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Wyatt's hits a high note with no-frills home cooking

An old friend once told me that the longer the lines outside a home-style Southern or barbecue restaurant after Sunday church services, the better the food. To that surefire indicator, I add a few of my own: a screen door that bangs shut, a blackened pot bubbling with turkey necks on the back burner, a crumbling parking lot and picnic-table seating. In Atlanta, proximity to a makeshift clothing vendor selling athletic shoes and 10 pairs of socks for $4 is also a good sign that the meaty treats inside are unparalleled. Wyatt's Country Barbeque meets the criteria, with the exception of the picnic tables. The soul food and barbecue shack, located in a tiny trailer tucked behind a sportswear vendor's tent and tables, has served take-away only for the past 20 years.

Hot, sweet, beautiful pork: Smoked, pulled and chopped, then set to stew in a pot burbling with porky juices and drippings, the pork at Wyatt's is as luscious, sweet and velvety-soft as suckling pig. Snatched up with white bread and smeared with Wyatt's tangy, slightly spicy barbecue sauce, it's pure pork heaven. $5.50 is a small price to pay for a dinner of succulentchopped pork, two sides and cornbread.

NEVER TOO MUCH SAUCE

The old-school brick oven, with a heavy steel grate stretched across a bed of smoldering wood chips and laden with rib racks, is a tempting sight to behold. It's impossible to pass up the charred, saucy meat, so we take home a beautiful half-slab ($8). Be sure to have several rolls of paper towels before you start gnawin' on these babies. Blackened edges redolent of hickory smoke alternate with layers of crisped, creamy fat and fork-tender pork clinging to the bone, napped in a generous coat of thick, sweet and puckery sauce. A dark-meat quarter of moist baked chicken with rice, and creamy, oniony gravy, served with two sides ($6) tastes a bit bland until I give it a smack of hot sauce.

Better with lots of butter: Wyatt's sides are definitely not vegetarian-friendly, but they are superlative, especially the collards -- the best I've tasted in my 20 years down South. Tender without even the slightest hint of mushiness, they boast a perfect touch of molasses twang that highlights the greens' supple earthiness. The satiny butter beans, flecked with bits of ham hock, melt on your tongue as quickly as you can spoon them up, while crusty cornbread drenched in melted butter crumbles at the slightest touch. Pound cake ($1.25), stationed under a plastic cake dome, is the sort of confection you imagine having to marry into a family to get a glimpse at the recipe. Picking up dinner from Wyatt's might not do your waistline much good, but it'll make your soul sing.

cynhia.wong@creativeloafing.com

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12/25/2014

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