Tuesday, April 25, 2017

DAS Barbecue
"Atlanta's Hottest New Joint"!

In September 2016, I began working on the north side of downtown Atlanta.  Somewhere along the way, I had probably said "I'd never work in downtown Atlanta".  After a 7 year stint working in the Atlanta suburbs and getting to know "the lay of the land", working inside of "the perimeter, while never being desirable" became "acceptable" considering the opportunity to serve as the Executive Director of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia.  I had figured that aside from leading one of the country's largest pension fund systems, there had to be some additional advantages that I had not discovered yet.  Today was one of those days where I found another reason to make working in Atlanta work despite a daily commute of 78 miles one way...DAS BBQ.

DAS is one of Atltanta's hottest new resturants.  Located on Collier Road which is just off Howell Mill Road, DAS has only been open a few months as of this post.  I'd first heard of DAS from a tweet or some other social media post by author Charles Martin who is a long time friend of owner Stephen Franklin.  I'd received another report or two that DAS was really good from colleagues who'd visited the place.  After reconnecting with long time friend and former Forsyth County Schools Human Resources Director, Candy Norton, and knowing of my incessant desire to experience good barbecue, Candy and I agreed to try it for lunch one day.  Of course, Candy had beaten me to the punch and had already visited DAS with friends.  She knew what she was getting me into!    

Dr. Norton picked me up at 2 Northside 75 in her high tech Tesla SUV, and Tessie, with her 5 gallon bucket sized display screen led us to the Collier Road address of DAS.  We arrived early, so we had no problem finding a good parking place.  I emphasize "arrived early".  If you wait until 12 to get there, you'll struggle to find parking plus you'll stand in line a bit.  We got out and since Candy had already visited joint on another occasion, she knew where to look around the side of the building in order to introduce me to "Poncho and Lefty."  Pictured below are the two, genuine 500 gallon wood fired smokers who have been named such.  Yes, genuine, no propane, etc. wood fired smokers that burn off of a mixture of 50% hickory and 50% pecan wood.  The elder Franklin would later explain why that mix is the one that works for DAS.

Candy introduced me to one of the most enthusiastic, extroverted BBQ pitmasters I've ever met.  Stephen Franklin grew up in the Atlanta area of Vinings.  His dad, among other things, was a professor at Emory and long time barbecue lover and judge.  When we met Steve, he was attending to the duties around the pit while getting ready for the lunch rush.  I told Stephen that I'd first heard about DAS through a tweet from Charles Martin.  He really liked that, and then told me "you've got to come inside and meet "Pops".  Pops, in addition to being Stephen's Dad (Steve) was somewhat of a mentor to Charles Martin who has written a number of books that include settings in the southeastern US.  The entire Evans clan has read ALL of the Martin books!  Stephen nor Pop's have ever met a stranger or so it seems, so we jumped into a conversation that lasted for at least an hour.  We talked barbecue, south Georgia, Texas and its barbecue, the success of the new venture as well as how this business came to be.  

We arrived early enough to get a seat with Pops, place our order, and then begin to watch the line begin to form.  By the time we had gotten our meal, the line was backed up to the entry of the door....a good sign for a barbecue joint.  DAS is one of those places where you walk up to the counter, place your order, have a seat, and then they'll call out your name and you come up and get your order.  While that service format may cut down on the presence of waitors and waitresses, there is something most gratifying about picking up your food from the counter and savoring it all the way back to the table.  This is what ours looked like.

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WOW!!!  We ordered the 3 meat plate that included ribs, sliced brisket, and pulled pork. The sides I ordered were Brunswick stew and collards.  I had already sampled the two types of sauces offered by DAS:  A sort of mild tomato based sauce that was infused with expresso (coffee) and their mustard based sauce that is about as much peach sauce as it is mustard. Both were wonderful on all 3 of the meats.

