in a manner few have ever seen me in, for ruining this most bittersweet and important of evenings for my family. You should have seen the guy. I had him bent over so far backwards that he looked like he was doing the limbo.

A few days before Christmas, my daughter got a kind of a consolation prize. She wasn’t able to enjoy the birthday supper with her granddaddy that she wanted, but my mother did take her and her brother to a different, obviously superior, steakhouse called Miyako. It’s on the East-West Connector between Smyrna and Austell. About a week and a half later, neither of us then aware of my kids’ visit, David rang me up and asked if he could give me a break from worrying about my dad’s failing health and take me to lunch here. He’d just found the place – it is not far from where he lives – and was raving about their lunch special.

Some days later, I asked my kids about their visit to Miyako, and they told me that it was really great and that they had a good time. My son says that he really enjoyed the shrimp, and quite liked pouring the “yummy yummy” sauce, which is what Miyako terms that yellow stuff, a strange mix of mayo and sugar and, sometimes, ketchup, that goes really well with seafood or vegetables, over his rice.

For my part, when David and I went by Miyako on a brisk afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I remembered what Matt always orders when he goes to his favorite steakhouse in Norcross, and asked for filet mignon and steamed rice. It works for him and it worked terrifically for me. But what really impressed me at Miyako, even more than the high quality of the entree, was just how well they do all the extras.

The salad had a nice ginger dressing, certainly, but it was a much milder, white, light cream rather than the thick and chunky orange-colored dressing that most Japanese restaurants serve. I mean, I don’t mind that thick orange stuff, but when you see the same dressing all over the place, you realize that it’s coming from Sysco’s “oriental restaurant” catalog. The light dressing that Miyako offers is much tastier. Even the miso soup tasted considerably different and with a sharper taste, with much more mushrooms and onions in the broth than any Japanese restaurant that I have ever visited.

I’m the sort of person who always looks for silver linings. The reason that I brought up those morons who ruined my daughter’s last birthday dinner with my dad is that if it were not for that incident, Mom wouldn’t have looked around for an alternate for them, and I, too, probably would have passed on David’s suggestion of a steakhouse lunch, in favor of something different. So we didn’t get that dinner, but my children and I did get to discover a very good restaurant in its place. Now the next trick is to get Matt out this way so that he can compare Miyako to the place in Norcross that he enjoys so much. I bet that he’ll really like it.

Wallace Barbecue, Austell GA

Many things cross my mind about what to talk about when Wallace comes up, but first and foremost is their sauce. They have two. One is a hot mustard-based sauce that’s bottled and on the table already. It’s terrific, and as promised, it goes very well with the restaurant’s Brunswick stew.

The other sauce is served with your order. I’d advise diners to ask for their pork dry, like David did when he and I went to supper Saturday night and ended up here. David’s on a pretty strict diet for blood sugar problems and needs to take it easy with the greasy fries and sweet sauces. I probably should have done it that way myself, because I like the way that Wallace serves their sauce on the side, piping hot, in a bowl.

The only other place that I’m aware of that does this is Sprayberry’s Barbecue down in Newnan, which is worth revisiting one day very soon, but possibly not this calendar year. The datebook is sort of packed. Now, the makeup of the sauce is quite baffling. I have heard that in Owensboro, Kentucky, they serve up a Worcestershire-based sauce, and kind of got a roundabout confirmation of that from the fifteen-sauce selection at Asheville’s Ed Boudreaux’s BBQ last month. I wonder whether Wallace might be using that as well. It’s certainly very thin and pleasantly vinegary, with pepper, but I couldn’t say beyond that. Our server, and you simply could not ask for a better one, politely declined to assist in identifying it. She explained that there’s one fellow “locked in the back” mixing up their sauces and that nobody but him knows the recipe. I just love that.

I first visited Wallace in 2002. Back then, I was working on a well-intentioned guide to barbecue restaurants here in Georgia that I had hosted on Geocities and waiting for tips on new, or old, places to try. Creative Loafing, the largest and best-known of Atlanta’s alt-weeklies, gave Wallace a good review, so I trekked down to Austell from my old apartment in Alpharetta one Saturday. That really was a haul when there’s nothing at your destination but one barbecue place and a thousand traffic lights and miles of abandoned, low-rent suburban blight along the way. Driving through the community of Mableton along what used to be called Bankhead Highway and is now Veterans’ Memorial Parkway has been one of the region’s most cringeworthy exercises for more than a quarter of a century. There’s really nothing wrong with this agonizing shithole of a road that a really powerful tornado wouldn’t fix.

Sadly, I haven’t found the chance to go back nearly often enough. I know that I’ve tried convincing my folks to have dinner out here instead of their usual barbecue haunts, but for some insane reason, my mom doesn’t like the place. Really, the only thing I have against them is the extremely greasy fries, which I had completely forgotten about. They’re really tasty, but I’m getting awfully close to forty and shouldn’t have fries twice in one day anyhow, particularly if the second meal’s fries are as greasy as this. I should have gone with the slaw.

Wallace is a pretty big place and it’s extremely popular in the area. Saturday nights, the place is packed with folks having a great time. I definitely need to find reason to head out this way again before long.