Food - A visit to Twin Smokers BBQ
Smoked meats are the name of the game at this four-month-old restaurant in the Luckie-Marietta District Downtown
For meat lovers in this town, there's a mix of cautious optimism and guarded skepticism every time a new barbecue spot opens its doors: Will it be the real deal worthy of a mention among the city's true elite, or just a mediocre bandwagon-jumper?
One block from Centennial Olympic Park is where you'll find one relative newcomer: Twin Smokers BBQ. The four-month-old restaurant is the latest from the folks behind Der Biergarten and Max's Coal Oven Pizzeria, proven breadwinners nearby. It's likely Twin Smokers will follow suit, making its mark with often excellent 'cue that's worth a trip Downtown.
The restaurant takes its name from two behemoth Oyler pit smokers, named Matthew and Elizabeth after owner David Marvin's kids. Each of "the Twins," as they're called, hold up to 1,000 pounds of food on 18 revolving racks. Picture a large Ferris wheel setup, but with meat. All of proteins here — beef brisket, pork, chicken, sausage, and both beef and pork ribs — are cooked in one of the flaming red smokers the night before they're served. Each rig is dedicated to its own type of wood and cooks only the meat best complemented by that kind of smoke. Elizabeth cooks pork and chicken over white oak and hickory; Matthew handles the beef and sausage with more assertive mesquite and post oak.
The 4,000-square-foot space has a modern, loft-like feel, but with folky twists such as exposed brick, reclaimed lumber, corrugated tin, and vintage-y, Edison-style lighting. A center island doubles as the bar stocked with more than 40 beers and an extensive selection of bourbon, whiskey, and moonshine on one side, and the restaurant's carving station on the other.
The carving station is where you'll approach the Cutter, a burly, cleaver-wielding staffer charged with chopping, hacking, and slicing huge slabs of tender, smoky meat and assembling your meal to order. Not just for show, the Cutter can also answer questions and help you customize your order. Do you like your brisket lean, with almost no fat? Want extra bark? Need a small sample of something that catches your eye to help you decide? Just ask. Work your way down the line, then place your final order with the cashier.
Pay, take your table marker, and seat yourself at one of 20 or so dark wood tables or at the bar. They'll deliver your order within a few minutes — just enough time for you to take the obligatory stroll past the Twins and the restaurant's "wood library," a floor-to-ceiling display rack of the four wood types used in the smokers.
Patak sausage ($10 for two links with two sides) from less than 20 miles up the road in Austell, Ga., has a light, fluffy interior that may surprise, with subtle spice and exceptional smokiness all the way through. The Black Angus brisket ($14) from Kansas City's Creekstone Farm is thickly sliced, dense, and chewy, with almost no fat whatsoever.
A single dinosaur beef rib ($29) may sound gimmicky, but weighing in at around two-thirds of a pound and nearly a foot long, this is the order that causes heads to turn and camera phones to come out when it hits the table. It's a crusty, juicy, messy-as-hell masterpiece that belongs on your gastronomical bucket list. But remember, only a half-dozen or so are prepped daily. During one visit, the pork ribs ($30/full slab) were on the fatty side, and not nearly as wow-worthy as the "Texas-style" meats from the beef and sausage smoker. This may be where you reach for one of six house-made sauces to liven things up: North Carolina is vinegar-based, South Carolina is mustard-based, Memphis is sweet and tangy, Texas is spicy, Kansas City is thick, sweet, and spicy, and the House sauce aims for a sweet and Southern flavor.
Sandwiches come with one side, and plates come with two. Expect the usual suspects like collards and coleslaw. The highlights are the creamy mac and cheese, pinto beans that lean more toward Tex-Mex with onions, cilantro, and lime juice rather than molasses-heavy backyard-barbecue-style, and a stellar burnt ends chili that could be a fully-satisfying meal on its own. Save room for the parfait-like banana pudding ($3), unusual with its white color and foamy texture.
Barbecue seems like it should be a cheap eat, but despite its simple, down-home reputation, meat, by nature, is expensive stuff. And cooking it low and slow like you're supposed to is labor- and time-intensive. A basic lunch at Twin Smokers consisting of a brisket plate, one side, and a sweet tea — not a gut-buster meal by any stretch — hovers around $17 before tip. Throw in a cocktail or milk shake, and it's easily over $25 a head. But that's in line with prices at Fox Bros., Heirloom Market, and others. With a primo piece of real estate, Twin Smokers will do well with tourists, conventioneers, and the local workforce during lunch hour. The real trick will be luring locals Downtown for barbecue when so many other options exist.