I said, "Barbecue." I don't remember the name of the place, but it was good. He told me that the next time I came, he wanted to take me to one of the more famous places for barbecue in Atlanta - Fat Matt's Ribshack.
I was back in Atlanta about two years later on business and I had a Sunday to kill. Eric came and picked me up at the hotel, we went and caught an Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field, he drove me around and showed me some sights (including the King Center and the burial site of Dr. Martin Luther King), then in the early evening we ended up at Fat Matt's for ribs.
Owned by Matt Harper, who used to work at Georgia-Pacific (and who isn't fat), Fat Matt's makes some of the best barbecue you'll find any where in the south. It's located on Piedmont Ave. NE, near Emory University (see map).
Fat Matt's building isn't all that big - it was a Chinese food joint before it became a barbecue, and before that it was a Dunkin' Donuts. But it's big enough to have blues bands and performers play nearly every night and sometimes during the day at lunch.
And it's been that way since the place opened in September of 1990. Harper, with the help of his brother, Clay, who had been in the restaurant business, wanted to have a unique southern barbecue experience. The blues performers usually play for tips, beer, food, whatever any one can muster, just because they want to play at Matt's.
Eric and I got there a little early for the music that evening (it starts around 8 p.m. seven nights a week). He knew that I was a blues aficionado, but that didn't bother me. I was there for the ribs that night.
We each got a 1/2 rack of ribs, a side of their Rum baked beans (which were very good) and a couple cold beers. As the sign says under the menu (at right) "Cash Only", and you better believe it. We got our food and sat at one of the tables outside in front of the building and ate ribs in the evening sunshine.
I picked up my first rib and I noticed the meat sort of fell off the bone. I thought, "Uh oh..." It's a sure sign of "parboiling" - where they boil the ribs for a while before they put them on the grill or in a smoker (something my dad liked to do) - which, to me, is cheating.
While parboiling does make the meat more tender, it also takes away a lot of the meat flavor when you boil them in water. Backyard barbecuers and restaurants who parboil their ribs usually use a sweet and smokey concoction for their sauce to help "stir up" the taste that was left behind in the water.
But the ribs were still good. I did like the sauce, but I knew the full flavor - the smokey flavor close to the bone - wasn't there.
I'm glad we went when we did because the place started filling up fast and furious. There was a good sized line when we left and some people were happy we gave up our table.
Would I go back? Yeah, I would probably go back, but I know there's a number of great barbecue places other than Matt's in Atlanta that I'd like to try first. And I'm sure Eric knows where they are. Getting back to Atlanta will be the chore...