Although a familiar refrain this season, only moments after touching down in Hartsfield Atlanta Airport, I am gleefully awaiting my order at one of the finer barbecue establishments in the city. In what has become a thriving barbecue scene in Atlanta, Heirloom Market BBQ – with their unique brand of American and Korean BBQ fusion – has quickly asserted itself as one of the best in the city. Tucked off the side of Interstate 285, I pull into the parking lot of a shady convenience store, the kind of place with bars on the windows and a rainbow assortment of bum wines. A red vinyl banner hanging over a corner of the building announces Heirloom Market, the tiny joint tucked inside a small side building.
My friend Katy greets me there, her tailored blue dress and matching pumps elegantly out of place among the usual rabble. Although a staunch vegetarian, she graciously agreed to meet me here and give an appropriate evaluation of the rotating menu of crafted side dishes at Heirloom. An avid chef and purveyor of Squash Blossom Kitchens, a local boutique catering company, Katy has a developed palette despite those dubious dietary restrictions. Squash Blossom Kitchens Website
I order up the “Texas Trinity” an appropriate name for my usual order of brisket, pork ribs and sausage, and an acknowledgment of the joints Texas roots. We round out the order with some spicy mac & cheese, kimchi cole slaw and a cucumber radish salad. Once our number is called, we retreat to one of the few, standing only, outdoor tables under the shade of a pop up tent. Standing next to a few of their custom built, Southern Pride smokers, it’s an easy glimpse into the workhorses behind their reputed fare.
True to its reputation, the barbecue here is excellent all the way around. The brisket was heavily smoked with a pronounced smoke ring and well developed bark. The only fault with the brisket is that it had dried out a bit, and some fresher slices probably would have been better. The sausage was fair, while it’s house made (a move that I typically applaud), it had an overpowering sweetness that just didn’t agree with my palette. Ribs, however, were expertly cooked with a deep pink color inside and pulled from the bone with a slight tug. They had a delicately sweet profile with a touch of Korean influence, but the flavors worked perfectly. These are first class ribs all the way around. Even the hand crafted sides here have a nice attention to detail, the spicy mac and cheese in particular was completely ravaged.
My appetite satiated, but not dead, I decided to squeeze in an epic BBQ doubleheader before the Georgia Tech game. Fox Brothers BBQ with their Texas roots and one of the most decorated joints in Atlanta would be the perfect head to head comparison with the fare at Heirloom. After a quick jaunt down the highway, I pull into the gravel parking lot and take a seat, jostling to make room for my second meal only 30 minutes later.
Here, I order my typical brisket and pork rib combo, but after hearing legends about their wings, I toss an order in for some poultry to complete the trifecta. Rounding out the order is a side of mac & cheese, as well as Brunswick Stew – an elusive southern bbq staple. A few minutes later, the waitress sets the heaping platter in front of me, and I’m elbow deep in another couple pounds of meat.
The brisket here is well cooked, and delightfully, they provide slices from the fattier point end of the brisket – always the more flavorful side of the cut. While the protein is cooked appropriately with well rendered fat, the meat isn’t as smoky as I would have hoped for and could have benefited from a few more logs on the fire. Baby Back ribs are cooked well, but a bit on the dry side, although the savory rub really accentuates the sweet flavor of the pork. The wings, true to reputation, were sublime. Perfectly crispy on the outside, and delectably smoky and pull apart tender on the inside, they really are about as good as chicken wings get. Brunswick stew was hearty and delicious, and reminded me of a summer in North Carolina where I routinely ate it with a pile of ribs. It’s a side dish I wish a few more Texas places would readily adopt.
In the end, the Atlanta BBQ scene certainly impressed, their pork is expectedly top notch and they and had some of the better briskets I’ve found outside of the state of Texas. Oddly enough, since both of these joints have Texas roots (both founders have ties to Texas) it’s no accident that they have risen to the top of the Atlanta BBQ heap. If you forced me to choose one, I’d probably have to give the nod to Heirloom Market – their brisket has a better smoke profile, and the ribs are absolutely perfect. But on a day when you get to eat BBQ twice in the span of an hour, everybody is a winner in my book….
Special thanks to my friend Katy for accompanying me on the BBQ trip, and a broader culinary tour of the thriving Atlanta food scene!
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