UPDATE: Congratulations to Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor (and to the Heirloom Market team) on being chosen as semi-finalists in the James Beard Foundation competition. They do a great job on a wide variety of foods, and have lots of inventive combinations. Hurry on over!
When I’m driving through Atlanta, I usually go straight through town rather than take the bypass. That way I have time to read a couple of chapters of a book while I’m stopped dead in traffic at the 75-85 merge. But those days are no more. From now on, I’ll take I285 north of downtown and stop to eat at Heirloom Market BBQ, which is right off the interstates at the 285-75 junction.
Heirloom BBQ is a really good place: it’s going straight to the Top Places Category. And that certainly isn’t because of the ambience. It’s a cramped space in a micro-strip mall near the interstate.
You place your order and, when it arrives, as it does quickly, you can, theoretically, eat it on a narrow ledge inside, or you can eat at one of a handful of standup tables outside. The outside area (to your right, under the red roof) is under shade, and has fans to circulate the air.
I ordered pulled pork with two sides. The food took up a good bit of space, so I ate outside. Heck, it was only a little over 85.
The pork was delicious. It was tender, moist, and had a true smoke flavor. It had been tossed with a small amount of a light sauce. And it had been chopped a bit after it was pulled, so all of the pieces were manageable. This was first-class barbecue. (The reddish tinge to the picture is from sunshine coming through the red roof.) They also have a Korean pork that is marinated in a fermented chili paste — gochuyang — before being cooked along with the other pork. I may get around to trying that, but the regular pork is so good it doesn’t exactly encourage wandering around the menu.
As sides, I ordered with kimchee slaw and fried okra. Kim cheese slaw? Yes. Heirloom Market is run by Cody Taylor, who is from Texas by way of Tennessee, and Jiyeon Lee, a former K-pop star. I think K-pop stars age out after they turn 17. At any rate, Lee left Korea for cordon bleu school in Georgia and, somewhere along the line, met Cody Taylor. So Heirloom Market is a combination of Southern US and Korean influences (insert reference to “Seoul food”), but with each tradition maintaining its, well, integrity.
The fried okra was an example. It was fried whole in a tempura batter, and served with a very good spicy dipping sauce. I’m not a fan of tempura, and I firmly believe that vegetables and fish should be fried in cornmeal, but here the okra was as fresh as can be and not at all over-cooked. Excellent. Oh — and the kim chee slaw — fresh, crisp cabbage tossed with kim chee and black sesame seeds — was delicious. That reminds me, some of the dishes, like the kim chee slaw, add a lot of spice and heat to a meal, and if that’s an issue, you might want to think before ordering. There are less spicy alternatives, including a mild Korean slaw, and hearty perennials like fries, greens, and macaroni and cheese. But you’ll have a better life if you acclimate to the spices.
Heirloom offers five different sauces. Regular readers know that I generally see a choice of more than two sauces (one hot, one mild) as a sign that the restaurant is trying to cover problems with the meat with layers of sauce. But that’s not the case here. The meat doesn’t need any sauce.
Moving from left to right, the Table Sauce was a mild sauce, too sweet for my taste. The Kitchen Sauce was , I presume, what they tossed with the pork, and it enhanced the flavor of the pork. They accurately characterize the Korean Sauce as “sweet heat.” Again, it was too sweet for sugar-averse me, but it will be a hit with most folks. The Hotlanta Sauce was hot, with a bit of mustard flavor. Pretty good. There’s also a Settler Sauce, which is a North Carolina-style vinegar sauce with, as is normal outside North Carolina, too much sugar and not enough vinegar. As you can see, I don’t like adding sweetness to pork.
I got there a few minutes after they opened (at 11:00 a.m.) and was the first to eat outside. Within seconds, a happy and excited guy came out with a good looking tri–tip sandwich and fried okra. He was followed shortly by a woman who had ordered brisket and a cucumber-radish salad with the same black sesame seeds that dotted my slaw. She was eager to talk about how good it was, but she didn’t offer me a taste. Then three equally enthusiastic guys came out, each of whom had ordered brisket. Here’s that redfish tinge again.
They confirmed what I could see, that the brisket was not at all dried out. They all swore that it was really, really good, but none of them offered me a taste.
Since no one was sharing food and I had a couple of minutes to spare, I asked about the cooking equipment. I was led to two large metal boxes.
The red one is used for pork, and they use the separate black smoker for brisket. That’s very good. A lot of second-rate places cook everything in the same smoker, which just doesn’t work at all. Different meats cook at different temperatures and for different periods of time.
I had a chance to talk briefly with Cody Taylor.
I was going to go into detail about his cooking process, but when he said that he had been approached about opening a place in Washington, I got all excited. I gave him a concise description of the DC barbecue scene (stinks on ice), and begged him to open a place here.
I really hope he does. If he hires a serious pit chef, he’ll shut down every barbecue place north the Carolina line. And he’ll save me a fortune in air fares.
I hurried back to my car — you don’t want to leave your car in the sun for long in the summer down South — and headed to the airport, fantasizing about being able to get good barbecue within 100 miles of DC. Maybe someday.
Go to Atlanta. Eat at Heirloom Market. You don’t need to thank me afterwards. It’s enough for me to know that I added some joy to your life.
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