Barbecue Kitchen, College Park GA (take two)

As we continue revisiting barbecue restaurants in the Atlanta area, College Park’s Barbecue Kitchen was definitely due for a second look. We first visited the Virginia Avenue business more than four years ago, and it was the third of three big meals we had in one day. Stuffed before we arrived, we didn’t get as good a feel for what the restaurant can do as we should have. So earlier this month, Marie and I had lunch here, but unfortunately we were not really thrilled with the experience. Continue reading “Barbecue Kitchen, College Park GA (take two)”

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta GA

If you’re like me and rarely fly, you probably have a deeply outdated and awfully unfair stereotype of what airport food is like. I think of arriving in Muncie at 10.05 and wishing for a slice of microwaved pizza. Well, last month, I got to join a pile of my friends old and new from the Association of Food Bloggers to go behind the security gates at Hartsfield-Jackson to see how airport dining has improved since the last time that I flew. Continue reading “Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlanta GA”

Hours and Hours in Hapeville

Marie’s mother was coming to visit. One of her friends on Saint Simons Island was coming to Atlanta to address the Rotarians or the Rosicrucians or the Romulans or somebody at an airport hotel, and she caught a ride. I volunteered to go pick her up, since, downtown, I’m closer to the airport than Marie is. Plus, there was a restaurant in Hapeville that I had been wanting to try. Continue reading “Hours and Hours in Hapeville”

Pit Boss BBQ, Hapeville GA

In April, I visited Hapeville after work and had a very good lunch at Hambones. That restaurant is located within sight of Pit Boss BBQ, and I considered trying them both, but didn’t feel that I had room that trip. Everything worked out just fine, because while Marie is on maternity leave, she and I are getting the opportunity to enjoy a midweek lunch or two together on my short days. I wanted to bring her back down to Hapeville so that she could have a milkshake at Chapman Drugs, giving us the chance to stop by and see what Pit Boss had to offer.

This is yet another Atlanta barbecue place that doesn’t get very much attention from the foodies and bloggers in the region, but I think that it is definitely worth a visit. It has a very loyal customer base. I think that every Delta employee who could have fit inside the building tried to during our visit, and the staff seemed to know them all by name. Unfortunately, so many people arrived around 11:15 that at least one party got discouraged by the line and left. I hope they come back; they missed out on a good lunch.

Marie and I each had the chopped pork, which comes presauced with Pit Boss’s mild sauce. It’s a great mix; the meat is very smoky and full of flavor, and the sauce is incredibly sweet. However, there was a little more sauce than I would have liked, and I preferred the other table sauce, which was hotter, instead. It’s an odd case of very good food not quite prepared the way I would like it. For sides, we had Brunswick stew and fried green beans. Neither were exceptional, but perfectly good.

Honestly, I enjoyed the food at Hambones more, but where Pit Boss shines is just how incredibly friendly and upbeat and downright wonderful the staff is. At Hambones, which becomes similarly packed for a weekday lunch, I got the impression of the (somewhat larger) staff hunkering down for the madness, and was left to my own devices once my food arrived. The ladies on the front line at Pit Boss threatened to become overwhelmed with so many guests, but before things got crazy, we had a very good experience chatting with them and showing off our baby.

Interestingly, the staff was not able to clear up a little confusion about this place. There is (or was) a listing on Urbanspoon for a restaurant with the same address but a different name, Smokin’ Sam’s. I asked whether Pit Boss used to be that other store, and the girl said they were not, but that somebody else asked her that a few weeks previously. This space had once been the home of The Flying Pig in the 1990s, but never the disputed name. I wonder where that came from.

After lunch, as promised, I bought Marie a milkshake from Chapman’s. She got a double chocolate malted and I got the same amazing peach-n-vanilla malt that I enjoyed on my previous visit. Both were wonderful, but mine, honestly, was better. Would I lie to you? It was so much better that when we got back to my work to pick up my car, I realized that I had left my book inside. So I went to grab that and give a co-worker a sip. Man, Chapman mixes a good milkshake. I’m going to have to head back to Hapeville and eat somewhere else so I can justify another one of these.

Hambones BBQ and Chapman Drugs, Hapeville GA

This past Friday after work, I drove down to Hapeville, an inside-the-perimeter suburb best known for being that place in Atlanta where the airport is, and was very pleasantly surprised to find some genuinely amazing barbecue at Hambones, a restaurant that I hadn’t heard of before last month. Sadly, I don’t remember where I heard about it beyond “Facebook.” Nobody has (yet) stepped forward to let me know it was them, or one of their friends, who mentioned the place, so I don’t know whom I should thank, but man, somebody’s due a handshake.

Hambones has been open for several years on a side street off the main drag (Central Avenue) through town. In a really weird bit of real estate, it is within sight of another barbecue place called Pit Boss. I had considered just doing a sandwich and stew at each place, but it didn’t work out that way, because the amount of food that Hambones serves up is pretty ridiculously huge. I had the “Q and Stew” lunch special, which comes with a big sandwich, a bucket of stew, a shot glass of a second side and a Big Gulp-sized drink for under nine bucks, and so Pit Boss will have to wait for another visit.

On a side note, I have been totally lucking out lately in finding places with amazingly good Brunswick stew. It’s like the food gods are paying me back for that awful, wretched stew that I had at Georgia Pig down in Glynn County last month. In April, I’ve been knocked out by how good the stew has been at Speedi-Pig, Dave Poe’s and now at Hambones. The stew here is thick with chicken, pork, corn, tomatoes and lima beans and I really enjoyed it hugely.

