Jonathan and Justin Fox have dominated Atlanta’s barbecue landscape since opening their restaurant nearly a decade ago on Dekalb Avenue just southeast of Little Five Points. Now the city’s undisputed kings of seasoned and smoked meats, the Texas-born and raised brothers serve up their ‘cue with a side of lone star charm to hungry crowds who gather en masse at the eatery daily. If you’ve ever dined in or picked up to-go at Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, you’re familiar with the O.K. Corral-esque standoff that becomes the parking lot, where patrons circle like buzzards for a spot as the line for a seat stretches out into the blistering Georgia sun.
As they enter their 10th year, the Fox Bros. empire now extends beyond the cramped quarters of their flagship Candler Park joint and includes a thriving catering company, being dubbed the official barbecue of the Atlanta Falcons, a soon-to-open kiosk at the Armour Yards development, as well as another full-service restaurant in Westside and a starring role at the new Atlanta Braves stadium’s Tomahawk Taproom. In a city where barbecue is debated more heatedly than this year’s presidential candidates, Fox Bros. has put Atlanta squarely in the middle of the smoked meat map long-dominated by North Carolina and even their home state of Texas.
So, where do the pitmasters eat and drink around Atlanta when they’re off duty? Jonathan Fox gives us the inside scoop.
Ria’s Bluebird is a staple. Man, I miss her. But, her legend lives on at her home on Memorial. Home Grown has cured some rough mornings! Folk Art is amazingly consistent and has a great, solid brunch. Dish Dive in my neighborhood [Kirkwood] is also outstanding for Sunday brunch. So many great things on their menu.
Some days I am wrapped up in meetings, so I usually have to stop and grab something to-go. My two go-tos are: Taqueria del Sol because it is always solid with great taco specials and the spiedie from Ticonderoga which has to be one of the best sandwiches in town. It seems like if I have a lunch meeting it always takes place at The Optimist. The lobster Cobb salad and the burger are very hard to pass up. [Ed. note: Ticonderoga Club has since ended its spiedie lunch service.]
Barbecue is a very passionate subject to lots of folks. Everyone has their own idea of what makes their barbecue experience their own. Recently, several chefs or writers have mentioned that true barbecue has to be rural or you have to drive to another city or state. I disagree with those statements. There are folks in this town who over the last five to six years have made Atlanta a great barbecue town — one that is starting to get the attention it deserves.
Cody [Taylor] and Jiyeon [Lee at Heirloom Market BBQ] have deservedly put a small shop on the national map. Old Brick Pit in Chamblee has been acknowledged as one of the best in the nation. Grand Champion is getting the national press they deserve. Sam Huff is a master at his craft. Matt [Coggin] over at D.B.A. is more focused on his food now more than ever. Dave [Roberts] at Community Q is as consistent as they come. In the end, we all (barbecue folks) get out and support the local dining scene here in Atlanta that we all love to be a part of. We do not compare one chef here to one chef there, one restaurant here to one restaurant there. We don’t have to make Atlanta barbecue great again. It already is.
Any of Kevin Rathbun’s spots. I love sitting at the bar at Steak and getting great service from Irv and his crew. Kevin Gillespie is doing some really great things at Gunshow and Revival. BoccaLupo has to be one of my favorites. I give Bruce a hard time about how hard it is to just walk in now and find an open seat, and he gives it right back to me. Every meal there is outstanding.
You can usually find me and my girlfriend sitting at the bar eating sushi and slurping up a bowl of the Dan Dan ramen at least once a week at Miso Izakaya. I love that spot and hope the Dan Dan stays on the menu! I have been shopping at Chicago Supermarket on Buford Highway where they have a small market with great tacos in back located at the meat counter. Since I am on Buford Highway, it is hard to resist picking up a bunch of pork, bean, and cheese pupusas from Rincon Latino.
Octopus Bar. Nhan [Le] and Angus [Brown] are great friends and walking in there is just like walking into their home. They feed you and give you a spot to relax and enjoy a drink after you get off work, finish an event, or whatever you have been doing that night and need to unwind. Ford [Fry’s] late-night menu at Marcel is also a great stop when you’re out and about on the west side of town.
Cocktail or beer of choice
A Shiner Bock in an ice-cold schooner. I like a good French rose — flat or sparkling. I have really been getting into wines when I am out or buying them for home, trying all kinds of new white wines from all over the world. Vodka and tequila are preferred spirits, but you will never hear me turn down a bourbon neat or with one cube.
Fancy night out
I would have to say Umi. Start out the night with a drink at Himitsu and then sit down at Umi is my idea of a pretty fancy and decadent evening. I have yet to spend an evening at Bacchanalia, but I plan to do so soon.
Nothing screams home like the smell of a homemade chicken stock filling the house. I love to use that stock in white bean and ham soup or chicken and dumplings. Cooking any type of pasta dish, like a bolognese, is my idea comfort food. A hanger steak is one of my favorite meats to throw on the grill.
Top five Atlanta restaurants not mentioned above
KR SteakBar: Great room, bar, and food. Pasta and steak, how can you go wrong?
Floataway Café: Always solid. Todd [Immel] puts out a great dinner every time!
St. Cecilia: It is just a stunning room with food to match. Craig [Richards] has been killing it here since day one.
Miller Union: I dined here recently after a year or two, and from beginning to end, everything was exceptional.
4th & Swift (RIP): I loved sneaking in here and dining at the bar. The charred octopus was one of the best in the city. It will be missed.
Out-of-town favorite (regional)
I was just up in North Carolina visiting with Sam Jones at his new barbecue spot and got to also stop by Skylight Inn BBQ — which he also runs with his family. The chopped whole hog sandwich was amazing. But, since we were up there, we made a point to stop by Raleigh and eat at Ashley Christensen’s Poole’s Diner. It has been a few years since I have been there, but it was just as amazing (if not better) as my first visit. We are down in New Orleans every spring for Hogs for the Cause and Justin Devillier’s Balise is a must-stop for us. In a town with a lot of greats, Balise ranks high.
Out-of-town favorite (national)
We have been fortunate to cook the last several years in New York City. We usually stay at The Ace Hotel so, of course, we have gotten to know the staff (and bar staff) pretty well at The Breslin located inside the Ace. They always take great care of us. The food is outstanding. Del Posto (New York City) is another very memorable meal. One night in Austin, we got lucky and got a spot at the bar of Uchiko and had possibly the best meal/dining experience I have ever had. It was that good.
• All Fox Bros. Coverage [EATL]
• All Go-To Guides [EATL]