Pulaski Heights BBQ
Right Side of the Tracks: The restaurant space at the Pulaski side of the Leathers Building, occupied variously by a catering company and a café that operated with little more than a hot-plate for a kitchen, finally has a real tenant in Pulaski Heights BBQ (675 Pulaski St.). Owned and operated by Chuck Ramsey, ex-Five & Ten, PH BBQ takes a page from his former employer’s book in the way it under-promises (“We’re just a simple BBQ joint.”) and over-delivers.
Ramsey’s slow-cooked meats have been a pleasure for years for those fortunate enough to experience them, some of the most consistently delicious BBQ in Northeast Georgia, and scaling up the process doesn’t seem to have hurt the product any. If the cue sits around too long, it can get a little soggy, but the restaurant has been busy, and the problem nonexistent.
The atmosphere is a pleasure, even taking into account the trains that pass by, horn full blast, every so often. You may even be treated to a bit of tuba practice from Cal Clements, whose yoga studio shares the building. There are lovely views from the windows upstairs that you can’t get anywhere else in town, and Michael Songster’s renovation of the interior is a nice mix of rustic and sleek without being overly either.
The staff know better than to plunk a take-out box on your table for leftovers, removing the metal tray they come on to the kitchen to package them up, a small luxury not found many places in this town. The bar is smart and a neighborhood focus already, with Allan Aycock and David Bryant mixing drinks a couple of nights a week, a long list of bourbons and a focused, quirky wine list (lambrusco!) on which all offerings can be ordered by the glass. All these creature comforts would be beside the point, however, were the food not up to snuff, and indeed it is.
Ramsey’s rub is complex and has, if this isn’t too highfalutin’ a point to make with regard to BBQ, a bouquet in the aroma department, with notes of citrus coming through clearly and pleasantly on the BBQ chicken. It’s been said that 2013 is going to be the year of the chicken, but the stuff usually isn’t worth ordering most places—PH BBQ is an exception to the rule. The ribs are magical. I cannot say enough about them. The chicken salad is awesome stuff, as good as The National’s but completely distinct from that version, erring more toward a smoky, curried taste, and it comes with a giant, puffy Luna bun.
What if you are a pescatarian or, even more difficult, a vegetarian? The smoked catfish doesn’t hold up to the rest of the proteins. You’d be better ordering the unsexy-sounding mixed greens salad, which adds smoked pecans, fabulous hardboiled eggs, pickled okra, pretty thinly sliced radishes and is satisfying all by itself. The sides are almost uniformly excellent: smoky, not-too-sweet baked beans; a zippy vinegar-lime slaw; vegetarian collards that can pass for the regular meaty kind; a smoked potato salad with excellent dressing (but potatoes that could be more evenly cooked); squash casserole that loves rather than masks its central veggie; light, breadcrumb-topped baked mac and cheese; a Brunswick stew that will clean out your sinuses; and smoked cauliflower that needs some salt to liven it up.
You will have a tough time choosing among them, but don’t neglect the “snacks” section at the top left of the menu, which includes housemade pickles, pimento cheese that goes heavy (thankfully!) on the first ingredient in its name, smoked pecans and “Henry’s anchovies,” rivaling anything else the restaurant offers in their simple, salty, fishy, fatty deliciousness. Specials show up regularly, and even the nonalcoholic beverages include cute options like Cheerwine, Stewart’s Cream Soda, RC Cola and Blenheim’s Ginger Ale.
Neither too hip for dudes in trucks nor festooned with porcine art, PH BBQ is its own thing, and it’s awesome. It serves lunch every day but Monday and dinner every day, has a full bar, does take-out, has a patio and even has a kids’ menu.
Rise Up?: Dirty Birds (312 E. Washington St.) has no relation to the Atlanta Falcons, being, in fact, a wing joint out of Pacific Beach, CA. Mostly, it’s a sports bar, with an overemphasis on the word “dirty.” By the time you’ve ordered “dirty tacos,” “dirty sauce,” “dirty ranch sliders” and the “dirty chicken sandwich,” you may be feeling kind of pessimistic about the prospects of the food. Not to worry. It’s fine. Televisions abound, making it a good place to watch a game. So do flavors of wings (ditto), none of which are amazing and most of which go a little heavy on the sauce. One remarkable appetizer, a giant platter of tater tots topped with surprisingly good pulled pork and cheese, is worth the trip, a wonderfully executed version of bar food. The restaurant has a full bar, complete with some impressive craft beers on tap and in the bottle, and is open for lunch and dinner every day.