I’m a Florida boy, so that means having to be subjected to horrible BBQ my entire existence. I’ve constantly craved a taste of the good stuff. Naturally, human beings want what they can’t have but decades old mainstays in cities like Memphis, St. Louis and Kansas City have provided many a BBQ lovers paradise. Atlanta, however, has never quite joined the Valhalla of ‘que.
Last week I was chatting up a new friend of mine, who happens to be one half of Lakeland cult classic, The Poor Porker. I told her I was heading up to Atlanta for a long weekend and asked if she had any tasty joints I should visit. She gave me Hottie Hawg’s, a BBQ joint on the outskirts of the metro Atlanta area where an old friend of hers works as the executive chef. If you respect your friends, you listen to their suggestions, that’s why you ask them in the first place isn’t it? So after some correspondence, it was decided that I would be meeting, greeting and eating at Hottie Hawgs, and to my surprise, Jimmy would be joining me, Eat a Duck was to be represented in full force.
To help you appreciate my time at the Hawg, I must say that the day so far had been quite tense and I wasn’t in the best of moods. The moment I walked up, however, that all changed. Entering the parking lot, you’re greeted by a completely decked out competition BBQ trailer , a smoker made to look like a train, and a mountain bike to match the exterior of Hottie Hawgs. You can tell these guys are having fun. It is such a welcoming space. The interior is clad in brick and wood with vintage concert posters littering the ceilings. It feels like you’re walking into a cross between a good friends cabin and your favorite neighborhood pub.
Our waitress, Jessica, welcomed us with a smile and let us pick our table. We decided on the indoor porch/tequila bar for best lighting. As we looked over the menu we asked Jessica what she’d recommend. To me this is like a test of the quality of the restaurant. If the server hesitates whatsoever, it either means the food isn’t worth the staff sampling it, or they haven’t done their homework, both of which reflect negatively on the establishment. But she didn’t hesitate, and suggested the mysterious Armadillo Eggs. Now, I hope I’m describing this properly, they’re pickled jalepeño, stuffed with cream cheese and chopped brisket. They’re then battered, fried and drizzled with maple habañero sauce, sort of like poppers with a delicious twist. She also mentioned the intriguingly named “Hawg Balls”, their version of fried mac n’ cheese, served with petal sauce.
As Jessica turned in our starters, the head chef Matthew came out to introduce himself. It was such a breath of fresh air for be treated so warmly by the entire crew. He smiled approvingly at our choices and shared a few stories about how some of the dishes came to be on the menu. Like beanies and weenies, which, like most things, came out of necessity when a snowstorm knocked out food deliveries for a week. The food stopped coming, but the locals didn’t. They walked over in snow shoes looking for some grub. Matthew had to think fast, so he whipped up some homemade baked beans and kielbasa they had in the walk-in. It was such a hit that everyone begged for it to be a permanent addition to the menu. He also proudly mentioned that they had won the brisket category at last years KCBS sanctioned Atlanta BBQ competition. Luckily, we had the much heralded brisket already on the way. We shook hands and he excused himself to the kitchen to work his magic.
Jessica arrived moments later with our starters and gave us a nice overview of their homemade sauces. Now I’m not sure how we got on the subject, but we found out that they had a special a while back that involved a garlic ranch dipping sauce. Jimmy, being the garlic fiend that he is, asked if they had any in the back. She said she didn’t think so but she would ask. No more than 10 minutes later she came back with that very sauce, as delicious as we imagined. The sides were intriguing as well. Out of the 10 or so options we chose, coca-cola collard greens and onion hay, since Jimmy is an aficionado on the subject of fried onions. Jessica also said we had a choice between jalapeño cheese cornbread and Texas toast. We could tell by the look in her eye that the cornbread was the way to go, so we went for it. As the food came out it was like an edible conga line of crispy, saucy, spicy and smokey enticements. The excitement was building.
I have to say, up until the moment I tasted Hottie Hawgs award-winning entry, I hated brisket. I’ve been watching a certain BBQ competition reality show recently to try to learn the science of brisket. As far as I’m concerned, the Hawg passed every test. The elasticity, the smoke ring, the crust, and moistness levels were as good as I could have expected. The ribs didn’t fall of the bone too easily, but were extremely tender. That’s what you want in a good rib. They were smokey and covered in their own dry rub and tomato based sauce, which made the outside nice and sticky. Now let’s talk cornbread. There had to be a reason Jessica put it on a pedestal. As lame as I might sound it was the best I had ever had at any restaurant, or anywhere else for that matter. It was so moist and gooey that it was one step from being pudding. Dear god it was insane.
As we finished our smorgasbord, Matthew came back to check on us. We talked some more about food and the Atlanta area, about other restaurants he liked, and how the locals have really embraced the place. There’s big support on Friday and Saturday nights, when the live music starts pumping. You can tell that they’re really working to make it the premier place to find Atlanta ‘que, and so far, they’re on the right track. I mean, when we were asked if there was anything we didn’t like, we just looked at each other stupidly, as we couldn’t think of one thing we would’ve changed. That feeling isn’t a coincidence though. We talked about how restaurants have to adapt and not rest on their laurels. The night before, Jimmy went to a BBQ establishment in Charlotte that was featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. He was extremely disappointed as it seemed as if they had become complacent about their food since being featured on television. Matthew is anything but lazy with his food. He insists that the menu change often to entice repeat customers with new flavors, while keeping people happy with the famous mainstays. I was very impressed with the way Hottie Hawgs mixed competition BBQ, soul food, and bar food classics, into something that’s a cut above your average BBQ joint.
I thought we were done as I was completely satisfied, but Jessica had something sweet for us. Fried cookie balls. Cookie dough wrapped around gooey dark chocolate and covered in caramel and vanilla bean ice cream. We couldn’t resist. Again, this looks and sounds simple. However, I feel, after eating it, that whoever invented it should be nominated for a Nobel peace prize. That dessert could end wars.
What an amazing lunch. Not often does a place make feel me like an invited guest, even though I’m just an unknown schmuck. Jessica came back one last time to make sure everything was up to snuff. We both agreed it was terrific and thanked her so much for taking care of us. You can tell that the entire staff, owner included, really care about the success of Hottie Hawg and they have a real passion for what they’re doing. Now that we’ve seen firsthand what they’re all about , we care too. That’s why we won’t visit the Atlanta area without making a pit stop at our new favorite BBQ establishment.
Hottie Hawgs – 2061 Main Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30318 • 404.794.5224 • www.hottiehawgsbbq.com