There’s a new meat slinger in town, and they are “Doing Business As” a barbecue joint. Last night, I was chilling in ViHi, so we ambled over to D.B.A. Barbecue. Turns out, D.B.A. Barbecue actually opened to the public this past evening. I was under the impression this was week two for them, so that should tell you how much to listen to me! I didn’t actually mean to hit the place up on their first night. But alas, it seems appropriate that I did so.
I got to admit I’m kind of fumbling for my words with this one. That, in and of itself, is not meant to be a criticism of DBA. Rather, there were just some really unusual aspects to our meal that have honestly stumped me.
D.B.A. occupies the space that previously housed Vine. As we walked in, my mind immediately started processing all the new information. When one considers the fact D.B.A. is a self-described casual restaurant, your mind begins to wander. Finally, you realize that something is just lost in the messaging and delivery.
Anyone that walks into this place and thinks it’s anything BUT casual needs to have their head examined. That said, remember what we’re working with here. This is a BBQ joint. Barbecue joints are notoriously low brow. They use paper napkins, have wood tables, and seem to take pride in their everyman appeal.
D.B.A. actually moves in the other direction. That’s just fine by me; however, I do think they need to embrace their “finer things” ambiance a little better. In that spirit, I like what they’ve done with the place. Half the wall space is brick, while the other half is like a slated wood cabin. The bar sits off immediately to your left. Armed with a bright red menu and two flat panel TVs, it’s a step up from nearby neighbors George’s and Moe’s & Joe’s. A bevy of babes site on the shelves, waiting for your taste buds. Almost directly across from the bar is an open kitchen. All metal and totally shiny, it immediately vaults D.B.A. out of the low brow BBQ genre. Add to the fact that they take online reservations (or for that matter, any reservations at all), and you start to see the puzzle not quite fit.
The tables themselves are 50s diner style. Ya know … trimmed with metal tracks. Each table comes armed with a wire basket of condiments. Two bottles of sauce (one sweet … one spicy), some ketchup, s&p, and some other hot sauces all make an appearance. Thick wood chairs line the table sides while leather booths stand in by the walls. Cloth napkins that remind you of kitchen cloths help prepare you for the food to come. Overhead, the lights are inside of mason jars… cool. However, the “vintage” coca-cola signs and the like seem a bit forced.
We were seated promptly, still unaware of their newborn status. Shortly thereafter, our smiling server showed up. She remained an excellent server throughout the night and was easily the most pleasant aspect of the experience. Sharply dressed in all black, it was another sign that the reality was not as described. So while we waited for our order of Chateau Chattahoochee, I revisited my mental notebook.
A moment of clairvoyance. The two of the three owners hail from high-end casual experiences. One recently spent time at Rathbun’s Steak and another did time over at Eclipse di Luna. This is all starting to make sense. As a quick note, the pit master (barbecue speak for executive chef), hails from Birmingham. Doug Morgan worked at Jim ‘N Nicks, a chain that has locations all over the country. It’s not surprising that I’m not a big fan of any of them. Still, that has nothing to do with Doug.
As I moved onto the menu, this unusual dance continued. As barbecue menus go, this one is pretty out there. Items like Southern Succotash Hummus (hummus from butter beans), a raw bar, Creole mayonnaise, and smoked tofu show up. Nice to see a place take care of my vegetarian friends. Again, the messaging here needs some refinement.
To start off, we grabbed half a dozen Apalachicola oysters, some of the hummus, and a cup of the Brunswick stew. I was almost as shocked to find the oysters on the menu as I was to find them hitting my mouth. I don’t think I’ve ever ordered raw seafood in this environment. However, I was shockingly surprised. These oysters were pretty solid. Though the meekly created cocktail sauce didn’t help, I found these Florida natives to be just fine. Nicely shucked, properly brined, it was all good. Granted, these aren’t A-level oysters … but they were easily better than anything I’ve had from Fontaine’s in the last year. Though we didn’t know it at the time, these turned out to be the best thing we had.
Then it was onto the hummus. If you are looking for that traditional chickpea flavor, keep moving. Dotted with corn and red peppers, this successfully reminded all of us that it descended from butter beans. The thick pita points were toasted and definitely flavorful. Unfortunately, I had turned off my head recorder, so I can’t recall the specific flavors at this time. I’m pretty sure they used Dixie beans in the hummus (the larger varietal) since this is the South and the color of the hummus was anything but green. But, I’ve been wrong before.
Last up was the Brunswick stew. This had all the makings of a good stew. Unfortunately, it failed me. Rather than dance around with notations explaining the failure of the stew as a whole, let’s just get to the main focus: The meat. Each time I took a bite, I made it a point to down the stew and leave the protein for further analysis. Each time, I came to the same conclusion: dry and overdone. Now 99 times out of 100, I don’t think people will notice this in Brunswick stew. It’s hard to detect dryness in a meat when it’s hidden behind a substantial amount of other things. Still, it was there. Ultimately, the “snacks” were a strong showing. I wouldn’t mind seeing how they do with the Pimento cheese, bacon, and tomato finger sandwiches or with the onion rings.
