Wood’s Chapel BBQ opens today at 11 a.m. along Georgia Avenue in Summerhill for barbecue, chess pie, and buckets of beer. The restaurant comes from chef Todd Ginsberg, Shelley Sweet, and Jennifer and Ben Johnson, the team behind The General Muir, Fred’s Meat & Bread, Yalla, and midtown food hall The Canteen.
The name Wood’s Chapel refers to one of the first churches in the Summerhill community. The area, established in 1865 by freed slaves and Jewish immigrants, included the restaurant’s namesake church, founded in 1866. The Washington-Rawson neighborhood, adjacent to Summerhill, later became a thriving Jewish community, which included The Temple (Hebrew Benevolent Congregation) and Piedmont Sanitarium — the original Piedmont Hospital.
For Ben Johnson, opening a restaurant in Summerhill includes a personal connection to the community. His father was born in the old Piedmont Hospital here. Johnson grew up attending Braves games with his dad down the street at the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, soon to be a 312-unit apartment complex. He watched, along with 53,774 other people at the stadium, as legendary Braves outfielder Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run on April 8, 1974.
Sweet says the 1930s building’s many lives included being home to Rex Dairy Farms, and was likely a souvenir shop during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. It’s been vacant ever since. The neighborhood lay in the shadow of Centennial Olympic Stadium, before becoming Braves Turner Field for 20 years, and now Georgia State’s stadium.
Today, the 5,200-square-foot brick building and its adjacent smokehouse transform into a neighborhood barbecue joint that includes a 115-seat dining room with historic memorabilia throughout, old wooden church pews as banquettes, a cinderblock bar, a game room for playing shuffleboard and darts, and a 120-seat patio filled with picnic tables and Adirondack chairs for lounging.
The pit fires are tended by a familiar name within Atlanta’s barbecue world — Brian Keenan. Keenan closed his popular restaurant Meating Street Barbecue in Roswell last December, but vowed he’d be back. Chef Wilson Gourley, formerly of 8ARM, mans the day-to-day in the Wood’s Chapel kitchen making sides like beet and jalapeño coleslaw and buttermilk and dill potato salad and sandwiches such as a Cuban or “Cue-bano” with smoked pork shoulder, cracklins, pickles, Swiss cheese, and mustard sauce and a brisket grilled cheese on ciabatta bread.
Once Wood’s Chapel acquires its liquor license in the next week or so, expect buckets of Schlitz, Genessee Cream, and Tecate, Cheerwine and whiskey slushies, and micheladas during weekend brunch behind the bar.
Order at the counter, grab a table tent number, head to the bar to pick up drink orders, and find a seat. Make sure to grab a token if ordering one of the pies from pastry chef Chris Daugherty which include chess, pecan, buttermilk, and banana pudding. When ready to indulge in that slice of pie, simply bring the token up to the counter.
Sweet also suggests not skipping the honey butter corn bread. “It tastes like dessert, it’s so good,” she says.
A nearby station contains three sauces created by Ginsberg to pair with the various smoked meats on the menu: a tangy AP or all-purpose sauce for the turkey and hot smoked salmon, a bold and rich barbecue sauce consisting of espresso for the Texas-style brisket, and “hog mop” for the whole, chopped hog.
“We built this place to be a community gathering spot and a place for families and friends to come for a meal, and maybe play some games while they’re here,” says Sweet.
Sunday night bingo should begin in late July or early August, right around when Atlanta area schools start back for the year.
Take a look inside and at the menu for Wood’s Chapel, now open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch:
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Weekend brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
85 Georgia Avenue, Atlanta. woodschapelbbq.com.