I really didn't know where to start on the meats.  All 3 had great appearance from the visible smoke rings, attractive coloring, and light bark.  I chose to start with the pulled pork.  Simply put, the best I've had in months.  They have their own secrets and strategies, but suffice it to say that the bbq is fresh, moist, and well taken care of from purchase, through the smoking, and to the table.  The brisket was tender, juicy, and full of that great, beefy flavor.  The ribs were totally to die for!!!  They were tender enough to be "fall off the bone", but they didn't! The taste on all 3 of these distinctive meat options were exceptional.  On the scale of 1 to 5, we are pushing the 5 limits on these.  

Normally I write about the Brunswick stew first simply to get it out of the way.  I suppose I was so excited about the meats I held back on the stew, but DAS's stew and other sides compliment their menu nicely.  The stew was meaty.  There was no effort to go light on the meat based stew.  There's a bit more corn in the stew along with the tomatoes, but it is light on the potatoes, and that's good for us low carb dieters.  The stew had great coloring and appearance.  It's taste was clean and flavorful.  In all reality, the stew could have been my meal for the day.  

Usually after a meal like this, I would not even think about dessert.  I had noticed that the desert option included a banana pudding and also a peanut butter/chocolate pudding. Steve Franklin said he really liked the banana pudding.  We opted for the Peanut Butter/Chocolate.  While I'm sure that either choice would have been great, there's something about this chocolate peanut butter dish that just makes you smile.

Atlanta continues to be home to some of the south's greatest barbecue joints.  I've been to about all of them.  DAS happens to be one of the hottest restaurants in Atlanta right now according to Atlanta Eater  http://atlanta.eater.com/maps/best-new-atlanta-restaurants-heatmap.  I can't wait for a return trip to this northwest Atlanta hotspot that's making working in Atlanta just a bit more exciting.  


Papa Buck's BBQ.  Metter, GA.


Anyone who has driven the stretch of I-16 between Macon and Savannah very much knows that there are only a couple of even halfway decent exits to stop and eat along that stretch.  If you leave Macon heading toward Savannah, you really don't want to stop in Dublin as you have barely been on the road for less than an hour.  By the time you get to Metter, you are thinking, "my gosh, I didn't think I'd ever find a place to take a break!"  Well, the good news is that Metter has several good options for taking a break, including getting barbecue.  Years ago, I had discovered Jomax BBQ, and it was very good as best as I remember.  It did not, however, leave me with the feeling that "I've got to make it a priority to go back anytime really soon."  

Let me digress just a moment regarding Metter.  My first real appreciation for the town of Metter came back around 1992 which would be about 25 years ago.  At that time in my life, I was into road cycling.  Three other friends of mine from Eastman (Wayne Smith, Joe Taylor, and Rae Taylor), where we lived at the time, decided to do the second half of one of Georgia's great cycling events, Bike Ride Across Georgia.  We had joined up with BRAG in Eastman on a Thursday with the goal to end up in Savannah on Saturday of that week.  Day 1 of the ride was filled with enthusiasm and great adrenalin flow.  We spent the night in Vidalia, and then Day 2 would have us riding from Vidalia to Statesboro.  There are some things that you learn in taking up new adventures, and one of the things you learn in long distance cycling is effectives uses of things like Vaseline and baby powder.  Without getting highly descriptive, we were so glad to get to Metter about mid-day of that trip to find a drug store in order to find some much needed Vaseline!  

They've said for a long time "things are better in Metter!"  While I can't say it is a place that I have a desire to live, I can say it's work a stop along I-16 to grab a barbecue meal.  On this day, I was traveling alone to Savannah.  I had heard of Papa Buck's www.papabucks.com, and I had wanted to eat there at some point.  I made it a priority to time my trip accordingly.  I got to the joint, and it certainly qualifies as a "joint", before the lunch crowd really began gathering (and they eventually did about the time I was leaving), I easily found a seat and within an acceptable period of time was waited on by one of  the several waitresses who all wore tight pants with a Papa Buck's T-shirt for the top.  Knowing the young, south Georgia redneck population the way that I think I do, I'm guessing that some of these guys were showing up partly for the barbecue and partly because of the friendly waitress staff!

