Mar 29, 2014

Tactical (Restaurant) Review: Sweet Auburn Barbecue

The word barbecue here in the south holds a reverence unlike any other. Mention it and watch the passion ensue. And how can it not? Slow cooked foods touched with wisps of smoke, heightened by aggressive spice rubs or bolstered by one of the kings of condiments, BBQ sauce. It is the ultimate comfort food. Building upon generations of tradition, a recent slew of regional/ethnic slants have brought diversity that most culinary genres would be jealous of. It reminds me of the passion and dedication our fire service pays towards our cherished fire helmets. Names like Cairns, Bullard, and Morning Pride will stimulate spirited debate. There are both timeless zeitgeists that are rooted deep into their respective cultures and helps identify many a southerner/firefighter’s view on tradition, innovation, and pride.

Traditional fire helmet.
Today's modern fire helmet. 

This may play in no small part my passion for finding good barbecue here in Atlanta. My attempts have been many: Heirloom Market, Bone Lick, Community, One Star Ranch and Moonies to name but a few, all to varying success and disappointment. Much like finding the right fit and style fire helmet, it’s a very personal decision but all can agree on the basics; well smoked proteins, delicious and varied sides and a fun atmosphere. All this exposition brings me to my latest attempt and finding the right fit to Sweet Auburn Barbecue.

Having cut their teeth in the congested roads of Atlanta whilst wagging war with the other ever-increasing horde of food trucks that are setting up shop on our street corners, they have come up with a hard nose mentality that one can’t help but respect. My wife and I visited their most recent address here in ATL, the Poncey-Highlands brick-n-mortar spot, to find out what all the recent buzz was all about. The location is in a corner commercial structure appropriately colored with grays, blues and whites and the large BARBECUE sign make it easy to find. Plentiful parking is across the street and as of this review, free.

Upon entry, one is greeted with a wood laden bar lined with many a bottle. The man behind the bar, a 20 something with close-cropped fashionable mustache so popularized today as an ode to easier times, mans the drinks. In fact, the trendy vibe of the place extended to the entire wait staff. At times part cockiness, part enthusiasm; it was an odd mix of a staff that knows something that the patrons don’t. Like, this place is good and it doesn’t need a hard sale but if you ask, we’ll give it to you, and then some.

Whatever the serving style, I didn’t care. I was here for the food.  Having heard that the Pimento Cheese Wontons were the appetizer of choice (besides their wings), my wife and I started there.  I mean really, Pimento Cheese Wontons? At a barbecue joint? It was the kind of whimsical take on a classic that last throughout the meal. Well fried with a morsel of smoked meat in the middle and sprinkled with green onions, it was a great pairing with the provided acidic BBQ sauce. It was a great first offering.

The Rueben Sandwich.
Plenty of smoked brisket.
Our first entrée arrived in the form of their version of a Rueben sandwich; buttered Texas toast, a fried egg, generous amount of smoked brisket, dry coleslaw, and some of the best house made pickles we’ve had in years. It was a glorious bite, very inventive (similar to Heirloom Market), and served along side some expertly garlic seasoned fries. This is what I had come for, something that the average weekend smoker wouldn’t think of when making barbecue for the family on any given Sunday. It was good, people.

The Dinosaur Bone
With my wife going non-traditional, I went the other way and got what they aptly named the Dinosaur Bone, a large, single beef spare rib seasoned simply with salt and pepper (though I detected thyme, oregano and other herbs), a trail of BBQ sauce and the same house made pickles and buttered Texas toast. One lift of the bone from the micro hotel pan and the meat happily separated from the bone. Well flavored and seasoned, and take note firemen, it was what a man’s portion should be. Though in my opinion, the meat could have used a little more time in the smoker, but after a second round of the amazing pickles, I didn’t care.

A nice little treat for the bulldog at home.
Note that the desserts looked equally playful and delicious, but we were stuffed. That, and the sun was out calling our name and a quick walk down the street would bring us to Paolo’s Gelato, so we skipped this time.

With the décor, vibe, and staff to boost an overall fun atmosphere, it would all be for not if the food didn’t match. Thankfully, Sweet Auburn Barbecue delivered, all the while reminding us what fun barbecue can be, when placed in the hands of those willing to go down paths less travelled. Traditional with whimsy, that about sums it up, a strong recommend.

March 2014

3.5 Alarms.

Sweet Auburn Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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