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Father Knows Zest 

There are certain things you can count on as indicators of good barbecue: a scrabbly parking lot pockmarked with weeds, a scruffy interior, and rusted tin cans that serve as ashtrays. Patio Daddy-O has all these, plus a jaunty, winking pig mascot standing sentry above the door. Opened in late September 2003, Patio Daddy-O's East Point location draws a crowd of office workers, hipsters and overall-clad construction workers who sit cheek-to-jowl at the covered patio's picnic tables, gnawing on ribs. Rainy days require take-out, as there is no indoor seating. The homemade lemonade ($1) is pure puckery goodness, but don't imbibe too much; Patio Daddy-O has no public restroom.

And Jah provides the bread: Patio Daddy-O just might be the only barbecue joint you'll ever visit that spins an enviable selection of reggae. Service is laid-back but friendly and fast, and eating cheaply but well is an easy task. The smoked chicken half ($5) is hefty enough to serve as a meaty appetizer as well as leftover sandwich material. The leg and wing portion are so tender they barely hold themselves together. The breast is admirably moist. But despite juicy meat and bacon-crispy skin, the bird is practically tasteless. It cries out for a dousing of sauce, of which there are three to choose from. Our favorite is the Xtra Hot, with a balance of pepper and vinegar that tickles and cleans the palate.

Vegetarian-friendly barbecue?: It's hard not to be suspicious of a barbecue shack that promotes itself as vegetarian-friendly when one of its exterior walls is adorned with a mural of flying pigs. With the exception of the Brunswick stew, however, all sides are meat-free. Ham hock-less collard greens ($2) don't seem to be missing something, amazingly enough, and jalapeño baked beans, wonderfully, are neither mushy nor too cloying ($2). Patio Daddy-O's Brunswick stew ($3.50) is one of the best I've had in 22 years of living in the South. Its flavor is remarkably well balanced between sweetness and tomatoey acidity. The chopped pork in the stew is soft and buttery.

Don't mess with Texas toast: The ribs and chopped pork are served on Texas toast that is as delectably charred as the meat. A chopped pork sandwich ($4.50) is such a delectable combination of melting fat, charred bits and succulent meat tucked into Texas toast that it's impossible not to choke it down like a hungry dog. Patio Daddy-O's ribs ($10 for a half-rack) are what all ribs should aspire to be: creamy, crunchy-edged and yielding enough to be eaten with a spoon. A "meatless BBQ beef sandwich" ($4) sounds a bit scary, but it's actually a flavorful combination of seared pressed tofu and peppers that will fill your vegetarian friends' bellies without making them feel left out.

Even though I'd eaten so much I could easily roll myself, barrel-style, to the car, I hankered for something sweet. At just a few months old, Patio Daddy-O has just recently expanded its hours, and I'm hoping the cooks will lend their surprisingly sure hand to some pecan or chess pie. But in the meantime, I'll be happy to devour ribs until I break the picnic bench.

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