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First Look: Community Q

Plus, a visit to the new Vesuvius

Today's your lucky day. I'm inviting you to invest in the development and marketing of a new bottled product that will revolutionize cooking. I call it "Bark 'n' Char."

If you're a foodie, both these words have entered your vocabulary with a vengeance in recent months. "Char" specifically refers to the blackened patches on pizza crust, while "bark" is the (nearly) black surface that develops when meat is rubbed with spices and smoked for a lengthy period in a barbecue oven.

My new product will allow home cooks to simply paint on the delicious appearance of char and bark without all the fuss of high heat and lengthy cooking.

The latest restaurants to evoke the language of char and bark are Pizzeria Vesuvius (327 Edgewood Ave., 404-343-4404) and Community Q (1361 Clairmont Road, 404-633-2080). I've visited both twice during their first week or two of operation. Both were still ironing out kinks, but both also showed great promise. Char and bark forever!

Community Q has received a huge amount of buzz from online foodies. How could it not? We live in a city obsessed with barbecue and one of the three owners, David Roberts, was an original partner in Marietta's beloved Sam and Dave's. He has revived many of his best dishes at this new restaurant. (Yes, I'm daring to call it a restaurant since "joints" and "shacks" don't lease space in strip malls.)

I'm going to get my one significant complaint out of the way up front. In both visits, our food was served lukewarm. I'm talking barely room temperature. I've noticed several reports of the same experience on various food blogs. This didn't detract much from flavor except in the case of the Flintstone-sized beef rib I ordered during my second visit. The rib's considerable fat had basically congealed, making it the greasiest thing I've eaten in a long time. Actually, I just couldn't eat more than a few bites.

The odd thing about the temperature is that during our first visit, when I ordered a combo plate of St. Louis-style pork ribs and brisket, the chef stood over our table and told me repeatedly to eat up before the food got cold. I have no explanation, although I did notice that a good bit of the food is kept in a steam tray right behind the cash register.

Apart from that, both my meals have been great. Wayne and his mother, who joined us for our first visit, also liked the food. The pulled pork, which was featured on a slider at the Shed at Glenwood the week before, really is about the best I've ever tasted. It's not shredded. It's served in generous chunks, and is deliciously tender and flavorful even without so much as a splash of the restaurant's two sauces.

I also loved the brisket. It's served sliced and it's got bark! It definitely was prettier the first visit, with some pinkness that completely disappeared by our second visit. St. Louis ribs – basically spare ribs that have been trimmed of some fat – were perfect both visits. Pick you usual barbecue adjectives: smoky, tangy, meaty, tender. We also tasted a smoked chicken breast and some mild smoked sausage – all just right.

Two sauces are available. One is mainly vinegar but don't expect the punch of a Carolina-style vinegar sauce. The other is tomato-based with plenty of vinegar, too – and a lot of sugar. In fact, during my first visit, I was convinced the sauce was made with Coca-Cola but I was assured it was not. During our second visit, the sauce's sweetness seemed to have been reduced significantly. I liked it a lot better. Wayne thinks I was just tasting things sweeter the first visit because his mother was with us. But, contrarily, I actually found the baked beans almost unpleasantly sweeter the second visit. During our first, they had a much more piquant flavor that I preferred.

The don't-miss side dish here is the mac-n-cheese made with rigatoni and three different cheeses. Just try it. Coleslaw, collards and a thick Brunswick stew all work well. So far, the only dessert available is banana pudding. It's first-rate, but another of the owners here – Stuart Baesel – was a pastry chef for Guenter Seeger. I want to see some other riffs on favorite Southern desserts!

The décor of the place, by the way, is kitschy but wittily so. Yay for pig bark!

In the Old Fourth Ward

Pizzeria Vesuvius, in the location vacated by the Bureau, has six owners with broad experiences – Chris Lopez (the Bureau, the Eagle), Matt Rupert (Noni's), Lou Locricchio (Thumbs Up), Eric Kaiser (Grant Central), Richard Silvey (Agave, Fritti) and Russell Meyer (Cabbagetown Grill).

The restaurant was amid a (repeatedly emphasized) slow opening when I visited, so I'll do a more comprehensive look later. Vesuvius serves a few starters, build-your-own pizzas and nine house pizzas named after famous volcanoes.

During my first visit, I ordered the Fuji, which featured roasted pork, hoisin sauce, cabbage and caramelized onions. The crust was thin but a bit thicker and a lot less gooey than you'll find at Antico Pizza and Varasano's. And, of course, the toppings were more whimsically fusion-style. All in all, I liked it. Actually, I ate the whole damn thing without batting an eye.

But I was more impressed when I returned for lunch a few days later. I ordered a small pizza with mozzarella, house-smoked ham and fresh arugula. I also ordered a bowl of thick chicken minestrone, served with some absurdly delicious – chewy, salty, garlicky – "knots" of pizza dough.

My feeling is that if you like your pizza pretty lightly topped, as I do, you're going to be much happier with a build-your-own pie here. The crust's integrity is less stressed by a couple of ingredients. So, I'll leave it to someone else to report on the Big Southern Butte, topped with ground beef, smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, onion and tomato sauce.

And, yes, the char is good enough to bark about.



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