The barbecue offerings at Papa Buck's are exceptional.  The menus is relatively extensive with offierings including bbq chicken, pulled pork, pork loin,  ribs, brisket, turkey, hamburgers, and chicken fingers.

Home of the PIGZILLA. 

Advertized proudly, both inside and outside of the building, is something about "Pigzilla". The Pigzilla is 3 pounds of pulled pork covered in bbq sauce and served on a 1 pound Hawaiian sweet bread roll.  The challenger has 45 minutes to consume the entire meal.  Allegedly folks will drive from long distances to take on this challenge.

I skipped the Pigzilla and went for my typical first visit meal.  I ordered a barbecue pork sandwich and a small Brunswick stew.  The order came out quite promptly, and as evidenced in the picture, it had a very good appeal.  First, the stew.  The stew was a good mix of meat, sauces, and vegetables.  The color was appealing and the flavor was quite good.  There was a good mix of corn, tomatoes, potatoes, but some of my favorites such as okra or small butterbeans were scarce to non-existent.  Overall, though, I'd give the stew a good 3+ on a scale of 1 to 5.

The barbecue sandwich was ample in size.  The appearance was good, however, the meat was pre-sauced and the option of sauce on the side with several sauce options apparently doesn't exist.  There was sauce on the table for adding more to the meat, and I did that mainly to explore their sauce.  It was a good "middle of the road" sauce that wasn't too sweet nor too hot.  The barbecue as well gets a 3+, but frankly, it was really good.  

By the time that I was wrapping up my meal, the place had begun to fill.  You could tell this was a local favorite.  A couple of law enforcement groups showed up, loggers, farmers, old-timers, and even couples enjoing a mid-day barbecue adventure all showed up.  I paid my very inexpensive tab, and then continued my journey to Savannah.  

Given the variety on the menu, there are several more reasons why I'll stop in Metter again one day.  I can't wait to try a brisket order as well as their ribs.  In conclusion, though they are nothing much to look at from the outside, both Papa Buck's and Jomax come highly rated as a place to dine along the I-16 route to the Georgia coast.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Heirloom BBQ Market, Atlanta, GA.

Heirloom BBQ Market, Atlanta, GA.  Just off I-285 on the "top end" is a little BBQ joint that has consistently received positive state and national rankings.  For most people in Georgia, it is a bit hard to get to, but the fact is, there are hundreds of thousands of people living almost within eyesight of the joint.  Not only are there hundreds of thousands of people, you can nearly see the top of the new Braves stadium from Heirloom.  It is worth the effort to find the place, and I am certain that the presence of the Braves just across the interstate will only increase this joint's popularity in Georgia.

Heirloom is unlike most any joint I've been to in Georgia.  While it is similar to some joints where you order when you walk in the place, the difference is that when you get your food, the only "eat in" option is to go stand up around one of several counters or round tables that are out on the patio.  When you get out there, you will likely find yourself dining with mostly men in everything from construction dress to business suits.  That's the thing about BBQ, it brings us all together regardless of income levels.

Being my first visit to Heirloom, I ordered my "first visit" normal of a pulled pork sandwich and Brunswick stew.  I started in on the stew that you can see in the picture.  It had great color, plenty of meat, and an almost perfect consistency that was neither "soupy" nor "hash"!  The stew was just hot enough to make my forehead feel like I was having a little heat, but not so hot that the taste was affected.  The portion size was more than adequate, and frankly, it could have served as my meal itself.

The BBQ sandwich was fantastic!  The pulled pork was clean but had enough bark to give it character.  The portion size was larger than normal, and it was served on a "better than normal" quality bun.  I tried the house sauce, which was just sort of a normal KC style sauce, and it complimented the sandwich nicely.  While not even eating the top of the bun with the sandwich, I was full before finishing the meal.  

Another unique offering of Heirloom is their "Jasmine Sweet Tea".  Now I am sure that my south Georgia sweet tea drinking purist friends won't find this that attractive, but the reality is that this was a really neat twist to the favored drink of the south.  

