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Singing praises for Rockin' Rob's BBQ

If you were born in the South, you probably inherited strong opinions about barbecue. Geography can determine whether you feel mesquite or hickory chips are allowed, how creamy the sauce should be or whether beef or pork should be considered "real" barbecue. A single barbecue joint can't be expected to live up to all the grilling traditions of the region. Rockin' Rob's BBQ, however, is such an amiable spot, with such satisfactory meals, that it's unlikely to disappoint anyone.

Painted to resemble a red barn a la the "See Rock City" logo, Rockin' Rob's stands near the five-way intersection of Scott Boulevard and North Decatur Road at the site of a former Old Hickory House, a chain that virtually ruled Atlanta's barbecue scene in its glory days. As the name suggests, Rockin' Rob's (named for guitarist Robert Aldredge) has a cheerful musical motif more authentic than any Hard Rock Cafe.

Actual 45s line the walls of the foyer, a life-sized Elvis cut out crouches behind the counter and issues of Rolling Stone magazine, from its pre-glossy, Almost Famous days, hang near the ceiling. Speakers play oldies ranging from "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" to "Psychotic Reaction," and you can even purchase a copy of your server's CD on display near the cash register.

At any new barbecue place I tend to first try the chopped pork plate ($6.50), and Rob's has a handle on it, with a good mix of finely chopped and bigger, juicy pork morsels, charred just enough to make a forkful faintly crunchy as well as moist. Meats are served au naturel -- that is, without sauce. On each table sits a selection of sauces: regular, Hot Rocks (with stronger pepper and vinegar flavor) and creamy hot mustard.

Rockin' Rob's carefully modulates the smokiness of its meats, giving them a taste that's assertive without being too sharp, as evidenced by the slow-smoked chicken of the Yard Bird Plate ($5.95 for a quarter bird, $7.95 for a half), in which the skin is especially fragrant. Health-conscious but carnivorous diners may want to try the Big BBQ Salad ($6.95), which comes with a choice of pulled pork or chicken, although it could use a little something -- cheese, perhaps -- to give it more body as an entree. The menu also features a Hot Rock Dog, topped with Brunswick stew if you choose, as well as a veggie burger.

Soul food sides are plentiful, with the Brunswick stew proving satisfyingly thick and not too soupy. Most of the sides -- French fries, fried okra, Cole slaw -- are unobtrusive and ordinary, although the potato salad benefits from mustard seeds and celery flavors.

Rockin' Rob's has a welcoming atmosphere that seems to cultivate the kind of regulars who share amusing newspaper items with patrons at other booths. "That's a piece of art," a server says with laid-back confidence as he sets down a Texas Beef Plate ($8.95), a generous portion of tender, tangy brisket meat. As an unfussy, congenial barbecue place, with an easygoing charm and menu items that are undeniably tasty, if unlikely to convert regional barbecue loyalists, Rockin' Rob's has out-bopped the buzzard and the Oriole.

Oh, wait. That's "Rockin' Robin." Rockin' Rob's has different animals on its mind.



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