Atlanta Orders In: For a barbecue shack experience, try Decatur’s BBQ Cafe

While some modern barbecue restaurants around town offer innumerable options, and can end up being as pricey as a fine-dining experience, BBQ Cafe in Decatur won’t destroy your budget. Wendell Brock for The AJC
Caption
While some modern barbecue restaurants around town offer innumerable options, and can end up being as pricey as a fine-dining experience, BBQ Cafe in Decatur won’t destroy your budget. Wendell Brock for The AJC

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Everybody knows you get the finest barbecue from a shack somewhere between Memphis and Natchez. That may not be true entirely, but it’s hard not to get your hopes up when you pull up to the new BBQ Cafe in downtown Decatur.

Housed in a scrappy red-and-white cinderblock building that the owners say is an old taxi-dispatch station from the 1950s, BBQ Cafe is the handiwork of three guys who claim they just love barbecue. Truth be told, partners Lloyd Solomon, John Peeples and Lewis Johnson have been in the industry for years. They operate three restaurants between them, including two in Starkville, Mississippi. That depth of experience shows at their latest endeavor, from the packaging to the quality of the barbecue and fixings.

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This rib plate from BBQ Cafe in Decatur comes with slaw and baked beans. Wendell Brock for The AJC
Caption
This rib plate from BBQ Cafe in Decatur comes with slaw and baked beans. Wendell Brock for The AJC

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Solomon, a Starkville native with graduate degrees in math and business, said the cafe’s 100 percent pecan-smoked barbecue is of the Memphis dry-rub variety, and that some of the sides are cheater versions ripped off from “Bell’s Best,” a community cookbook revered by Mississippians. The barbecue — ribs, brisket, pulled pork, wings, chicken, turkey — is served naked, with an all-purpose sweet-tangy sauce on the side.

“John has been working on the recipes for 15 years,” Solomon said. “We got into it, because we all love barbecue, and learned that there are many regional differences, and it is difficult to provide consistent barbecue.” Solomon and Peeples grew up together in Starkville; Solomon met Johnson, a Macon native, while they were students at the University of South Carolina.

The partners signed the lease on the space vacated by Doggy Dogg hotdog stand, across from Kimball House, on March 13. Naturally, they were concerned about the pandemic. But, since BBQ Cafe does takeout only, there were built-in advantages. The public is not allowed inside the 300-square-foot building. To-go orders are handed through a walk-up window by the front door. Picnicking is allowed at tables outside.

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BBQ Cafe’s pulled pork plate comes with slaw, Brunswick stew and a side of house-made bread-and-butter pickles. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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BBQ Cafe’s pulled pork plate comes with slaw, Brunswick stew and a side of house-made bread-and-butter pickles. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

About the victuals: Plates come with one meat, two sides and two pieces of white bread. The pulled pork was delicious in its simplicity — flavorful enough to nibble on its own, good on an impromptu sandwich made with the bread and slaw. It is reminiscent of the classic Georgia-style chopped pork from the original Fresh Air Barbecue in Jackson. The ribs were deeply smoky, noticeably salty (but in a good way), and a tad chewy. The brisket looked a bit dry to the eye, but, in fact, had enough fat to balance it out and make it pretty dang luscious.

Like the meats, the five sides — Brunswick stew, baked beans, corn salad, loaded potato salad and slaw — are studies in restraint.

The slaw was little more than shredded cabbage with the barest touch of oil. I appreciate the purity of it, but I probably wouldn’t request it again. If you must have baked beans, the sweet version here suits nicely.

BBQ Cafe partner Lloyd Solomon stands outside the new spot in downtown Decatur, across from Kimball House. Courtesy of Lloyd Solomon
Caption
BBQ Cafe partner Lloyd Solomon stands outside the new spot in downtown Decatur, across from Kimball House. Courtesy of Lloyd Solomon

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The most exceptional go-withs are the rich, creamy potato salad (dressed like a loaded baked spud); the stew; and the corn salad. This is not the ground-to-a-pulp Brunswick stew of old Georgia: It’s full of chunky, smoke-kissed shredded meat, but, other than tomatoes and corn, it’s pretty straightforward. (Solomon told me there was a big debate about whether to include lima beans — I’m glad they didn’t.) A bowl of this hearty concoction, served with a wedge of excellent, slightly sweet cornbread, is like a trip to Brunswick stew heaven, and a great full-meal deal at $9. Fresh corn salad, with a bit of chopped tomato and a touch of spice, was lovely, really lovely.

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BBQ Cafe’s Sabirah Rasheed hands a to-go order out the window of the takeout-only spot in downtown Decatur. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
BBQ Cafe’s Sabirah Rasheed hands a to-go order out the window of the takeout-only spot in downtown Decatur. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

While some modern barbecue restaurants around town offer innumerable options, and can end up being as pricey as a fine-dining experience, BBQ Cafe won’t destroy your budget. My one caveat was that the hot food was just barely warm by the time I got back to my house in Grant Park. This certainly was not a deal breaker, but, as cool weather sets in, such divine stew, cornbread and brisket deserve to be swaddled and coddled tenderly.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

BBQ CAFE

Menu: barbecue and sides

Alcohol: no, but beer and wine coming soon

What I ordered: ribs with baked beans and slaw, brisket with corn salad and potato salad, pulled pork with Brunswick stew and slaw, stew and cornbread

Service options: takeout only; delivery via UberEats

Outdoor space: a small, but cute, pea-gravel patio with a few tables

Mask policy: customers are expected to wear masks; employees wear masks

Address, phone: 310 E. Howard Ave., Decatur; 678-235-3476

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

Website: bbq.cafe

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