Here in the South, barbecue restaurants are as ubiquitous as taquerías are in my home state of California. Even the average stuff is pretty good if you like barbecue, and you wouldn’t think there was room to be inventive with it or its typical side dishes. I thought that too, until today.
Friends Brenda and Beth and I headed to Boner’s BBQ (yes, I know – the name…) near Turner Field in Atlanta. It’s in a building that at one time – a long time ago – must have housed a service station or some other non-restaurant business, and none of its occupants have ever gutted it and purposely outfitted it. But really – it’s fine. It’s barbecue. There’s no room for pretension in barbecue. Which is good, because at Boner’s, pictures of 1940′s pinup girls are plastered over an entire wall. The menu has several items named with sophomoric innuendo. Read the signs (“Sit your butt down”) and you’ll see a little bit of an attitude going on here. It’s all in good humor, but if you’re very uptight, you’ll never make it to the food. That would be a shame.
The menu has many items resembling those you’d find at any other barbecue joint. Macaroni & cheese, collards, Brunswick stew, slaw…only most have an unusual twist. The onion rings are coated in tempura batter rather than traditional breading, and served with spicy ketchup. The slaw is an Asian style mixture with jalapeños added. I was hoping for collards, because they’re something I like but never bother to cook. They were on the menu, but they were deep fried. I initially passed them by because it just seemed wrong to fry them. But they were seasoned with rosemary salt and the combination was appealing. I was not disappointed.
About the collards – the server mentioned I shouldn’t try frying them at home. She said they just wind up an oily mess without a large commercial deep fryer. She suggested spraying them with Pam and baking them in the oven. I’ve prepared kale similarly (with olive oil) and it’s been quite good, so I may give that a go with my next batch of collards.
Owner Andrew Capron’s tattoos, biker bandana and wild, Robert-Plant-style hair offer the first clue that he’s an unconventional type. His take on traditional barbecue accompaniments are further evidence – delicious evidence, I might add – of his outside-the-box thinking. When he came around to our table to check on us, I asked where he’d gotten the idea to deep fry collard greens – had he watched some other chef? Or did he just one day decide to try it? Capron says it was the latter. I can imagine him in the kitchen, shrugging and saying “Why the hell not?” and throwing fistfuls of collards in the fryer.
A week and a half ago, a Yelp user’s review of the place and Capron’s expletive-laced response had brought him an avalanche of publicity – mostly negative. A closer look at the story made me feel there was more to it, and that perhaps this was a frustrated small business owner who hadn’t quite understood the power of social media or mastered how to balance PR with worries about getting taken for a ride. In the week and a half since the viral Yelp exchange, he seems to have learned a thing or two about PR. But it’s got to be a constant challenge when the margins are tight and you’re a relatively new restauranteur, not a seasoned spokesman.
My friends and I found Capron warm and good humored, and I think all of us left hoping he’d be able to maintain that good nature when the going gets tough, because we want him to succeed. Mostly because we don’t have barbecue like that in Douglasville, but also because we love it when the little guy makes good.
If you’d like to visit:
See larger map