Lord knows I’m not a barbecue aficionado, but a recent invitation found me in the mood for smoky meat and some fattening Southern sides. LC and I joined friends SP and AA at Sweet Auburn BBQ’s newest location in the former Pura Vida spot on North Highland.
The colorful Puerto Rican decor had been replaced by gray walls, unfinished wood, vintage signs, bare Edison bulbs and other Southern acroutrements. Owner Howard Hsu did a great job in transforming the space, although I was sad to see the festive mural painted over.
We started with cocktails, of course. Tequila seemed an appropriate choice to pair with barbecue, so I requested a skinny margarita, while LC ordered their Marta Rita, a specialty cocktail made with tequila and a lengthy list of liqueurs and bitters. We decided to share the wildly popular pimento cheese wontons served with bacon marmalade and sweet Thai chili sauce, which lasted about two minutes once they hit the table.
AA raves about the barbecue at this place, so I was excited to try the pulled pork, my go-to meat whenever I eat barbecue. I ordered it as a combo plate with two sides, bacon roasted Brussels sprouts and mac ‘n’ cheese. LC ordered a half rack of Memphis baby back ribs a’ la carte, then added jerk spiced collards and mac ‘n’ cheese on the side.
These days, it seems cocktails everywhere are served in tiny cordial glasses. They can’t be more than 6 oz. but the pricetag rarely matches the drink’s tiny size. Nevertheless, I ended up ordering a Marta Rita for my second round and discovered it’s a deceptively strong little f*cker.
Our food was delivered on paper-lined metal trays with the sides in individual bowls. Although we all ordered two sides, three of us only received one…the mac ‘n’ cheese was on backorder. So I started in on the pile of meat, artfully drizzled with a tomato-based barbecue sauce. The best part of barbecued meat is the charred, chewy bits mixed in with the tender pieces, but unfortunately, I didn’t find much of that. LC requested a bottle of Carolina style vinegar-based sauce that was much spicier, and therefore better, than the red sauce. Housemade pickles and thick, chewy Texas toast were both winners.
I make some pretty good roasted Brussels sprouts so I was perplexed by the ones served at Sweet Auburn. The sprouts were whole, bathed in a sweet bacony sauce, but were not charred as they are when roasted in the oven…perhaps they are pan-roasted. Nevertheless, they were very tasty. When our server notified us that the mac ‘n’ cheese was ready, AA canceled his order, but LC and I were sufficiently curious to eat ours even though we had finished the rest of our meal. It was almost worth the wait.
Due to the problem with the mac ‘n’ cheese, they brought us a complimentary dessert, the praline basket. It was a huge bowl made out of a thin, crispy yet chewy cookie, filled with ice cream and whipped cream. Crazy good!
I really loved the marriage of traditional barbecue with Asian flavors and look forward to trying one of the more creative dishes like the maple glazed smoked Peking duck or the Sweet Auburn taco plate.
656 N. Highland Avenue 678-515-3550