Rolling Bones BBQ Meet Todd Richards: Restaurant Review – Downtown, Atlanta, GA [First Impressions]

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.

rolling bones bbq - pork slider

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.

rolling bones bbq - beef brisketThe 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 rolling bones bbq - pork ribsto 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.

rolling bones bbq - potato salad with benton's baconMeanwhile, 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.

rolling bones bbq - pork slider rolling bones bbq - beef taco

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.

Rolling Bones BBQ Restaurant Address & Information

377 Edgewood Ave, Atlanta, GA 30312 // 404.222.2324 // Rolling Bones Website // Rolling Bones Menu
Rolling Bones Premium Pit BBQ on Urbanspoon

12 comments Write a comment

  1. I’d be open to giving this place a try since it’s under someone new. I went last year and dreaded the decision before I even left the building.

  2. Rolling Bones is on Edgewood Avenue, but not in the Edgewood neighborhood. Edgewood is between Kirkwood and Reynoldstown.

  3. So, after just getting back grom travelling overseas, I had to go and get some BBQ today. Natch, I went to Rolling Bones.

    I walk in….Weird. I don’t recognize any of these people. Hmmm. Where are the old regular employees that I’d gotten to know?

    I look up. Hmm, the menu looks different. What’s up with the sandwiches? Pork shoulder and cole slaw? DUCK? Ok, this is different.

    I get there around 1pm. I stood in line with one other person in front of me, three people in the lobby waiting for food, and at least one car at the window and one at the drive thru. The first thing I noticed is that anyone INSIDE the restaurant immediately gets carptastic service, placed at a lower precedence to people at the drive through. I sat and waited for two cars to order and be served and sent on their way before the bald/shaved-headed caucasian dude behind the counter took my order or the order of the guy in front of me.

    There were two people working the line and one behind the counter. I’m quite certain the guy weilding the knife was Chef Richards himself. He was trying to expedite, and the bald guy kept running over saying, “help me clear out the drive through!” repeatedly.

    What am I, chopped liver?

    I finally got to place my order. This is when I see the sign saying the place is under new ownership and management.

    While looking at the menu, I saw bacon + potatoes in the potato salad, so I figure it’s a sure win. I can’t eat my BBQ without greens, so I order them, and get my usual chopped pork shoulder plate, since this was always the one thing that Rolling Bones always did best.

    After placing the order, I stood by the pickup area and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. Again, 4-5 more cars come through and were served as I waited for 15 minutes … until, finally, the chef turns to me and asks, “you got a brisket sandwich, right?”

    “Nope, chopped pork shoulder plate, hot, potato salad, greens.”

    He tried to figure out who was getting the sandwich by asking the bald guy handling drive thru.

    A few seconds later, as he’s chopping up my pork butt, half a dozen customers have piled in, and one of them asks, “hey, what’s that?”

    Chef says, “chopped pork shoulder sandwich”.

    I’m thinking, “wait…but, I ordered a pork shoulder PLATE”.

    After 20 minutes of wait time, I finally get my food – albeit, it isn’t what I ordered, I paid for a chopped pork shoulder plate, I got a chopped pork shoulder sandwich with the sauce on the side for some reason, and not even enough. I thought it was weird that they started packing the sides in plastic containers, and the setup makes transport cumbersome. I don’t often have time to eat-in.

    I drove back to the office to eat. I pull out styrofoam container with my pork. I dump out some of the ‘hot’ sauce onto the pile of pork and bread. The first thing I notice is that the sauce is much thicker than before. “OH NO! The original RB’s sauce was the best part!”. The new sauce is thicker, not the least bit ‘hot’, and there is too heavy of a tomato taste. It’s almost like someone snuck a bottle of tomato ketchup into the sauce. The meat was actually well-cooked for pork butt, and I got a good amount of bark along with my dish, which is always good. The rub is on par with any other respectable BBQ place. The bread was … well, what can you say about Texas Toast with butter? Same ‘ol same ‘ol.

    The potato salad – I laughed when I read the mention above of how “liquid” it was, because the first thing i notices when i opened it up is, “damn…this is some runny shit!” You should see what happens when you leave the container of potato salad out on the counter for 30 minutes. A yellow oil slick starts to form on the top of it. The potatoes were well-cooked, and the flavor was pretty good overall, but I’ll be honest…I got about 20% into thmy small side container and had to quit.

    Moving right along, I ordered greens. I don’t know why, I just expected they would be collard greens, because that’s what was on the menu with the old owners. I crack open the generous portion of greens only to find mustard greens. I had to do a double-take on the photo I shot of the menu. Yep, mustard greens. I think to myself, “that’s ok…as long as they taste good”. I was very happy to see a solid showing of smoked pork in my greens, but I was dismayed by my first bite. Too sweet. It’s almost like someone dumped a heaping load of tamarind-based sauce in there, like they put a LOT of worcestershire sauce in it. So much so that I had to apply a liberal application of salt to them after a few bites to counter the tangy sweetness. I did finish the greens, and the only good things I can say are the abundant smoked pork was delightful, adding a smoky note to every bite, and the greens were a decent consistency, but I would’ve preferred collards.

