Dave and DAS vs Smoke Ring and Thompson Brothers – The D’s Have IT!
It has been a long time since our last brotherhood review, but I guess this “time off” has allowed me to reflect on several things. As I attempt to recall these meals (Dave Poe’s in February, Smoke Ring in March, Thompson Brothers in April, and DAS BBQ in May), several things hit me, and I’d like to share those with you. But first, the reviews.
I’ll start with the so-sos. Smoke Ring is about a driver and a 4-iron from the Georgia Dome. They did have good pork skins, but from what I remember, when asked about their meals everyone pretty much said “it’s ok.” To a point I will make later, on their website it says “Don’t forget about our Specialty Bloody Mary’s and Bottomless Mimosas!” The website also touts their Executive Chef and his devotion to southern BBQ and southern cuisine. I’m sure that cuisine is excellent, but that wasn’t why we were there. If you want cuisine, go there for brunch and have a ball – I imagine it is delicious. For BBQ go somewhere else. 2.5 cleavers.
Next is Thompson Brothers in Smyrna. “Our secret is in the smoke!” It must have been a really good secret because I didn’t taste any. I had the ribs which were cooked well, but there was no smoke or bark. I don’t remember anything else except Brother Nomad had some sausage type sandwich and said it was like a hotdog and he ate one bite. Need I say more? 2 cleavers.
To cut to the chase, Dave Poe’s and DAS BBQ were incredible. Dave Poe’s is always consistent (I ate there again the other day and had a good conversation with Dave about the difference the quality of the meat makes – I’ll share that another time), and our February meeting was no different. I think we had 12 brothers and first-timers there, and everyone left happy. Pork was great, ribs were fantastic, chicken was perfect. Their redneck lasagna is the best side on the menu, along with the mac & cheese and Brunswick Stew. I’ll give Dave Poe’s 4.5 cleavers because when I went to DAS BBQ 2 weeks ago, it was even better.
DAS BBQ is on Collier Road, tucked back in by Howell Mill, Moore’s Mill, and Defoor’s Ferry like the lost city of Atlantis. I parked next to the smokeroom, and stepped in to talk to Justus, the pitmaster. We had a great conversation about the ribs (which he was just taking out of the smoker) and how I had yet to find my holy grail. He peeled back the foil, and I could tell right away these were already in the top tier. He also suggested we try the sliced brisket, that it was his favorite. Armed with the knowledge I needed, I stepped in and ordered the ribs and brisket, with mac & cheese and Brunswick stew.
I tried the ribs and slid out of my seat into the floor. What a start to a meal – FINALLY! I had found it, and no sauce needed. I’m declaring it here – the best rib in Atlanta. Dave Poe’s, Community BBQ, Fox Brothers, Spiced Right, and ‘Cue are just behind, but DAS takes top honors. I had ordered the fatty brisket, and it did not disappoint – perfectly cooked and delicious. The mac & cheese was fantastic too, but the Brunswick Stew was also the best I had ever had. It had a little kick which was a nice surprise, but there was probably enough meat in it to make a separate pork sandwich. I devoured the ribs (after giving one to Brother Taters), and the rest of my meal knowing I would not need dinner that night. 5 cleavers and I cannot wait to go back.
OK to my spiritual reflection. You and I have made good bbq at home. We have smoked a butt, wings, etc. We have cooked ribs, made beer-butt chicken, and everyone has their methods that they swear by. But we have to admit, it doesn’t always come out the way we want it to. It’s usually pretty good, but when the family is waiting to eat and the chicken could really use 20-30 more minutes to reach that perfect status, sometimes we suck it up and pull the bird early. Or the temp won’t come down on the Weber/Egg as fast as we would like, so the ribs cook a little fast and we panic and pull them a little early. Whatever. I can’t imagine consistently cooking pounds and pounds of food for patrons who expect perfection every time. On meat that needs to cook overnight. THAT TAKES COMMITMENT. And patience. And the willingness to REQUIRE that your staff and your restaurant don’t accept anything less. THAT is the difference. THAT is what makes Fox Brothers, Dave Poe’s, Sam’s BBQ, (and after last week I now put DAS BBQ in that category) better than everyone else.
Second, you may think you can open a trendy BBQ restaurant with cute sauces, or Asian/Mexican flair (although this gets Brother Taters every time), or even a new method guaranteed to cut cooking time in half and have the same results. Heirloom is the only exception. BUT BBQ AND TRENDY DON”T MIX! Not in Atlanta. Maybe in Des Moines or Bismarck or Carson City. But not in Atlanta. We know our BBQ. We want slow cooked, moist pork, smoked with hickory. We want ribs cooked so they pull right off the bone with bark. We want molasses-based sauce, or maybe some vinegar-based as a change up, but not peach or fru-fru trendy crap. We have now visited over 20 BBQ spots in Atlanta. At least half of them have horrible food by my standards. That’s embarrassing. I am sick and tired of dry pulled pork and ribs that eat like pork chops. If I need a knife to get the meat off the bone in your restaurant, you should close your restaurant today and rethink your career. If I wanted crappy pork chops I would make them at home.
Finally, if you don’t have a true pitmaster, then you don’t have a BBQ restaurant. I’m sorry, you just don’t. The real pitmasters, like Justus at DAS BBQ have mastered their craft, they are ONLY tending the fires (they don’t even let Justus in the kitchen), they are there late, they are up early, and they are constantly on the move. As I mentioned before, I get it that cooking that much meat for that many people day after day is hard to do. I really do get it. But if DAS and Dave and Sam and Fox Brothers can do it, why can’t everyone? Because they aren’t committed, that’s why. Don’t be fooled by these half-hearted wannabes. Take our reviews to heart and DO NOT go to the restaurants that don’t receive our approval. We may not be able to make perfect BBQ at home every time, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what it should taste like.