St.Louis-style ribs with Texas toast.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Southerners love their barbecue and to say any less would be both wrong and downright offensive. While the borders of American cuisine have yet to be defined, barbecue very clearly represents the specific tastes of a specific region of the United States — in this case, the South.
As a native of Memphis, Tenn., where barbecue reigns supreme, I have heard my fair share of barbecue dogma. That said, I don’t easily drool over barbecue joints, and such is the case with Decatur’s highly anticipated Community BBQ, which opened in November on Clairmont Road.
Competing styles of barbecue have emerged across the South, with states from Texas to North Carolina championing their products like vendors at a flea market. St. Louis represents a more local style, characterized by leaner meat with a sweet, tomato-based sauce, and that’s what Community BBQ is dishing out of its smoker next door to the Moya Lounge in Decatur.
David Roberts, Jim Laber and Stuart Baesel make up the triumvirate behind this Wilber-slaughtering endeavor, and while their expertise ranges from a BBQ joint in Marietta, Ga., to the now-closed dining room of the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead, precision lacks in the same way that Keanu Reeves has starred in many movies but can still have the emotional depth of a mime.
Because Community BBQ stands in a shopping center, its ambiance has the potential to feel as awkward and forced as a middle school dance, but the interior here is actually on the right track. The occasional wood and brick and the hodgepodge nature of various signs and random stuffed animals work because typical barbecue shacks are so hodgepodge in design.
Cutting to the meat, the kitchen showed an affinity for serving dishes at lukewarm temperatures, even when the high volume of clients necessitated a short space of time between kitchen and table.
pulled-pork sandwich with sides mac & cheese and a forgettable Brunswick stew.
Where the heat lacked, execution generally offered some redemption. The St. Louis ribs were true to their name, being both leaner and meatier than the baby-back ribs that Memphians so adore. While the well-smoked meat separated from the bone quite easily, it needed more of that tenderness that Elvis Presley so famously applied to love — an issue that was remedied by a generous douse of the restaurant’s peppy sauce.
Also enjoyable, yet partly dry, was the pulled-pork sandwich. Large chunks of pulled pork wedged between two pieces of Texas toast called for a large quantity of napkins as I fumbled, first squeezing sauce onto the pork before grabbing the entire sandwich between both hands.
During the intense game of Operation with my sandwich, I sampled several side dishes, of which the three-cheese macaroni was the best. While the coleslaw and baked beans were respectively one-note and unusually piquant, the mac and cheese was wonderfully creamy and worth the health concerns.
For dessert, the smooth crème brulée-like banana pudding, layered with vanilla wafers, fell short by only a few degrees, the pudding both slightly too thick and too warm.
The speed with which customers move in and out of the restaurant is a testament to the restaurant’s fast and simple design. My food was delivered in less than five minutes. It is also likely that with such generous portions, everyone had limped over to Moya to dance away the pounds they had just put on.
Community BBQ won’t earn a perfect rating from Zagat. Such an accolade is too pretentious for barbecue served on wax paper and pudding served in Styrofoam bowls. What the restaurant will earn is acknowledgement because the barbecue is tender and reasonably priced with prices running around $10 to $15 for both an entrée and appetizer.
Community BBQ is more likely to be a part of the Decatur restaurant scene, a place where good barbecue can be found at a reasonable price and often delivered in just minutes.
At the same time, the barbecue here, albeit tender and flavorful, fails to stand out in the greater scheme of barbecue restaurants. Barbecue can be good but easily unremarkable at the same time. But because North Decatur does not often see new restaurants offering this kind of fare, locals will reward Community BBQ more for its novelty than its quality.