Hambones nominally opens at 11, but in reality, the doors are unlocked a little early, because the lunch crowd this place gets is huge and in a hurry. The setup is a little unusual. They have a carry-out register at the bar, and a small register for dine-in orders. The register set-up, in any other business, would look like the place where you bring your check on the way out, rather than a “order first” window with a big menu board. The lunch line is long, and you pick up a menu on the way to the small register. The design of the place is no-frills, with mismatched chairs, large, dark interiors with a few scattered TVs tuned to ESPN, and a hideous overuse of the awful Comic Sans font on all the menus and labels. It is the polar opposite of a franchise chain, as it should be.

At any rate, when you order the lunch special, you get your choice of chopped pork, chicken or beef. They will serve it sliced or pulled for a fifty-cent fee. I also noticed that they charge fifty cents extra for fries, which is very unusual. Many places, including Dave Poe’s, will charge you an extra half dollar for the stew but call fries a regular side. I later learned that Hambones makes their fries in-house and they are very popular. Perhaps I should have tried those.

The pork is very tender and very smoky and doesn’t need sauce, but there are three on the table and they are all very good. The house sauce is a traditional red tomato-vinegar mix, and the house hot sauce is the same, only amped up with peppers. I liked this one best, but I was also quite taken with the rib sauce, a black mixture which tasted to me like there was less vinegar in it. In all, this was a quite good meal, with a lot of food served up with a lot of character for a very fair price.

I wasn’t quite done with Hapeville, because I heard about a soda fountain in town and so I went to go get some dessert. Central Avenue forms a main street through the small city. We’d driven through it some months back, during the short barbecue tour that the family took in January after the ice storm, to get from the I-75 corridor south of the city over to College Park. Driving through it, I could then feel the icy fingers of my past crawling along my spine. I think that this girl whom I inadvisedly dated for a few months way back when I was in high school lived around here.

There are just a few retail places along Central that are still open, with several restaurants keeping traffic coming through. Chapman Drugs is located next to the Freemason lodge, and there’s plenty of twenty minute street parking; just enough to grab something from the pharmacy and a milkshake or a limeade. I had two-scoop malt with peach and vanilla and it was just wonderful. Every milkshake should be that good.

Chapman Drugs is, inconveniently, not open on Saturdays. (Neither is Hambones, for that matter. I have to curl an eyebrow over barbecue joints where you can’t get a Saturday lunch.) This does raise the issue of when Marie will be able to come down here and enjoy a milkshake with me, but she’ll have a maternity leave in a month or so, and I think she will certainly be due an awesome milkshake. Maybe we can visit Pit Boss as well for lunch first and I can see which of the two barbecue places on Virginia Avenue I prefer.

Barbecue Kitchen, College Park GA

We finished up what I termed as our barbecue road trip two Saturdays ago at a little place in College Park hidden just off the interstate. It’s a very old little joint called Barbecue Kitchen, and I had never heard of it until the good folk at Roadfood.com added it to their small list of reviewed restaurants here in Georgia. It’s very easy to find, just off I-85 going south after the Downtown Connector has split, and I am surprised, now that I have been here, that I never heard of it before. In all the many conversations and lists about barbecue in the Atlanta area, this place has remained one of the city’s best-kept secrets.

It must be said that, however, that my kids didn’t enjoy it at all, and rather wished that it had remained a secret. On the other hand, happily, I had a simple, good meal here and quite enjoyed the experience. Several months ago, I wrote a chapter about The Old Hickory House in Dunwoody, reflecting how this fading restaurant is not at all what it used to be. Barbecue Kitchen is exactly how the Old Hickory House used to be. It was like stepping back in time thirty years to when that place was packed, loud and vibrant.

While my meal was indeed very good, I really was not able to finish it. We tried sharing plates and small portions at our earlier destinations, but Barbecue Kitchen absolutely leveled us with the amount of food that they pile in front of guests. I coined the phrase “insane metric buttload of food” to describe how much was put in front of me. Even if I was not already satisfied by our small meals in middle Georgia, this would have been too much for me to finish. This place gives you free refills on your vegetables, probably with the understanding that nobody’s going to be hungry enough after a first course to still be wanting more.

So this time out, we decided that I would order a barbecue plate, and Marie would get three veggies, and the kids would each get a single side and a dessert. Now, maybe I was stymied by pork-goggles or something, but that looks like a really gigantic pile of food that our server, a delightful lady who, saucily, would not divulge how long she’d been with the restaurant, but conceded that her husband would often bring her to supper here when they were dating, laid down in front of me. I wouldn’t really call any of it exceptional, but very good comfort food. I enjoyed the stew best of all. The sauce, very thick and amazingly sweet, got Marie’s seal of approval. She also enjoyed her green beans and creamed corn.

For their desserts, the kids each had a slice of cake. My son had coconut and my daughter had red velvet. They had been very good on this road trip and deserved them, I thought. Normally, the cliche is that you can get dessert only if you clean your plate. On this trip, nobody cleaned their plates. We were all completely stuffed. The lesson learned, perhaps, is that the next time we do a little eating tour, we need to space the restaurants out a little bit more. Two small meals and one gigantic one in such a short afternoon simply does not work!