Fat Matt's

(Atlanta, GA) — Just south of Buckhead is a rib shack known as Fat Matt’s. It’s not much to look at from the outside, just a small restaurant across the street from a church and down the road from a series of run-down gentleman’s clubs. If you were passing through, you might miss it. We, on the other hand, sought it out for lunch...

He Fed:

About five or six years ago, I had to travel to Atlanta to help set up the network at a new location for one of our sister companies. Stranger in a strange land, I relied on the advice of the locals to point me in the direction of good food. The consensus was Fat Matt’s. My brother (who I had invited on the trip) and I went there for dinner one hot summer night and experienced the best ribs I’ve ever had.

Now, with the in-laws in tow, the pressure is on. Will the ribs live up to a distant memory? We drive down Piedmont, not far from Peachtree (yeah, every road in Atlanta seems like it’s called Peachtree) and I’m amused and slightly horrified to see all the strip clubs in the area. Was it this run-down the last time we were here? Finally, it is as if the clouds part and there is Fat Matt’s, looking every bit as authentic and reeking of BBQ smoke as last time. We get out and already my mouth is watering.

Inside is a small window at which to order, and a friendly lady waiting for us since there aren’t many diners at 11:30a on a Saturday. Our timing is perfect; only ten minutes later, the place is packed and the line is out the door. We have 2 choices: ribs or chicken. There are sides and you can order a “rib sandwich”, but that’s it. I get a half slab of ribs and let everyone else pick the sides. I also get a pitcher of amber beer (I can’t quite understand what the counter lady says when I ask the brand, but there’s a skull on the tap), and snag a booth outside. It might be Thanksgiving weekend, but it’s a beautiful 70 degrees outside.

Here comes the food, delivered after only a few minutes. I immediately forsake the sides and dig in to the ribs... Oh. My. They are fall-off-the-bone succulent, smoky from the grill, and sauced lightly. Some rib purists prefer no sauce but I’m a sauce guy. The more, the better. This sauce is a good combo of BBQ spices, slight mustard, and molasses. I love it. With only pause to draw breath, I plow through the ribs until the bones are picked clean.

Yes, the ribs are still the best I’ve ever had.

For sides, we have potato salad which is crunchy, mustardy, and reminiscent of many family picnics; “rum” baked beans which still have a little tooth to them (I like that) and a molasses/mustard base; macaroni and cheese with thick yellow cheese sauce; Brunswick stew; and collard greens which everyone else seems to like, but I give a pass. The fact is, I am full. Initially, I intended to order a full rack of ribs but now I’m glad I didn’t. They would have gone to waste. Unwisely, we upped the sides to full pints and a lot of that goes in the dumpster.

We finish our beer (which everyone likes), soak up a little bit of sun peeking through the clouds, then sadly give up our booth. The place is packed now. Billows of white smoke fill the air with the scent of sweet ‘que as we drive away. Hopefully it won’t take another half decade to return for more ribs. Next time, full rack for sure, sides be damned.
She Fed:

Jeremy has been boasting about the barbeque at Fat Matt's Rib Shack for a very long time. For the first few years I was just a bit envious, but after half a decade of hearing how amazing their 'que is and how none other can measure up, it's actually a bit annoying. I mean, we've eaten a boatload of barbeque, hosted a friendly rib cook-off/contest in our home and even helped a friend compete in an official Kansas City-rules sanctioned barbeque contest. And still Jeremy pines for a return trip to Fat Matt's? I've got a few doubts it could be that good.

We pull up to an unassuming restaurant with large windows filled with handwritten phrases proclaiming "live music", "ribs, chicken, chopped pork, combo plate", and more. The interior is filled with mismatched tables, music memorabilia, and portraits of blues musicians. The menu is also hand-lettered on the wall and it's immediately clear the staff expects patrons to step up, order quick, and move along. Loitering is simply not tolerated.

We each order a half rack of ribs and I order a few sides for the table to share including their famous rum baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and collards. I'm trying to learn to like cooked greens and I'm guessing Fat Matt's cooks theirs with a big meaty ham hock and possibly some bacon. My folks also order a side of potato salad and Brunswick stew. We pay and find a table outside. It's warm and breezy in Atlanta so we plan to soak up all this weather before we head back to the cold Midwest.

In less than five minutes our food begins to arrive. Our plates should be buckling from the weight of big meaty pork ribs topped with two thick slices of soft white bread. We ordered the family-sized sides, but it's easy to see we should have just ordered one or two individual sizes of each to share. I can tell right now we will never be able to finish all this food.

I can't wait any longer and tear into my first rib. The meat is cooked exactly the way I like it. It's tender and pulls off the bone, but isn't so overcooked that it's falling off the bone. The end tips are slightly charred and crunchy, almost like candy. The ribs are rich but not overly fatty and slathered in a spicy, slightly sweet sauce. Each rib has a generous amount of meat on it and before I've even sampled a side dish, I'm not sure I'll be able to finish my ribs.

I take a break from my pork frenzy and move on to some sides. The rum baked beans are quite good and I would guess they're made from dried beans given their toothsomeness. The mac and cheese is incredibly rich and cheesy with a mustardy tang. The collards just knock my socks off and I go back for seconds. They're spicy and smoky (maybe from the ham hock?) with a scrumptious flavor and no "slime" factor. Yet again, I vow to learn to make collards at home. Then I take another heaping spoonful from the dish—my third serving, for the record.

Jeremy was right. These ribs will be the "measure" against all others for years to come.

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