The Atlanta food scene has really changed so much over the past few years. I started coming here some 6 years ago, eating in various places from bar b q to fine dining. It was okay but not stunning. One restaurant stood out, Rolling Bones bar b q restaurant. Sadly it has now closed, which is a real shame because the food was pretty damn good. Décor was not really bothered with, the main focus being on the food. Long, slow-smoked cooking was the order of the day, anything from baby back ribs to brisket. All smoked over seasoned logs and up to 15 hours with not a gas flame in sight. This was real bar b q and tons of it. I have had a pretty serious passion for real bar b q ever since I went to North Carolina years ago.
I have to say I was slightly disappointed when I found out that it had closed, but my friend Richard assured me there were plenty more so we set about researching new restaurants. Finally, we narrowed it down to 3, Farm Burger, a small chain of great, fast food burger bars. King & Duke is a brilliant restaurant serving food solely cooked over wood, yes wood. And Fox Brothers Bar B Q, the quintessential bar b q, full-on. All very busy and from the reviews looked really interesting and very positive.
I first ate at Farm Burger on their premises in Decatur some 2 years ago. The place was slightly out from the centre of Atlanta, about a 10-minute drive. It was cool, slick and very relaxed. They now have branches in town, and the menu has expanded quite considerably. They pride themselves on the quality of their ingredients, and rightly so. Their blurb says the meat is 100% organic, dry-aged. All cows are fed on grass (no grain) not too sure about that. I have no antibiotics or growth hormones. They are very committed to their cause, and I quote, ‘Our goal is to connect soil, animal, plant, rancher, butcher, chef & you….all in a simple wire basket’ there you go.
The concept is straightforward: order a burger and add various bits and pieces to it for a small extra cost. Sides are also available. So I plumped for a burger with Iceberg, Duke’s mayo, fried egg, fries and a side of roasted bone marrow and fries. All burgers are cooked to your liking; I like mine medium/rare. The food was delicious; the burger was nicely packed and seasoned and cooked perfectly. So was the egg, and it tasted great. The long shard of marrow beef bone was topped with breadcrumb topping and was very good indeed. Fries, skin on, crispy nicely coloured shards were superb, seasoned well and plenty of them.
The staff are very knowledgeable and accommodating, and the meal, whilst not cheap, was still excellent value for money (about $15) and very well cooked. In my eyes, this is how a burger joint should be: simple, great value and strict focus on cooking and service… I love it!!!!
The next stop was King & Duke, the new smart restaurant downtown. Here all the cooking is done over burning logs, which sounds great, but also needs strict and careful attention. Richard, my friend, tells me that the fans went down one night and the whole restaurant was filled with smoke, all diners had to be evacuated…Having cooked professionally for many years, the thought of keeping an eye on burning logs and keeping the same heat level as well as cooking fills me with horror. My wood-fired experience, outdoor oven cooking is pretty good, but I have realised that it needs careful and constant attention. Imagine that twice a day, seven days a week, good luck!!!
The restaurant is a slick operation and caters for a lot of diners. I did not get a chance to see the full restaurant over two levels, but it’s pretty big and bangs out lots of food. The kitchen is open plan, and you can see the guys roasting, smoking and grilling. There are 4 seats at either end of the bar/counter if you really want to watch all the cooking going on.
The menu is a mix of grills, roasting and smoking. Impressive starters range from candied lamb belly to charred octopus salad. Next, we plump for glazed pork belly with apple butter and chestnuts, roasted bone marrow with herb and caper salad & short rib marmalade and Little Gem salad with blue cheese dressing. A taster arrives of a smooth chicken liver parfait. Then texture is good, and a tinge of bitterness slightly mars the full flavour. A small part of the green bile sac has been left in the livers when processing, sadly. The glazed pork belly is rich and succulent. A Yorkshire pudding as a taster also. Mmmm, they need a hand here; it’s leaden, heavy and too salty.
The belly is almost pure fat, cooked to a jelly, and wobbly. It’s superb, but not for those who are looking after their Cholesterol levels. My bone marrow is a huge split bone, packed full of lots of jellified marrow and smoked. It’s a big eat but well worth the effort. Fern’s salad is also fine and well balanced.