So, what's my rating and what could make it any better?  My rating is a 4.5 of 5.  That's pretty darn good considering all factors.  While I have no problem at all with the atmosphere, I would loved to have been able to had a sampling of their other sauces.  They may have been available, but if they were, they were well hidden.  Heirloom does have some other great entrees that I'll have to try on future visits including brisket, ribs, chicken, and a spicy/Korean style pork.  The pricing was a bit higher than most BBQ joints, but the reality is that the cost of doing business inside the perimeter is simply higher.  

All in all, this is a great place to try, and me and my colleagues at TRS will surely return.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hot Thomas, Watkinsville, GA...It's Hot and a Top 10 in Georgia

Hot Thomas BBQ.  Watkinsville, GA. 

My best friends know I love barbecue and the sport of trying out places that I've never been before.  Today I was introduced to a true gem of a southern bbq joint.  I can't believe I hadn't found this place before.   Though it is off the beaten path, it is worth a drive to find and experience great barbecue, some of the nicest folks you'll ever meet, and be in the county that has what I consider one of the top school systems in Georgia.  Long time friend, Superintendent Dr. Jason Branch and I enjoyed some time of business both before, during, and after the bbq experience.  We headed out to Oconee County Commissioner Mark Thomas' farm and bbq joint with the promise that I would not be disappointed, especially if I sampled the chocolate pie.  As we parked in the gravel parking lot outside of this building that I'd guess is at least 50 years old, I noticed the "outdoor entry" to the bathroom.  I felt that was a great sign as to what I'd find inside!  We walked in and I was greeted with d├ęcor that reached back into generations in the Thomas family.  Old pictures, antiques, old soft drink bottles, and other nostalgic items were on all of the walls.  This is a walk up to the counter, place your order, and then they bring it to you kind of place.  Nothing fancy here except the food and the folks. 

I ordered a bbq sandwich, Brunswick stew, and OMG, chicken mull.  It had been a few years since I'd had chicken mull but had remembered that it was especially good, so I had to add that to my order as a side.  Jason and I chatted with the owner and his daughter who are just really fantastic examples of hard working, successful members of the Oconee County community.  Our food came out quickly enough, and the delight continued.  The stew is not the most visually appealing stew I've ever seen, but its taste was awesome.  It is more of a hash type of stew with awesome flavor.  Even before getting to the bbq, I had to sample the chicken mull.  Hot Thomas is known throughout the area for their mull.  For the uninitiated, chicken mull is a chicken type of stew made from boiled chicken, broth, milk, saltine crackers, and salt and pepper.  It is truly a great type of "stew".

Now to the barbecue.  Hot Thomas' bbq is probably the cleanest, most fat free bbq I've ever eaten.  You won't find an abundance of fat and bark in your bbq there, or at least that was what I experienced.  It was clean, flavorful, and sufficient quantity on the bun.  I especially liked their hot, ketchup based sweet sauce that was hot enough to feel but only complimented the flavor. 

For dessert, and yes, I did have dessert as my old childhood friend Zoe had suggested the chocolate pie.  Oh my!!!  It was a divine meal unparalleled in quite some time! 

Following the meal was another wonderful treat as Mark Thomas gave us a tour of the old cotton seed house, cotton gin, and parts of the Thomas farm property.  The place is used for special events such as weddings, political gatherings, and community events.  It's really much like stepping back in time some 40 years or so, and for a nostalgic old guy like me, it was a joy. 

Prompting this posting was not just my experience at the place today, but also that when I got home this evening, I ran across a web based posting of Georgia's top bbq joints.  Hot Thomas came in at number 9 among an all star list of places.  Most impressive and well deserved! 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Where There's Smoke, Meansville, GA

Where There's Smoke. One of the perks of having a job where I get to travel the entire state is that I get to visit new Bbq joints on a regular occasion.  Today gave me an opportunity to do just that, and it was a stop worth reporting. AJ and I decided to take the scenic route back from Gainesville. After missing a joint in Winder, we thought we'd find one in Monroe or Social Circle. That didn't pan out, and we'd about decided to just swing back through Flovilla to the original Fresh Air. As we slowed down going through Meansville, we saw today's stop. We made the quick decision to try it out.

