About two weeks back, our brother-in-law (Lawyer Boy), mentioned that he was doing some real estate work for a new barbecue place that was about to open. Then one day last week, he sent me a text asking if we’d like to join them at the “soft” opening tonight. New barbecue place? Heck yeah. So we headed into town and joined Lawyer Boy, Mrs. LB and LB daughter for dinner. As this was a soft opening, a portion of the meal was complimentary. We did, however, manage to order enough additional dishes to feel like we paid something for dinner. On to the review.
Located in the former Pura Vida space on North Highland Avenue, Sweet Auburn Barbecue has opened their first storefront. The owner also owns another style restaurant on the south side of the city and a barbecue spot in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, along with a catering truck. They have done a spectacular job with the redesign of this space. The back wall is composed of stacked old wood that makes a beautiful backdrop for the entire restaurant. The menu is an interesting mix of traditional BBQ items with Asian influences – from the wonton starters through the maple glazed Peking duck entrée to the Korean short rib barbecue (in a sandwich and in tacos), the influences are broad.
The complimentary portion of the evening included a starter for the table along with a meal for everyone. With five of us, we decided to start with two starters: 1) the picnic sampler (shaved Benton’s ham, candied bacon, pimento cheese, breads and a couple kinds of pickles).Benton’s ham is naturally great. And I don’t know that I’ve ever had really bad bacon, and this was sweet and tasty. I don’t like pickles, but I heard they were good, too. The standout on the picnic sampler, by far, was the pimento cheese. It was thick, yet still remained creamy with a bit of a bite and we cleared every bit of it. In fact, we asked for more bread, so that I could finish it off. and 2) the fried pimento cheese wontons with smoky bacon and a sweet chili dipping sauce.
These were the absolute hit of the evening. In fact in the car on the way home we discussed that we would go back just for several orders of these. They were absolutely amazing – one of my new favorite appetizers in town.
Between the five of us we sampled most of the things on the menu:
1) A Korean short-rib sandwich with a spicy sriracha aioli, with fries (across the table, no photo, completely devoured as only a teen can);
2) The pulled pork plate with two sides – ordered with cheddar stone ground grits and bacon roasted brussels sprouts (again, no picture);
3) The pulled pork on grits (like a shrimp and grits with barbecue instead);
4) The brisket with barbecue mashed potatoes and some more of the grits; This was mine, so I can comment, specifically – the brisket was very good, although I would have appreciated it coming from the kitchen dry, but the house sauce was on it. It was an ample portion – and I also ordered a side of a quarter-pound of pork as well – and between the two (and a massive amount of pimento cheese to start with), I was stuffed. and
5) The lemongrass coconut short ribs with greens and mac & cheese. These belonged to my beloved, so I was able to taste a little – the baby back ribs did not taste strongly of either lemongrass or coconut, although they were slightly sweet and were good. The turnip greens were a little sweet but adding some of the vinegar barbecue sauce on the table made them taste more traditional and the mac & cheese while very cheesy on top, could have used more cheese throughout the rest of the dish.
We finished everything off with a banana pudding, which was served in a small mason jar. It had a thick layer of cream on top, which we dug down through to the pudding then to the bananas themselves. There was also a salted caramel sauce somewhere therein. If the mouth of the mason jar had have been any wider, I think the jar would have been licked clean.
The prices were fair (sandwiches were $9 – $12, entrees were $11-18 and the meats were sold by the quarter-, half- and full-pound, or half and full racks of ribs) and the serving sizes were ample. They have opened in a tough area for barbecue – about two miles from Fox Brothers, but I think the Asian influence on the menu will help you differentiate.