The Atlanta food scene has really changed so much over the past few years. I first 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 a very smart 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 in their premises in Decateur some 2 years ago. The place was 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, 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 very simple, order a burger, and then add various bits and pieces to it for a small extra cost. Sides are also available. So I plumped for 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 nicely packed and seasoned and cooked perfectly. So was the egg and 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.
Staff are very knowledgeable and very helpful and the meal whilst not cheap was still very good value for money (about $15) and very well cooked. This is how a burger joint should be in my eyes, simple, great value and strict focus on cooking and service….love it!!!!
Next stop was King & Duke and new smart restaurant in 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 one night the fans went down and the whole restaurant as filled with smoke, all diners had to be evacuated…Having cooked professionally for many years, the thought of having to keep an eye on burning logs and keeping the same heat level as well as cooking fills me with horror. My experience of wood fired, outdoor oven cooking is pretty good, but 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 its 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 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. 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 the full flavour is slightly marred by a tinge of bitterness. 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, its leaden, heavy and too salty.
The belly is almost pure fat, cooked to a jelly, and wobbly. Its 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. Its amazing the amount 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 bug bear 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 let down, 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. Pastry was slightly overcooked, but was not burnt, the meringue was good. The star was wait 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. Its was light, fluffy and with plenty of deep 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 out set in an old garage still complete with roller doors. The restaurant was set up by 2 brothers Jonathan and Justin Fox in 2005 and has never really looked back. Its cool and has a 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 corn bread 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 hour smoked long beef ribs. The jet black exterior of this huge chunk of meat (600g) is slightly off putting until you break the crust. Its incredibly juicy, succulent and lightly smoked. The meat falls off the bone. The waiter explains that they do about 25 on a Tuesday and are all gone by 1.30pm. Its 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 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, that’s leading the way, but have missed out twice now, as its 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 Time 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