Exceeded only by pizza and hamburgers, the merest mention of BBQ probably elicits more and more vociferous chowhound posts than any other subject. And when it comes to BBQ in Atlanta, I have been pretty quiet, except to chime in once in a while that nothing in Atlanta is worth stopping for, let alone going out of your way.
Well that's all changed.
Friday night I left Atlanta Airport at 7:15 PM or so, tired, and ready to be home--typically about a 35 minute drive up to northside I-285 and safe, secure outer Dunwoody.
But heading north on I-85 from the airport, I hit a 60 minute delay just to get to downtown. So I hung a u-turn, drove back south past the airport and got on I-285 to head up the east side perimeter.
Before I had driven ten minutes, and well before the intersection of I-285 with I-20, we came to a dead stop. Eventually, after about going 1 mile in 40 minutes, all traffic was routed onto I-20 West--heading back towards downtown.
Now I've lived in Atlanta over twenty years, even married a native--which in Atlanta is pretty hard to do as almost everybody comes here from somewhere else. I know my way. So I got off at Candler Road, left all the traffic and trucks behind back on I-20 and headed north.
It was Friday night, 8:30 or so, and Candler road was hopping. So although it wasn't as bad as a dead stop on I-285, I was still only going about ten mph. A good thing as it gave me a chance to prowl for chow.
And long story short--I hit a jackpot: Hodges Bar-B-Que.
2141 Candler Rd, Decatur, GA 30032
Phone: (404) 289-1804
(On the West side of Candler Road about a half mile south of Glenwood Road.)
Hodges is in a little 3-store strip, along with a barber shop and a vacant store. You walk in. Signs proclaim Hodges the "Atlanta home of ribs, chicken and oxtails". Offered at the long counter are ribs, chicken, oxtails and your choice of sides: collards, turnip greens, string beans and potatoes, mac 'n cheese, pinto beans, lima beans, cabbage, potato salad and yams. Banana pudding and several cobblers. Cornbread.
All the meat is cooked in the pit directly behind the line. The pit-cook works in plain view. Got a chicken dinner and a rib dinner, along with collards, turnip greens, string beans, mac 'n cheese and cornbread.
The meats seem to be cooked dry--just with benefit of smoke. When the counter-person serves you, she asks if you want sauce. If you say yes, she dips it briefly into a sauce well. The sauce was well balanced, slightly tomato based, somewhat piquant.
The chicken was moist and smokey. The ribs were fabulous. But maybe not for everyone. These were full sized ribs, not baby-backs. The meat was not falling off-tender, which happens when you first boil the ribs and kill off half the flavor. These were ribs you have to chew. Unbelievable.
My wife really loves Brunswick Stew (or just 'stew' as locals say). She never met one she didn't like. Me, I feel about 'stew' the same way I feel about tomato soup--why bother? Stew shows up only occasionally at Hodges, and was not available last night. I suspect, however, that even I might like it.
But the sides: side dishes at BBQ places are generally innocuous to lousy. These were extraordinary. The collards were fresh, not over porked. The turnip greens likewise. The cheddary mac 'n cheese was so good that I had to fight my wife for it--which is rare, as she is as fond of mac 'n cheese as I am of stew. Cornbread muffins were ace--and thankfully not sweet.
Last word: Atlanta, like where I grew up in Queens, is pretty much a segregated city when it comes to where people live. My wife pointed out that in other cities when you venture out of your own 'hood, you are likely to be challenged as to what you are doing there--which matches the Queens stories of my intrepid youth I tirelessly regale her with.
But in Atlanta, she continues, its not like that. You are much more likely, when venturing into a store on the other side of town, to be greeted warmly. Damn, but if she isn't right again.
Trek out to Hodges. It will be a revelation after the mall joints on the north side.
You won't be sorry. I bet in addition to Fri night, Saturday is a great time to go, along with any day for lunch. I didn't get the hours of operation, but you can call and check.