Homer Simpson said it best: "You don't win friends with salad."
Perhaps one can win friends with barbecue. And a little salad. Maybe some fried corn on the cob.
That's certainly a proposition D.B.A. Barbecue, a new 'cue spot in Virginia-Highland, is betting on. Matt Coggin, a former Fifth Grouper who worked practically next door at Sala (now The Original el Taco) as well at Fifth Group's La Tavola and Wisteria, has snarfed up Vine's space and turned it into fancy little spot. He partners with longtime Atlanta restaurateur James Ehrlich. Jason Hill of Wisteria recently was brought in as consulting chef.
I can't call it a joint because it's just too darned cute: Coggin's mother did a fine job with the lion's share of redecorating, which is minimal. White marquee letters shout out beers and cocktails (like a Junior Johnson moonshine martini) from a bright red board, as well as house-made wine coolers. Coggin's own framed prints of blues singers grace the main wall. Live music rocks the neighborhood on most Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
The other, far more important factor that doesn't make D.B.A. (which stands for "doing business as") a joint is the menu, which has more stuff than a hippie's backyard. Chicken? Yes. Ribs? Check — two kinds, baby back and Carolina style, wet or dry. Hot wings? You bet, wet or dry. Smoked turkey. Smoked tofu. Pulled pork, beef brisket, Brunswick stew. Boiled peanuts. Caesar salad. Yes, Caesar salad.
There are, in my estimation, two forces at work here. First, Coggin is a gregarious guy who knows the hospitality side of the restaurant business and frankly excels at it. D.B.A. is nothing if not friendly. In his earnest eagerness, he's gone overboard by putting everything but the details of the new health plan on the menu. Secondly, D.B.A. is trying to capitalize on the new crossbred version of 'cue joints; yuppiefied places that combine an understated ambience with good barbecue. Rolling Bones, David Poe's BBQ and Fox Bros. are prime examples.
But no one can be all things to all people. And if your name touts "barbecue," you ought to be good at smokin' some meat. D.B.A's offerings spread the kitchen so thin, there's no way for it to be really good at many of them.
Sure, I love boiled peanuts. But I want to eat them at a Braves game. And why are raw oysters on this menu?
Spicy pimento cheese spread with bacon and tomato over little strips of toast are yummy bites of fun lost between "succotash hummus" and a stack of fried green tomatoes and goat cheese (a combination which need never need be on any menu again). The wings are just plain weird: gobs of a wet, moppy sauce breathe a fire that lacks depth and pungency. Their tender meat just ends up tasting like ketchup and hot spice, with not much in between.
Meats — from beef brisket to the Carolina spare ribs done dry, tend to land just this side of dry, although pulled pork and smoked chicken are both moist and meaty. A pot roast, which isn't always on the menu, is by far the kitchen's best effort: moist, tender and full of beef flavor. Order it with the collards, juicily braised with bits of bacon, and the grilled creamed corn — a peppy mix of smoke, crunchy and creamy corn and yum.
Desserts — of which there are only a few, thank goodness — are among the best things offered. The only fault I can find with creamy, made-from-scratch banana pudding studded with pudding-soaked vanilla wafers is that there wasn't enough of it. Ice creams, brought in from Morelli's in East Atlanta, are stellar — from plain vanilla to chocolate bourbon.
It seems that D.B.A. can't decide what it wants to be: a barbecue restaurant offering interesting side dishes, or a home-style restaurant that serves barbecue. Either way, the restaurant would be well served to pick one and stick to getting good at it.
Food: Barbecue and home-style cooking
Service: Friendly and professional
Price range: $ - $$
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard American Express, Discover
Hours of operation: Open for lunch and dinner, Monday – Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Best dishes: Grilled creamed corn, pot roast, braised collards, pimento cheese toast with tomatoes and bacon, banana pudding, ice creams
Vegetarian selections: Salads are offered, and many items are designated as vegetarian on the menu
Parking: Adjacent lot
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise level: High
Address, telephone: 1190 North Highland Ave., N.E. Suite B, Atlanta, 404-249-5000
Web site: www.dbabarbecue.com
Pricing code: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. The price code represents a typical full-course meal for one excluding drinks.
Key to AJC ratings
Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.
One of the best in the Atlanta area.
Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.
A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit and miss.
Food is more miss than hit.
Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.
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