Throughout our meal, I kept my eye on the kitchen. Now that our server had informed us about the opening, I began to see the usual signs of inexperience. Dishes were re-arranged on the line, tickets were pulled off and then returned, and one of the owners was reinforcing the correct way to do things. All par for the course, and nothing that someone just glancing over there would notice.
A few minutes after our snacks were cleared, another round showed up. We were befuddled. Turns out, this happened to the table next to us as well. So what does it mean when apps are fired 2x? It means the ticket system needs to get fixed. Shortly thereafter, our server showed up with a complimentary basket of cornbread muffins to make up for the extended wait. Matt, one of the owners, showed up a moment later. He was extremely kind and apologetic. We assured him it was an understandable mistake, and that in the early days, not to sweat it. Nicely played Matt! No excuses, no bull shit, just a straight forward apology.
Ah the cornbread … now this was an unexpected delight, though not without some confusion. First, the confusion. The only mention of muffins on the menu is under the “Snacks” section. They are described as white cheese muffins with honey butter. Ours, however, were definitely cornbread. Not sure what the deal is with that, but who cares. These were solid. The muffins were crisped on the outside and moist on the inside. Meanwhile, the sweetness of the corn combined with the flavor of the honey butter to make this quasi dessert worthy. Though none of us have the most intelligent of palettes, hints of vanilla extract and maple syrup fluttered about.
Even without the muffins, I think the pacing for the meal was pretty good. I hate getting entrees dumped in my lap while I’m still digesting my apps. It just goes to show how good service can really help a situation.
Here’s where we get to the main event. Pardon me if I cower a bit over in the corner. Barbecue is an emotional topic for many a folk in these parts … and I just don’t want to get hit with any arrows. Before we actually get to the meats, the Lady of the Table elected to try the fried green tomato BLT. She really enjoyed it, as did Adam. However, I was bit more reserved. The ingredients were fresh and nicely executed, and I think that’s what my buddies focus on. Meanwhile, she tried to dupe me into trying her broccoli casserole with comments like “it’s really good” and “you should try this … it’s like homemade.” Death to broccoli!
I thought the Texas toast was perfectly cooked and appropriately buttered. Similarly, the fried green tomatoes were excellent. My problem was with everything else. The shredded lettuce and crumbled bacon was an unusual choice. However, I recognize that someone else may enjoy this. The only true problem was the Creole mayonnaise. Like the dishes that were to follow, there was just too much sauce.
Adam ordered the pulled pork. As two sides come with everything from the Smokehouse, he went with the cole slaw and the collard greens. Meanwhile, I went with the three meat combo. For $18, I had one huge plate of baby back ribs, St. Louis style spare ribs, and some of the brisket. My sides were the Man’n Cheese and the Texas grilled creamed corn.
Rather than elaborate on each individual element, I want to speak in generalities. This isn’t to skirt the issue, rather, it’s just amazing how similar of an experience we had with the meats and the sides. First, the meats. Adam actually filled out a comment card and what he said seemed to hold true for everything we had. All the meats drifted toward the dry side. There was no consistency, leaving each bite to its own devices. Meanwhile, the sauce was, in our opinion, used in excess.
The sauce thing is sort of hard to comment on. Some people love heavily sauced items, and some do not. Speaking specifically to the pulled pork, Adam thought it tasted like glorified Manwich. I kind of agree. So dried meats and excessive sauce … and there you have it.
Meanwhile, the sides, like the snacks, showed strong. Everything tasted as it should; however, confusion rang supreme yet again. As I dove into my Texas corn, I was at a loss. The menu said creamed corn, didn’t it? Sure thing … so I even asked our server about it. While we had no intention of sending it back, I just wanted to make sure that we were brought the right thing. Turns out, we had. Confusion aside, the corn itself had a great flavor to it. Sweet, yet toned down due to the grilling, a handful of spices were thrown in to give it a hint of kick. If you have a tolerance for spice, you probably won’t notice it … but at least they tried.
The portion control here is either spot on or non-existent. This being my first and only meal here, is a total guess… but, i think they include a full side order with the main dishes. Even if they don’t, what you get is huge. Meanwhile, our meat plates were intense. For the price, it was fair; but, that’s just the problem. Whether a factor of increased portions and/or a belief that the food her is worth more, this comes in as prohibitively expensive barbecue. Without alcohol, our bill came to about $30-$35/head (with tip). Though I know they want their average ticket prices up, to compete in the world of barbecue, a guy’s gotta be able to eat for five bucks. Cut the portions, drop the prices, and spend more time eying the pit (if you want to be known for BBQ).
The food itself left me a bit bewildered. I walked out thinking I’d be glad to check it out again, but for everything but the barbecue. That isn’t the best of signs. Still, I think the BBQ can be salvaged with a little bit of luck. The sides, sandwich, and apps were reasonably strong, but again … a few bucks more than I’d have expected (sans the oysters).
Many people in this city think the list of top notch barbecue joints is long and strong. I’m not one of them. Here, I think we’re gonna get a place that’s barbecue is average at best. That gives them a fighting chance. As casual eating goes, the rest of it is perfectly acceptable, but not inspiring. Too bad, because it’s clear that they are trying to move the menu toward the elevated side of the spectrum. So fix the BBQ, refine the message, work on portion control, and keep the same … awesome attitude and they’ll stick. If they don’t … well … who knows.