Atlanta Orders In: After battle with COVID-19, chef Todd Richards takes on barbecue

Brisket, whole wings and ribs from Lake & Oak BBQ.
Caption
Brisket, whole wings and ribs from Lake & Oak BBQ.

Credit: Paula Pontes

Credit: Paula Pontes

Chef Todd Richards experienced the scare of his life in late March, when he fell ill from COVID-19. Going from feeling good to god-awful took less than an hour.

“The thing is, I had no fever,” he said.

Todd Richards is author of “Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes.” CONTRIBUTED BY ERIC VITALE / TIME INC. BOOKS
Caption
Todd Richards is author of “Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes.” CONTRIBUTED BY ERIC VITALE / TIME INC. BOOKS

Richards was diagnosed on March 30. “I don’t think I left the house until May 5,” he said. “I don’t think I was in normal health until sometime in June. I feel really great, but I still have to take four different medications in recovery.”

Richards, 49, still does not know how he contracted the virus. He’d been wiping newly purchased goods with alcohol, tossing clothes in the washing machine as soon as he entered the door, and social distancing. “That’s why it is so baffling,” he said at the time.

Richards is sharing his story now, because it is intertwined deeply with Lake & Oak BBQ, the restaurant he recently opened with chef Josh Lee, formerly of Superica and Chicken & Beer.

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Josh Lee is the co-owner of Lake & Oak BBQ. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
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Josh Lee is the co-owner of Lake & Oak BBQ. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

The space at Hosea L. Williams Drive and Second Avenue became available while Richards was ill. He called Lee to check it out. Lee reported back: “We have to do it.”

Richards estimated that he has opened well over 10 restaurants in his career. But, he said, launching Lake & Oak during the pandemic has posed unique challenges, ranging from “understanding the rules and how they have to be applied,” to being respectful of how other area businesses are operating. When Lake & Oak opened in early July, none of the three nearby restaurants was open for dine-in service, so Richards and Lee followed suit.

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Lake & Oak BBQ is putting out some satisfyingly smoky barbecue, including this half slab of ribs. CONTRIBUTED BY PAULA PONTES
Caption
Lake & Oak BBQ is putting out some satisfyingly smoky barbecue, including this half slab of ribs. CONTRIBUTED BY PAULA PONTES

Credit: PAULA PONTES

Credit: PAULA PONTES

The restaurant’s 40-seat dining room remains closed. It’s still a takeout-only operation, although patrons can enjoy their barbecue at umbrella tables spaced out on the patio.

About that barbecue: “It’s a combination of who we are,” Richards said. “Josh is from Atlanta. I’m from Chicago. We have those influences in there, but we are using all the techniques we learned to do this.”

The self-taught, James Beard-nominated Richards picked up those techniques while working at five-star hotel kitchens, at several Atlanta restaurants he co-founded, and from opening his own place, Richards’ Southern Fried, a chicken and soul food stall at Krog Street Market. He shares much of what he’s learned in “Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes,” his cookbook published in 2018.

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Todd Richards shares many of his techniques for cooking barbecue in “Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes.” CONTRIBUTED BY ANGIE MOSIER / TIME INC. BOOKS
Caption
Todd Richards shares many of his techniques for cooking barbecue in “Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes.” CONTRIBUTED BY ANGIE MOSIER / TIME INC. BOOKS

At Lake & Oak, it’s about the smoke. From brisket to wings to slabs of ribs — and even onions destined for a salad —– smoky flavor is everywhere. Sauce is serious, too. There are two options: Chicago Red, a variation of Richards’ dad’s sweet, tomato-based recipe, and a Carolina mustard sauce.

The current menu is an abbreviated version of the one Richards and Lee plan to roll out eventually. They hope to sell alcohol, too.

ExploreThe ultimate guide to barbecue in metro Atlanta
The whole wings from Lake & Oak BBQ are deeply smoky and juicy. CONTRIBUTED BY PAULA PONTES
Caption
The whole wings from Lake & Oak BBQ are deeply smoky and juicy. CONTRIBUTED BY PAULA PONTES

Credit: PAULA PONTES

Credit: PAULA PONTES

Lake & Oak isn’t the only thing keeping Richards busy. He’s got that food stall at Krog. It’s been shuttered for months, but, when it reopens in six to eight weeks, the signage won’t read Richards’ Southern Fried. It’ll say Soul. He’ll be plating up plenty of recipes from his cookbook, lots of Southern dishes, and, of course, fried chicken.

This year “just shows that you must have some type of perseverance, and can’t get down in the fray of things, or you will lose your damn mind,” Richards said. “That’s what COVID has taught us: Control your own destiny.”

You can get a smoked Georgia onion, cucumber and tomato salad with basil vinaigrette from Lake & Oak BBQ. CONTRIBUTED BY PAULA PONTES
Caption
You can get a smoked Georgia onion, cucumber and tomato salad with basil vinaigrette from Lake & Oak BBQ. CONTRIBUTED BY PAULA PONTES

Credit: Paula Pontes

Credit: Paula Pontes

LAKE & OAK BBQ

Menu: abbreviated, barbecue

Alcohol: no, but will be available once liquor license is approved

What I ordered: half slab St. Louis ribs, with side of smoked mac and cheese; brisket and side of collard greens, with smoked turkey broth; four whole wings, with side of Brussels sprouts and cabbage slaw; chicken, pimento cheese and collard sandwich, with side of jalapeno creamed corn; smoked and grilled onion, tomato and cucumber salad. Lake & Oak is putting out some satisfyingly smoky barbecue. The brisket was exceptionally tender and smoke-laden, and the whole wings were noticeably juicy. The roasted jalapeno gave the creamed corn nice heat, and was the winningest of sides. Don’t miss the salad. It’s not your regular barbecue joint salad.

Service options: takeout only; order online, via phone or walk-up; patio dining available; no delivery

Safety protocols: following all COVID-19 restaurant safety guidelines; all staff wear masks; public only permitted inside to use restrooms, but must wear mask indoors; hand sanitizer, masks and complimentary bottled water available for patrons

Address, phone: 2358 Hosea L. Williams Drive NE, Atlanta; 404-205-5913

Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, noon-6 p.m. Sundays. Adding Tuesday and Wednesday hours after Labor Day

Website: lakeandoakbbq.com

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