    All-in-all, I’m going to give them one more chance a few weeks from now, and I hope things are better, but I’m skeptical. My only saving grace as a southeast-atlanta resident is that we still have Fox Bros around, so I can still get somewhat decent BBQ nearby (since Harold’s is a joke as of the last few years).

    I must say, I was very happy to see Circa, Miso, Serpas, The Bureau and other restaurants populating the Old Fourth Ward area recently, we’ve definitely got a lot of new and good blood flowing into a perpetually sketchy area. I’m sad to see what I feel is a solid BBQ joint shift to new hands, especially when those new hands are trying to turn BBQ into some new and strange “metro gourmet” variant of a classic cooking style that didn’t need changing.

    • well shifty – you get the award for “comment most likely to be worth a guest post” 🙂

      Thanks for adding some more context for people. I know RBs is “new” but Richards should be able to do a better job of filling orders. Sounds like our experiences with the food were similar.

  4. I have read all your comments and take them very well. I would like to explain some things and would hope everyone reads them.

    We have been in the space for about three weeks and have done some great things and not so great things.

    The great:
    – All proteins are being either dry rubbed, marinated or brine before smoking.
    – We have and still are changing materials over to green such as cups etc
    – Sourcing meats from farms and/or used higher grade meat
    – Providing different drinking items for guest
    – Moved away from pre-fabbed foods and are preparing things in house
    – Smoke meats everyday

    Not so great:
    – We didn’t close after purchase; should have closed and not worked through the changes
    – Should have repaired smoker well in advanced of menu change (reason why we are closed for two days)
    – Didn’t take in to account peoples resistance to change and their fury of change (I honestly never ever ever knew that Open Pit BBQ Sauce was so popular. I am not being funny or making fun of it. I am being very very serious! Really am trying to find a compromise with this one.)
    – Didn’t take in to account the fury about waiting time for BBQ. ( I really don’t know of any fast food BBQ places. We try to do everything to order but it seems people really don’t care how… as much as when… I guess? That one I really wrestle with. Went to all the BBQ places in city and waiting times were 15-20 minutes.)

    Overall I totally believe we are doing the right thing long term.
    We feel the changes are necessary to widen the brand, be consistent in the companies brand and ensure profitability.

    What I mean is:

    July:
    – Fix smoker and cooking times of meats
    – Provide better customer service
    – Provide consistent side orders
    – Pair down menu to fit guest needs

    August:
    – Move to a greener product
    – Upgrade facility
    – Continue July program

    September:
    – Re-Launch entire brand (re-launch party)

    Please feel free to contact me with other comments….

    I thank you all for your comments and will share them with staff, partners etc.
    We will look at all comments both positive and negative and continue our attempt to get this thing right.

    We must definitely get this thing right! I assure you none of will rest until we feel it is right.

    Thanks a million!!!!!

    Todd Richards

  5. Todd-

    Glad to see you’re so open to constructive criticism. I am rooting for you! I was not a big fan of the original Rolling Bones – I just really did not care for their bbq sauce – so I am very eager to continue to see changes there.

    My husband picked up some sliders and sides there last friday. The meat was very good, but thought the sliders were over-sauced. But PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not change the coleslaw! It was the best I have EVER had.

    good luck!

    • Thanks for calling my comments constructive 😉 And yes – thank you Todd for replying and clarifying without making a bunch of excuses. I’m a fan 😉

  6. Well a couple of updates….

    We closed for three days. Really had to get some things together!!!!

    -Our smoker has been fixed.
    You can actually smell the smoke in the air. (This drove me absolutely crazy.)

    -We fixed the potato salad.
    We found that adding the bacon to the top of the salad works way better than putting it in the salad. Stay crunchy and smokey

    -Called my Pops to get the family BBQ Sauce recipe that my great grand dad started.
    The first batch had to much tomato product in it. Way better now. Thinner and more punch. Over seasoned the batch on Tuesday. The one today was way way way better.

    -Meats In fixing the smoker we found the meats are much better. At least they are cooking evenly which will fix over cooking. Did some staff training on Brisket slicing. Tweaked the recipes for brine.

    More training to follow with staff.
    We changed the ladle size to fix over saucing.
    Still have no resolved to go bread. We may not even toast to go bread. No matter what we try it gets crappy after 20minutes. I guess if waffle house can’t solve the problem maybe we can’t either.

    Still working it out!

    Thanks for all your comments. They are truly, truly appreciated.

  7. Pingback: Chef Todd Richards: The Future Of Rolling Bones BBQ | Atlanta Restaurant Reviews | Atlanta Food Blogs | Dining in Atlanta

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