The area of downtown surrounding Edgewood Ave doesn’t get a lot of love. For the most part, it is pretty dingy and it’s definitely not the safest of places. Still, the ‘hood does have some life, and Rolling Bones Barbecue has long been part of the reason to venture down there.
The converted gas station has one of the most identifiable looks of any Atlanta grub hub. However, recent events took a toll on business at the barbecue joint. Enter chef Todd Richards, who, backed by his own LushLifeGroup, acquired the business some months ago. Earlier this month, Richards began to implement some changes; not surprisingly, I was there soon after. A couple of trips in and I think I have a good idea of what’s going on.
As mentioned, the blue and white pit stop has long served the Atlanta community. Though not the biggest fan of barbecue, I’ve had my fair share of meals at Rolling Bones. Given the change in ownership, food providers, and menu … we’re basically starting from scratch. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing will ultimately depend on your perspective.
Decor wise, nothing has changed. That’s both good and bad. On the one hand, the building just looks cool. I feel like it has the personality of a Route 66 diner right here in the Dirty. On the other hand, the polish has started to wear down. The walls need some new paint and the rest of the place just needs some love, albeit just a smidge. Ultimately, we have no idea what Richards plans are … so all this is essentially a non-factor at this time. Personally, I hope Richards just spiffs up the joint and doesn’t try to fix something that ain’t broke.
When I first heard that Richards was changing the menu up, I got excited. That excitement turned to toned down optimism as facts leaked. To me, a new menu means that there should be some real changes going on. Here, Richards simply streamlined the choices while managing to sneak in a few new proteins.
Gone are the “combos” and the “bulk meats” section. In their stead, the plates section has some new additions. Richards has introduced turkey, duck, and seafood to the arsenal. Meanwhile, the sandwiches and tacos are still there along with the sides, sweets, and treats. Richards made a wise choice and abandoned the variety of sizes for your sides. Now, it’s a one size fits all.
The adjustments to the menu were needed. Previously, the menu set up left customers befuddled. Now, despite the increased variety, you will have an easier time navigating the waters. For all its appeal, the promise of a new menu left me slightly irked. The term “new” has been invoked here as nothing more than flimsy advertising. The majority of the menu reads the same as it did before; however, prices have been raised, almost ubiquitously. So with that last little grovel, let’s just call it what it is: a tweaked menu.
In content, I’m a bit perplexed by some of the new menu selections. To explain, there are a number of “food trends” that have me scratching my noggin. Chef Richards, it appears, seems to agree with me. He shared his thoughts on the idea of overused foods back in March. A short while later, we find him barking up the same tree.
Everything nowadays is farm this and farm that. Richards skips past the farm to table terminology he called out and now relies on the term “featured farm.” Grabbing some chicken, beef, or pork down at Rolling Bones? You have the opportunity to order each in featured farm form [All priced to market]. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest that the options are there. In fact, I’m glad they are. However, I don’t understand why you’d call out the practice and then pony right up the bar first chance you get.
Meanwhile, if you want to talk about overused ingredients – let’s talk bacon. For that matter, it isn’t just bacon but rather BENTON’S BACON. Are we so gullible as to believe that the only “gourmet” bacon in this region hails from this one farm in Madisonville, TN? As one of my eating buddies suggested, maybe Richards is just giving the people what they want. That’s certainly possible, but I know the guy has more in him. Okay, enough of my soap boxing and let’s get back to the food and service and such.
Service here seems to be moving in the right direction; although, there are some shortcomings. You order from the counter from one of the handful of smiling, cheery folk. Meanwhile, Richards himself is usually expediting service. The drive through remains in tact, and you can still get your order “for here or to go.” Unfortunately, plates and silverware are pipe dreams. All the entrées come in a Styrofoam container. If you are eating offsite, you really can’t do any better. However, for those of us taking the time to sit down, they need to get some plates. Meanwhile, the plastic ware is pretty flimsy. Good luck if you plan on cutting anything.
I’m not going to spend time elaborating on the particular barbecue style Richards is going after. Talking barbecue in these parts can get you shot. What I will say is that I think the sauce here fails to create any palate busting excitement. It’s heavy on the sugar and short on the “fire.” I’ve ordered the hot sauce on everything I’ve tried and every bite thereafter was followed with a “I think there’s a kick in there somewhere.” Still, if you’re a fan of the sweet stuff, you’ll liked the sauce here.
Nothing blew me away. The chicken was cooked properly, but somewhere during the meal, I found myself in my middle school cafeteria. The duck is supposedly brined with soy and citrus … but I couldn’t tell. While the “forward thinking” method was lost on me, I thought the duck tasted like well smoked bird.
The dry rub on the ribs evoked memories of a pepper mill. Others agreed with me there. However, that’s not really a criticism, just a heads up. The pepper was significantly muted with the addition of any barbecue sauce. The flavor of the brisket was more reminiscent of the sauce.
The unfortunate failure of the beef and the pork that I sampled was in the cooking itself. It seems the kitchen is still overcooking the meat. The brisket did have some moist parts, but they were few and far between (on both visits). Meanwhile, the ribs were thoroughly dried out. I guess I should mention the bread at some point. Each plate comes armed with a slice of white bread. Keep moving … it’s usually cold by the time you get a chance to eat it. I have no idea if this is the same bread they use on their sandwiches.
To date, the best items are the sides and the “smalls.” By the latter, I’m referring to the sliders and the tacos. The tacos come with Pico and the like. Mine had too much sauce; but I liked the hint of Tex-Mex mashed with Suth-un. The slider rolls were very appealing, though I am unable to remember the specifics at this time. Still, the sauce and the solid flavor of the meats help mask the problems with dryness when served sandwich style. Still, Richards attacks the small form burger in that post I pointed too; thus, I must wonder why sliders are on the menu (even if the meat isn’t ground beef – what’s the fucking difference?)
The sides come and go, but each made a strong impression. Of particular note, the gratis pickles taste like they were pickled in cinnamon. Whatever the spice, they were pungent. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Brunswick stew was fairly bland. I was fond of the paprika butter served with the corn and the potato salad did me right. Though the tater salad includes Benton’s bacon (grrr!!!) and is a bit too “liquid” for me, the savory is in full force. Did I mention I really enjoyed the paprika butter?
Despite their propensity to dry out their red meat, the sweetness of the sauce, and the lack of kick, the food here is passable. Far superior to D.B.A. Barbecue, the high quality ingredients help keep this place out of the doldrums. Richards seems like a knowledgeable chef, but between this place and One Flew South, I have seen a stronger showing from the thought process than from the execution.