So there’s this ex-wrestler. He’s a big hulking African man and he’s here to serve us some Deep South style barbecue ribs. Though he’s a Canadian ex-pat, this fact alone seems representative of the man’s upbringing during a time when stereotypes were more freely exchanged. While he’s at it, he might as well throw in ‘anything but native’ Chinese food. Okay, scratch the preconceived stereotypes fluttering about!
His name is Larry Shreve and you almost certainly know him as Abdullah The Butcher and the proprietor and founder of Atlanta’s Abdullah the Butcher House of Ribs and Chinese Food. The 70-something Hall of Fame wrestler ended up as one of the most highly reputed yet brutally physical WWE professionals of all-time. On the back of broken chairs and broken spines (okay – I don’t think he ever broke a dude’s back … but I stress the use of the work think here), Abdullah became a poster child for the ‘go hard or go home’ mentality. His nickname I believe is the “Madman from Sudan.”
In addition to his animalistic reputation in the ring, Shreve garnered a good bit of head swiveling on account of his circus-like culinary adventures; which were not exactly the culinary training worthy of mention in an article in the NY Times. Most of them to this point seem to be passed around as fact, but whether or not his lore is true (did he bit a chicken’s head off?), it seems to fit him like a glove. Quite the resume builder for the guy serving your food. But anywho, what’s important is that his gregarious personality has lead him down a most unusual path and the two of us finally intersected, at least in spirit, just a short time ago.
Smoke Is Where It’s At
Somewhere in my mind I’m sure there is a previous visit to Abdullah the Butcher’s House of Ribs, but I just can’t place it at this juncture. As the drive down Langford Parkway came to an end and we entered the West End neighborhood, a discerning eye noticed smoke billowing in the sky . Like some ancient Chinese smoke signal warning, the rings of gas floating in the air and served as a call to arms. A food fight was about to take place, and the Butcher’s House of Ribs was the ring.
The decorations at Abdullah’s don’t come as a surprise. Once you enter through the enclosed porch (and after you stop to inspect the outdoor smoker), you are then treated to a classic dive. Autographed photos, trophies, signs, and any other hanging homage to Abdullah the Butcher’s long career pepper the walls. But, unless they were all huddled in the corner, none of the placards are for the food, none of the signed pictures are from chefs and none of the awards have anything to do with frying rice.
It’s worth noting that the piece de resistance (in both form and function) is that previously mentioned freestanding screened-in smoker and the accompanying mural of the Butcher himself.
Feed Me Butcher
It’s time to order, the tables are empty and the line almost entirely absent. That’s what happens when you get a two-hour late start on a multi-meal adventure that involved over 100-miles of driving. The gentleman behind the counter was most certainly not Shreve. Somewhat of a bummer, as I always wanted to see that fork-raked bald head in person and my mind is a Total Recall with regards to previous visits. A friendly man, he took the time to answer the furious ratatatat of my buddy.
Being that this is a house of ribs, that there’s something awesome about the idea of low-brow Ameri-Chin in this environment, and that we are foodies after all, we over ordered. After sifting through the more than ample offerings of traditional Southern grub (like rib tips, chitterlings, and fried seafood) and the somewhat more reserved offerings from the Far East (Kang Pao [sic], Sweet & Sour, Mongolian Beef, etc …), we each settled on a full dinner sized portion. Great thinking after having two other restaurant stops under my belt and beneath her sundress.
For the table, we requested a sampling of ribs, mac & cheese, and fried rice ($10) and an order of braised wings, which come over fried rice. With counter side ordering and no frilly system for food expediting, we moved to sit without any inconvenience (sure – it helps when you are there on a Wednesday afternoon at 4pm).
By the time our food order was called out, the guest and I moved to secure our beverages (Arnold Palmer for yo and Diet Coke for ho) [need I clarify that I did not just call one of my nearest and dearest friends a hoe?]. Busily discussing what other wrestlers were on the walls and “who the hell is ‘Insert Some Name You’ve Created’ and why is their headshot on the wall?”we gladly stopped to eat.
The two platters were served up in Styrofoam boxes which are pretty much the same size as all of the #AkaTooFreakinBig. Portions were huge but the quality was predictably meh and everything beyond that was just as we thought it would be … not up to the idea that the hype hints at.
You are perhaps looking for some well-crafted recap of the bites we tried and the nuances within. Truth be told, I just don’t have it in me. This was pretty low end stuff that put me in more than a few predicaments. First, how many ways can you say “Fall-off the bone good”? In this instance, it did fall of the bone, but it was dry, industrial strength ribs. Second, this is the industrial strength shit that most people proclaim to be killing our ecosystem. Third, am I being too lenient with this recap?
The first point is accounted for, the second though … not so much. I’m a Tony Bourdain wanna be. I want to eat things that make me fucking smile and I want to do it in a way that dismisses all semblance of logical behavior. But there is a distinct sense of moderation in me. I don’t presume to know your personal views on the food system … I for one thing it’s messed but that there is more too it than most will tell you. Whatever the case, the quality of the product is suspect (not dangerously so however).
Then there is the third part: if the name were changed from “Abdullah the Butcher House of Ribs” to “Larry’s House of Ribs” would this place have a chance with my taste buds?
Truth is … not even a fighting chance. The food was god-awful bad. My partner in crime was initially in the “OMG this is soo good,” as she so often says. Her senses came back soon thereafter when she realized it must have been her previously consumed Krystal’s that accounted for the masked taste. I didn’t want to put my fork anywhere near the mac & cheese. I did, after being bullied (she’s a persistent one), and should have forked my partner for crimes against me.
Then I turned my attention to those mighty and amply sauced wings. They were fried perfectly, I’ll give Abdullah’s that. But the chicken obviously came from an industrial farm and the sugars in the braising sauce were very thick in that very traditional Ameri-Chin sort of way.
But still, Abdullah the Butcher must be doing right. Even if they aren’t open still (I’m not sure as the case so happens), Abdullah did establish an outpost in the Greenbriar Mall food court and there is/was a location in Japan (yes … THAT japan).
Perhaps I’m being to cliché when justifying my enjoyment at a kitsch stop. I am a firm believer that the company you’re in has far more of an impact on the quality of your experience than does anything you put in your mouth. Don’t get me wrong, good food goes a long way. I liked it very much for what it is, but I can’t say I was in anyway impressed with the Butcher.
The Butcher may be in it for the money more than anything else, but that’s just fine with this guy. Regardless of his motivations, I wouldn’t go once a week, I wouldn’t go once a month, and I probably wouldn’t go once a year. But I would go once. It is firmly my belief that any, if not every, person to spend an extended period of time in the city of Atlanta should make at least one visit to Abdullah The Butcher’s The food isn’t good or even passable, it is in fact downright horrid. But it’s fun.