Feedbag - Phat 'cue?

Atlantans still flock to Fat Matt's Rib Shack

In Atlanta, barbecue seems to be the great equalizer. Black, white, rich, poor: The pursuit of a good chopped pork sandwich knows no racial, ethnic or class boundaries. And nowhere is that better illustrated than at Fat Matt's. The place is a veritable cultural soup. My most recent visit found me squeezed into a tiny two-top booth on the patio. A young black couple sat on one side; on the other, a couple of frat guys; across from me, four middle-aged men, two black and two white; behind them, a good-looking family chatting in Spanish.

One thing's for sure — they weren't there for the ambience. The owners are not being cute when they call Fat Matt's a shack. The concrete block shoebox accommodates a handful of ramshackle tables, with a stage wedged into one corner. There's live music just about every night, and the signed photos and band posters plastering the walls tell the uninitiated that Fat Matt's is serious about its blues. On any given night, a line snakes out the front door with folks waiting patiently for their pork fix. A giant board on one wall advertises the menu, and at the front of the line, a world-weary waitress rings up orders.

So, the million dollar question: How's the 'cue? Fat Matt's seems to win Best of Atlanta reader's competitions every year, but upon risk of death threats, I'll assert that it's not the best barbecue joint in town. The ribs are the biggest disappointment. Fatty and flaccid, Fat Matt's ribs lack that toothsome, caramelized exterior that's the hallmark of a great rib.

A meaty chopped pork sandwich does the job nicely, especially with a cup of cool, crunchy coleslaw on the side. I've never been much for baked beans. I find them goopy and cloyingly sweet. Here, they're still goopy (it goes with the territory, I guess) but the sweetness is tempered by a pleasant, tangy smokiness. "Texture" people — you know who you are — may be turned off by the mealy, overcooked Brunswick stew.

This may be barbecue blasphemy, but I like the barbecued chicken best. A quarter- or half-bird comes lacquered in sauce, its crispy skin mahogany brown. I've never encountered a dried-out breast here, either. It's been perfectly done every time. And the tea is so sweet, it'll give you a sugar headache if you drink it too fast. That's just how I like it.

Judging by the nearly constant crowds, I'm apparently one of the few people in town with any complaints about Fat Matt's. Decent barbecue, bad-ass blues, and a little peace, love and harmony: In these tense times, that's something to be proud of.

Meet me for St. Louis

Every Sunday night is barbecue night at South City Kitchen, and now there's a twist: The restaurant will feature a different style of barbecue each month. For August, it's St. Louis style. Look for hickory-smoked chicken and dry-rubbed pork ribs. $19.95 for adults, $9.95 for kids 12 and under. 1144 Crescent Ave. 404-873-7358. www.southcitykitchen.com.

Crustacean Creation

Seafood lovers, take note: The Crab Tower is back on the menu at Restaurant Eugene. Chef Lynton Hopkins' glorious concoction features a jumbo lump crab cake and soft shell crab on a bed of coleslaw, the whole thing glossed in Creole citrus butter. 2277 Peachtree Road. 404-355-0321. www.restauranteugene.com.

Dine Downtown

Downtown Atlanta Restaurant Week continues through Aug. 21. Select downtown restaurants will offer three-course dinners for $20.05 per person (excluding tax and gratuity). Visit www.atlantadowntown.com for a complete list of participating restaurants.

Cattle call

On Thurs., Aug. 25, Spice will join up with Halpern's Steak and Seafood to host the first "Big Red" dinner. The five-course dinner will highlight beef in all its many forms. Cost of $65 per person includes wine. The event will feature a silent auction with items from Cook's Warehouse. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the American Institute of Wine and Food. 793 Juniper St. 404-875-4242. www.spicerestaurant.com.

On the Rhone Again

Iris continues its tour of the gastronomic regions of France on Mon., Aug. 29. This month's dinner focuses on the Rhone Valley. The five-course, prix-fixe tasting menu and wine tasting is $65 per person plus tax and gratuity ($48 without wines). 1314 Glenwood Ave. 404-221-1300. www.irisatlanta.com.

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