For a one-week period in early August, I became obsessed with a restaurant in a way that would have been disconcerting if it hadn’t been so delicious. It started on a Monday and ended on a Monday: five visits; tons of barbecue; and some of the best side dishes and cornbread I’ve had. Anywhere. Ever.
The binge ended without an intervention, and with a conclusion about which I am clear-eyed and dead serious: Wood’s Chapel BBQ — from the team behind West Egg Cafe, the General Muir, Yalla! and others — is a well-nigh perfect restaurant. I don’t mean that every morsel of barbecue that comes from its smokehouse is perfect; some of it is imperfect. I mean that Wood’s Chapel, in design and spirit, is a thoughtful, diligently researched expression of what a modern barbecue restaurant in downtown Atlanta should be in 2019.
With its pork-belly fried rice, brisket tacos, spicy watermelon salad, salmon dip with potato chips, vegan banh mi, Cuban sandwich, Mexican-inspired cream corn, North Carolina whole-hog barbecue, St. Louis ribs and Georgia peach pie, Wood’s Chapel is an object lesson in culinary diversity — a little bit Southern, a little bit Jewish, a little bit Asian, a little bit South of the border and 100 percent representative of Atlanta today.
The story of Southern barbecue always has been a political tale, and this commodious fast-casual dining hall is a tribute to the turbulent history of the city. A sense of place permeates the mottled, time-streaked 1930s building — like the pink smoke rings and crusty black bark of its brisket. The name, Wood’s Chapel, is a reference to one of Summerhill’s first churches, built in 1866, in a neighborhood populated by freed slaves and Jewish immigrants after the Civil War. Today, diners sprawled on repurposed church pews or at communal picnic tables can crack into boiled goober peas, sip local brews and contemplate a wall splashed with photos of Jimmy Carter, Maynard Jackson, and Hank Aaron, among others.
Happily, the creations of chef-owner Todd Ginsberg, chef Wilson Gourley and pitmaster Craig Hoelzer are not stuck in the time warp of traditional white-bread Georgia barbecue.
Written by Wendell Brock, For the AJC
Photo by Mia Yakel