We parked out back, right beside the smokehouse where the old style smoker was emitting the wonderful smell of Bbq enhanced smoke. Upon entering Where There's Smoke, it was much like stepping back in time 50 years!  The waitress was friendly enough and I quickly picked out my usual first joint visit order of a sandwich and stew. AJ got both a sandwich and a hamburger in order to see how the burger compared to our beloved Scott's in Cochran.  While waiting, I sampled spoonfuls of their 3 sauces:  original, South Carolina Mustard, and the first I'd ever tried Sweet Heat that was made with molasses.  Now that was a treat!

The orders came out quickly enough.  The sandwich had a great portion of attractive pulled pork. The stew had a good appearance, and it's taste did not disappoint. It wasn't too heavy with either potatoes or tomatoes.  The pork was awesome. I tried it with all 3 sauces and then just blended them all together.

Overall, I have to give both the pork and stew scores of 4.5 out of 5. As much as for any reason, this by chance finding was a gem that I hope to revisit some day.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Angel's BBQ. Savannah, GA

Angel's BBQ, Savannah, GA.

Summers in Savsnnah can be brutally hot. July 2015 was one of those summer months that was hotter than normal. I was there attending a conference, and the urge for bbq surged. A friend had told me about a little joint off of the beaten path in the historic district. I did a couple of google searches and figured the place must be Angel's.   I walked the nearly two miles in the sweltering heat hoping that the effort would be worth it.
I arrived dripping in sweat and made my way into the little joint that was old, small, and brimming with character. I ordered at the counter my typical BBQ sandwich and one side. They didn't have Brunswick stew, so I chose baked beans. The lady who took my order, the co-owner, told me she would bring me my order. I sat at the smallest of the three tables in the place. I filled up several small sauce cups with several types including a peanut sauce, sweet, Angel drops, and house.  I tasted them all, and honestly found each uniquely good. My order came out quickly. I sampled the beans. They were good. Can't say they were the best I had ever had, but they were certainly large in portion size.
The sandwich was very large in size. The pulled BBQ pork was was clean and had an attractive appearance. There was enough BBQ that I could try all the sauces as well as have it plain.
I chatted with the owners about their business and our love for BBQ. They shared that just yesterday they had celebrated their 10 year anniversary in business.
Angels is a bit hard to find. Not much to look at when you get there, but clearly a place you should try when in Savannah.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Barrelhouse BBQ - Lynchburg, TN.

Barrelhouse BBQ - Lynchburg, TN. 
The little town of Lynchburg exists largely in part to the presence of the Jack Daniels Distillery.  People from all over the world flock to this little rural, out of the way, town to tour what I guess is one of the world's largest distilleries.  Whether you drink Tennessee sippin whiskey or not, a tour of the distillery and a stroll through town is worth the effort if you are in south central Tennessee.  There are at least 3 little diners in town who proclaim they are bbq joints.  Each of the little joints appear to have their own little sense of character.  Barrelhouse has its own uniqueness.  This is a small little joint sitting down the hill from the main part of this one square town.  Even though it was a Saturday afternoon, it was somewhat disappointing that there was no obvious "meat smoking" going on while we were there.  The place had a good crowd in it and the waitress was very polite and helpful.  She took our order while we sat on the authentic Jack Daniels bar stools.  While waiting for our food, we sampled the sauces.  The mild was certainly the best, but it still had a little bit of bite.  The other two sauces were a bit more on the hot side including the hottest being one that contained ghost chili peppers. 
The Barrelhouse doesn't offer stew, so Debbie and I both had the slaw as a side.  The slaw was actually pretty good.  The sandwich was well portioned with sort of stringy pulled pork.  On a scale of 1 to 5, I can only give this pork a 3 on this given day.  The experience was fine as we found another little bbq joint gem in the south.  Oh, yeah, I should add that all of the sauces allegedly have a Jack base to them which gives them a bit of a unique taste, and one that really is worth experiencing.