REVIEW: Rodney Scott’s barbecue impresses, though not always as expected

Editor’s note: After 20 months, the AJC’s weekly dining reviews are back, beginning today. Reviews were suspended due to COVID-19 safety concerns and the economic impact of the pandemic on the food-service industry.

For the most part, the critiques remain the same, with one exception: no stars for now. Reviews will also address COVID-19 health and safety practices, when appropriate. In addition, coverage may include reviews of nontraditional food-service concepts, including pop-ups in residence, that reflect today’s dining landscape.

Restaurant reviews will be published on each Thursday and in the Go Guide of the Friday print edition.

My only encounter with the celebrated South Carolina pitmaster Rodney Scott occurred a couple of years ago in Charleston. In town for a day to report on the South’s best bites, I had pushed down breakfast and brunch, made plans for supper on a nearby island, and wondered if I could squeeze in a fourth meal before driving back to Savannah. Circling Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ on King Street, I spotted the man himself out front. He flashed me one of those big, showy, come-on-in kind of waves the South is known for. I grinned and waved back.

But I didn’t stop, for obvious reasons: One can only eat so much.

As it turns out, I no longer have to travel to South Carolina or Alabama to experience the Rodney Scott touch.

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

In partnership with Birmingham-based Pihakis Restaurant Group, the James Beard Award winner’s burgeoning chain has ensconced itself in a swanky, glass fronted structure at the corner of Bronner Brothers Way and Metropolitan Parkway in southwest Atlanta. The venture seeks to marry Scott’s humble roots with the loftier expectations of the modern barbecue audience. This is not a roadside shack but an expansive, fast-casual concept with a full bar, fancy sandwiches and salads, sides to rival the mains, signature sauces and rubs, and plenty of merch — from trucker caps to autographed cookbooks.

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Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

After a rather lukewarm introductory meal — and I mean that literally — I’ve determined that the restaurant, which feels as roomy, bright and friendly as a Chevy dealership, can be a mixed blessing.

Friends, I come not to mop praise on Scott’s iconic whole hog pork and smoked brisket. I come to love on his impeccable wings and spare ribs, grandma-style potato salad and collards, and wonderful catfish and hush puppies. (Forget the cornbread and go for the fried doughboys, the cashier told me on more than one occasion.)

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Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

When a chef declares his pork the “heart and soul of my menu,” you take the hint. Indeed, no connoisseur of ‘cue should stop here without trying the master’s defining achievement. As an eater who likes his whole hog on the smoky side, with bits of char and skin all mixed in, I was a mite disappointed. The pork lacked flavor-stoking smoke and fat; squealed for a drizzle of the chef’s peppery sauce; and made me appreciate the sides all the more. (Come here, my little honey-buttered hush pup.)

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Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

I didn’t get a chance to try the pig skin-topped pork sammie, but I did order a “bag” of rinds. When the runner brought out my meal, he told me the skins weren’t quite ready. A few minutes later, he returned with a tray full of hot-from-the fryer, spice-dusted beauts that were so shatteringly crisp they popped like bubble wrap. These salty bites will make you thirsty, though, so consider ordering a craft beer or cocktail. (I liked the Pee Dee Old Fashioned, sweetened with “BBQ brown sugar,” and the West End, a Manhattan riff with a touch of spice and a nod to the hood.)

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Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Now back to the smoked goods: I requested my two-meat combo with ribs and chicken, and the cashier assured me the bird would be bone-in, not pulled. The bird came out chipped; I sent it back and ended up with a dry piece of bone-in breast. The ribs made up for the lapse, and the wings belong in this wing-loving town’s hall of fame. As for the brisket, I tried it sliced on a sandwich and chopped on a plate. The former was unremarkable; the latter would have been better warmer.

But, man, those sides. The collards are everything a pot of greens should be: sweet, vinegary, a little meaty, not too oily. The baked beans are a touch sweet, but in a good way. The creamy coleslaw makes a terrible misstep (green bell pepper!) but otherwise checks off that box, as does the mac and cheese, though mine was more crispy topped than butter-oozing. The potato salad was eggy, pickle-y and paprika-dusted — perfect. A dish of banana pudding was topped with clouds of whipped cream and pretty irresistible.

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Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

But here’s the thing about barbecue in the ATL. Since the AJC published a dining guide devoted to the iconic regional craft in 2019, no fewer than four fine spots have arrived, on the south side of town alone: Wood’s Chapel, a second DAS BBQ, Lake & Oak, and now Rodney Scott. At a time when the South is enjoying a golden age of barbecue, the ambitious chef is starting to look like just another member of the squad, albeit one with big money and PR behind him.

And yet, when I drove into the parking lot for a final check, one of his staffers happened to be outside. Sure enough, he paused to give me a friendly wave.

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt


Food: modern barbecue

Service: kind, eager to please

Best dishes: ribs, wings, catfish platter, collards, potato salad, hush puppies, banana pudding

Vegetarian selections: potato salad, mac and cheese, coleslaw, fries, hush puppies, cornbread, side salad, loaded baked potato (specify no bacon)

Alcohol: yes

Price range: $$

COVID safety: Staff was consistently masked during my two weeks of research — until Monday night, after the mayor suspended the city’s mask mandate. If you aren’t yet comfortable dining in, there’s an inviting screened-in patio and a walk-up window.

Credit cards: all major credit cards accepted

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

Children: yes

Parking: free in lot

MARTA station: West End

Reservations: no

Wheelchair access: yes

Noise level: low

Takeout: yes

Address, phone: 668 Metropolitan Parkway, Atlanta; 678-855-7377


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