Mains arrive; I have the ‘Bone-In Strip’ (steak) with good fries and mushrooms. The steak is grilled on the bone, then sliced and put back together. The flavour is good, and the steak is cooked perfectly, not raw but rare. It’s amazing the number of chefs who cannot tell the difference. Richard has the Roasted Grass-Root Farms Duck. It came with preserved leg meat, sauerkraut and persimmons; it too was very good. Fern went for Roasted Scallops with Caramelized Endive, Fennel and Grapefruit. A nice dish well worked, beautiful big firm scallops, but sadly gritty, not good. It’s a real bugbear of mine, like gritty mussels, razor clams or cockles. Oh well, such a shame. Sides of a Dirty Potato Salad? (not sure what was dirty about it) and Crispy Brussel Sprouts With Chestnuts & Lemon were very nice. Sprouts are all the rage in Atlanta. That’s the third time in 3 days I have seen them on menus. I have to say vegetarians are well catered for here, with a good selection of inventive offerings.
I always find desserts a bit of a letdown. By that, I mean chefs spend hours on starters and mains but always seem to neglect the sweet course. A ‘turned out’ Crème Brulee with Chocolate, Cookie and Iced coffee Ice Cream? The Brulee was like an ice hockey puck, firm and tasteless. Coconut Cream Pie was better, light and had a flavour and texture of Bounty bar. The pastry was slightly overcooked but was not burnt, the meringue was good. The star was waiting for it… Sticky Toffee Pudding, yes with Black & Tan Sauce. Who would have thought that a dish created in Cumbria, although hotly disputed whether Sharrow Bay Hotel or The Miller Howe Hotel invented the pud, would be in the USA? It was light, fluffy and with plenty of deeply flavoured sauce. Chefs NEVER serve enough sauce, but here it was perfect, the waitress agreed. All in all, a very good meal in a cracking restaurant, you must check it out.
Finally, Fox Brothers, a cracking Bar b q hang outset in an old garage still complete with roller doors. The restaurant was set up by 2 brothers Jonathan and Justin Fox, in 2005 and had never really looked back. It’s cool and has an instant relaxed feel to it, whilst not taking itself too seriously. The menu is long and has daily specials.
Starters include Fried Ribs, Award-Winning Chilli, and a dish called The Tomminator, sort of round hash browns, topped with Brunswick stew (originally made from squirrels) topped with melted cheese. One special is a small bag of chips (crisps) opened, and topped with Brunswick stew and cheese, served in the bag. Only in America, I hear you shout! The chilli is powerful, the cornbread light and fluffy. We feasted on a Combo Plate, so a little fried chicken, smoked brisket, ribs, chicken and pulled pork all very good. The special of the day was 10 hours, smoked long beef ribs. The jet black exterior of this huge chunk of meat (600g) is slightly off-putting until you break the crust. After that, it’s incredibly juicy, succulent and lightly smoked. After that, the meat falls off the bone. The waiter explains that they do about 25 on a Tuesday and are all gone by 1.30 pm. It is probably the best piece of bar-b-q beef I have had since filming in Houston a few years ago at The Armadillo restaurant. I drink a very dark hoppy ale that compliments the food perfectly.
On the way out of the restaurant, you pass several small chimneys on small ovens, all with a cloud of light smoke coming out of them. There is also a small trailer with a smoker on it wafting away; this is real cooking. Well, I will be back, hopefully in the summer, and this will be my first stop, I think, quickly followed by the other two.
As I said earlier, the food scene is rapidly changing here and for the better. I really wanted to go to a restaurant called Abattoir, which’s leading the way, but I have missed out twice now, as it is always closed when I seem to be in Atlanta. Keeping my fingers crossed for next time! I’ll let you know.
I once did a piece to camera in Times Square when filming there some years ago. I said, ‘America has a reputation for having pretty awful food, well I’m here to prove it ain’t all bad’ Well if this last trip is anything to go by, the arrow is definitely pointing upwards.
3365 Piedmont Rd
King & Duke
3060 Peachtree Rd NW at W. Paces Ferry Rd
Fox Brothers Bar B Q
1238 Dekalb Ave NE