Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Harold's BBQ Passes The Test

Harold’s BBQ
171 McDonough Boulevard Southeast
Atlanta, GA
Visited July 21, 2010

Beer Selection: None

Food: Chopped pork, of course

One of life’s most useful skills is the ability to spot a good BBQ joint.

I’m happy to say lunch at Harold’s checks off nearly all the boxes.

Surviving a trip to the bad part of town. Check.

Leaving rental car parts in the pot hole filled gravel parking lot. Check.

Nervously wondering about the purpose of all the bars on the windows. Check.

Meandering past piles of hard wood out back. Check.

Seeing dense clouds of smoke wafting through the neighborhood. Check.

Smelling the pungent thick smoky air as you open the front door. Check.

Hearing the clop, clop, clop of the collision of cleaver, pig and chopping block. Check.

Witnessing the locals all swerve in the chairs to stare at your arrival. Check.

Wondering whether the very existence of the place is known to any health inspectors. Check.

Observing the smoke-stained, decades old prints of the anatomical features of pigs decorating the walls. Check.

Yes. Harold’s possesses the look, smell and feel of a great BBQ dive – even before you take the first bite.

Fortunately, that first bite doesn’t disappoint. The pulled pork is delicious on a simple wonder bread sandwich which is toasted on a decades old grate over hot coals or as a platter with corn bread and Brunswick Stew.

The only variance from BBQ perfection Harold’s commits in the Suit757 BBQ joint check list is the sauce on the table.

My theory is that the truly great BBQ places (Pierce’s in Williamsburg, VA; Georgia Pig in Brunswick, GA; Smitty’s in Lockhart, TX) – the places so exquisite you will wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat dreaming about them – do not put jars of sauce on the tables.

Think about it.

If you sold the single greatest BBQ sandwich on earth, you’ve already dedicated your life to such monumental decisions such as sauce type and texture, meat to sauce ratio, and tomato versus vinegar. I mean, wars have been fought over less weighty matters.

So a jar of sauce at the counter of a BBQ restaurant screams indecision to me. And what pit master, a man dedicated to spending his entire life standing for hours on end in a smoke filled fiery haze, is indecisive about his BBQ?

Quite by definition, perfection can’t be improved.

Don’t even get me going about those chain BBQ restaurants that give you a Rand McNally assortment of sauces at every table (Memphis, Carolina, Kansas City, etc.).

The BBQ sandwich that is served at the very best of the best joints on earth can’t be gilded, molested or otherwise altered by more sauce. It has already achieved perfection by the time it reaches your table.

So the fact that Harold’s leaves the all important decision about whether to apply sauce and in what quantity to the customer is a definite deduction on my check list.

That being said, Harold’s has no reason to lack such confidence. Their sauce is delicious. It’s sweet but thin, so that even a generous application of the tomatoey nectar compliments the pork perfectly without detracting from the smoky pork texture.

The Brunswick stew is thick with meat and one of the best examples in the state of the Georgia version (Brunswick, Virginia and Brunswick, Georgia have a centuries running feud over its origins).

The corn bread is even more unique. It comes studded with bits of cracklins.

In case you are a Yankee or a vegetarian, let me take a moment to explain cracklins. Or you can reference the excellent song “Cracklins” by The Gourds.

Quite simply, cracklins are crunchy bits of fried pig fat.

Yeah, exactly. What could be better than that?

The cracklins add a perfect porky, crunchy texture to the corn bread.

Harold’s has been serving such classic delicious BBQ fare for decades. So don’t let the prison down the street, the scary neighbors or the bars on the windows deter you. It’s all part of what makes Harold’s one of this country’s truly authentic BBQ destinations.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt

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