The server pushes a cart carrying a double-decker platter of raw food next to our table: three cuts of beef, three of pork, a pile of baby octopus, a few mushrooms and sliced onion rings. Some of it is painted with bright-red chile marinade, some of it is plain, and all of it is ready for its Instagram moment.
We have come to K-BBQ Factory for a late-Sunday-afternoon bacchanal of Korean barbecue, grilled at the table, and paired with an assemblage of fresh and fermented banchan; a bubbly casserole of Korean corn cheese; and a grand finale of kimchi fried rice garnished with cheese and beef. We’ll chug bottles of cold Hite; nibble salads, pickles and cold noodles; and make little wraps by rolling ultra-thin slices of crunchy pickled radish and sticky wet sheets of “rice paper” around whatever strikes our fancy.
Atlanta has it bad for Korean barbecue, as evidenced by the abundance of grills from Johns Creek to Decatur. Lately, I’ve taken a particular shine to this one, which sits in front of the sprawling Jusgo supermarket and food court on Venture Drive in Duluth.
First, a note on style: K-BBQ uses gas grills. If you are a purist who prefers your Korean ‘cue sizzled over glowing charcoal bricks, you’ll need to head elsewhere, perhaps Breakers Korean BBQ or 9292 Korean Barbecue — both nearby, both good — or to one of K-BBQ’s sister restaurants, 678 in Duluth or 770 in Suwanee.
But if you are looking for a low-key, no pressure introduction to KBBQ, flipped by a sweetly ministering staff of server-cooks willing to walk you gently through the process, K-BBQ Factory is a first-rate operation, and a good value, too.
Though you can certainly order individual portions of galbi, short rib, pork belly, pork jowl, chicken, shrimp and so on (and on), I suggest you line up a party of three or four and go for one of the combination menus, which comes with several tasty extras, including kimchi-and-tofu soup; the light and fluffy steamed egg dish known as gyeran-jjim; and choice of noodle or kimchi fried rice for the final course. (Get the fried rice.)
Indeed, we loved our $99.99 beef and pork sampler. (For $119.99, you may opt for an all-beef parade starring nine different bovine variations, while $129.99 will get you an over-the-top, Vegas-style banquet of beef, pork and seafood.)
If you go for one of these deluxe sets, you’ll get familiar with your server, who stays by your side from virtually the minute the first curlicues of icy brisket hit the flame until the final stops sizzling. If you need refills of banchan, just ask for them: They are complimentary.
On a second stop, when we went for the $21.99 all-you-can-eat orgy of beef, pork and two types of chicken, service was split between two team members, but no less attentive.
This anything-and-everything style of eating — my receipt tells me we tried eight different cuts during our gluttonous two-hour marathon — can be a blur of delicious excess. If you do take the plunge, consider asking for half orders so that you don’t fill up on the first couple of cuts.
In general, the brisket, prime rib, seasoned boneless short rib, beef bulgogi, pork belly and spicy pork are solid choices. The spicy chicken and teriyaki chicken bulgogi, though perfectly satisfactory, is not why I seek out Korean barbecue. (Ditto the octopus, which tasted a tad fishy and didn’t go over well at our table.) It’s the red meat.
It’s marinated pork neck, scattered with green-onion salad and a heavy dab of ssamjang (the orange sauce made with fermented soybean paste). It’s beef bulgogi with a bite of refreshing green salad. It’s the rubbery texture of sweet-spicy pig skin cooked until blackened. (I wouldn’t suggest this as an entree, but if it’s included in your meal and you’re adventurous, by all means have a nibble. It’s loaded with collagen and very, very chewy, nothing like the crunch of deep-fried pork rinds.)
All in all, K-BBQ Factory is an appealing place to take a spirited group, celebrate a special occasion, and if you are a meat lover, go a little bit crazy. Southerners love their ‘cue, and even if the quick-grilled Korean version is nothing like the low-and-slow smoke the region is famous for, the sense of community and conviviality is all there.
Just be sure to bring your camera.
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