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Grand Champion BBQ restaurant review, Roswell

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One of the newest entries into the barbecue fracas, Grand Champion BBQ arrives with a pedigree that perks the ears of most followers of the Atlanta scene — it is the latest that traces its roots back to Sam and Dave’s BBQ-1.

Review by Jon Watson

Review by Jon Watson

Partners Robert Owens and Gregory Vivier met 10 years ago working at the newly opened One Midtown Kitchen. Despite the fact that Vivier, a recent transplant from his native France, barely spoke a word of English, they became fast friends at Concentrics’ flagship restaurant. Over the next few years, they worked at various Concentrics restaurants such as Trois and Lobby. It was during this time that Owens reconnected with his old friend Dave Roberts, who had begun working with Sam Huff and Dave Poe, and unknowingly set in motion his future in barbecue.

After spending time at BBQ-1 with Roberts, Owens fell in love with barbecue and has not looked back. Following the infamous Sam and Dave split, Owens jumped at Huff’s offer to manage Sam’s BBQ-1 in Marietta, where he spent the next five years learning the craft. Finally, last fall he enlisted Vivier to partner with him in bringing top-quality barbecue to his hometown of Roswell.

Located in a Publix shopping center deep in the suburbs of Roswell, you order from the counter and seat yourself. Like the ambience, the menu is frill-free, limited to barbecue standards such as pulled pork, brisket and ribs, and a handful of classic sides.

The Sampler Platter: pork, brisket, chicken, sausage, 2 baby back ribs and many sides (photo by Becky Stein)

The Sampler Platter: pork, brisket, chicken, sausage, 2 baby back ribs and many sides (photo by Becky Stein)

Fans of BBQ-1 and its offspring will find one familiar flavor at Grand Champion — Dave Roberts’ near-famous mac and cheese ($3). Grand Champion tweaks the recipe, adding smoked Gouda to the gooey chorus of cheddar, Monterey Jack and Parmesan, lending subtle smoky notes to the dish. Beyond this hallmark of the BBQ-1 lineage, every recipe here is a fresh start.

Hints of coffee and serrano permeate the bark of my pulled pork plate ($11.50), a surprising and welcome change from the more common paprika-based rub. The meat remains moist, and the hickory flavor noticeable, but doesn’t wallop me with smoke as much as I would like. A second helping on a later visit packs the hickory punch I hoped for, but both servings certainly satisfy.

The surprisingly thick slab of baby back ribs ($14) comes caked in the same rub, but the deep smoke penetration is the real star. As I savor my first bite, I discover that the telltale pink of the smoke ring pierces all the way to the bone, giving the ribs a powerful — but not overwhelming — hickory flavor. As with all of Grand Champion’s meats, they arrive unsauced, a fact for which I’m grateful. To deny diners the unsullied experience of ribs this good would be criminal. If you take nothing else from this review, remember this: Try the ribs.

Unless you like your beef dry, request the fattier “moist” cut of brisket ($11.50), lest you wind up with only the flat end of the cut. After having it both ways, I don’t flinch at a half-inch-thick fat cap if it means enjoying the extra moisture it provides. Cravings for burnt ends are met with a side of the molasses baked beans ($2), where the smoky chunks of beef stew until fork-tender.

If you must reach for one of the sauces — Kansas City sweet or Carolina vinegar — I find that the sweeter tomato-based sauce outshines the vinegary alternative. Bear in mind, this recommendation comes from a vinegar-based devotee. While the spicier Carolina sauce is adequate, the smoky-sweet sauce proves to be far more rich and complex than you’d expect.

First-time visitors should opt for the Sampler Platter ($20), a pile of pulled pork, ribs, brisket, chicken and sausage. Available only in the platter or as a sandwich ($5.50), the sausage is another pleasant surprise. Moist and flavorful, this lacks the chewy casing frequently found at most barbecue joints, usually a sign of too much time in the smoker. With the Sampler Platter, as with all the plates, comes your choice of two sides. If you must opt for something other than the mac and cheese, look into the smoky and vinegary collard greens ($2).

The years working with Huff certainly rubbed off on Owens, as Grand Champion BBQ is well on its way to becoming a powerhouse in Atlanta ‘cue. Some consistency issues, particularly in the level of smoke in the brisket and pork, still need working out, but they only teeter between good and great. For being in business only a few months, it is clear that Grand Champion is well ahead of the curve.

GRAND CHAMPION BBQ
4401 Shallowford Road No. 168, Roswell. 770-587-4227
2stars5
Food: No-frills barbecue
Service: Friendly
Best dishes: Baby back ribs, pulled pork, mac and cheese and smoked sausage
Vegetarian selections: A few sides, but being barbecue, not the most vegetarian-friendly
Credit cards: All major credit cards
Hours: 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays
Children: Welcome
Parking: Ample parking in the shopping center
Reservations: No
Wheelchair access: Yes
Smoking: No
Noise level: Minimal
Patio: No
Takeout: Yes
ratings_key_febUSE

24 comments Add your comment

Dave D

October 13th, 2011
8:26 am

Jon. Common! After such a positive review, only two stars?? I was already figuring out how to get to Roswell this weekend to try this restaurant out, not I’m not so sure it’s worth the drive (from Lost Mt) for two stars. Geeze!!

Reds

October 13th, 2011
9:07 am

Mmmmmm BBQ. Will have to give this place a try. Maybe this weekend :)

CAROLYN

October 13th, 2011
10:26 am

DEFINITELY A 2 STAR. PRICES ARE TOO HIGH, NOT ENOUGH FOOD,
HAD TO LOOK FOR THE MEAT UNDER THE PICKLES AND TEXAS TOAST. SELF SERVICE WITH TIP JAR AT FRONT COUNTER.
DEFINITELY NOT A SOUTHERN STYLE RESTAURANT.
DO NOT RECOMMEND AND I WILL NOT RETURN.

Jon Watson

October 13th, 2011
10:29 am

@Dave D – If I could give half stars, I definitely would have in this case. They are right on the cusp. They are only running one smoker right now, so when it is jam packed with brisket and butts, there isn’t enough physical room for enough smoke to get the penetration they want (something that Owens confirmed when I spoke with him). But this isn’t an issue with the ribs. The only reason they got 2 stars is because of the consistency problems with the smoke. If you are a hardcore BBQ lover, I say it is still worth the drive across town (Heck, the ribs alone could be worth the drive), but not so for the casual diner. So, my advice is to still make the trek and check them out if you are big on ‘cue.

steph

October 13th, 2011
11:33 am

When reading reviews I could careless about the star count. However I do want to note that based on what you keep mentioning, in the review and in the comments, as “consistency problems” would mean that the number of stars given should really be 1. Both say worthy additions, but one star is hit or miss and two stars says the food is “consistent”.

Bob

October 13th, 2011
11:50 am

Inconsistent with good and great, not bad and good. Give them a try… awesome Q

Matt

October 13th, 2011
4:08 pm

Carolyn, I’ve now eaten there several times and have always found the portions to be more than adequate. As far as prices go they seem to be in line with all the other good BBQ restaurants in Atlanta.

To All: The ribs are without question the best I’ve ever had. The smoke is deep but isn’t over powering and the bark is amazing, there is so much going on in the rub that, well honestly you just have to try it for yourself. I actually stopped there this afternoon for lunch and had the brisket, Robert gave me some of the lean and some of the fatty brisket. I have to say it was nice to get to try both. I actually prefer the lean portion for taste but I rather enjoy the fatty portion for texture. I’ve been making regular visits since they open and it just keeps getting better and better.

jonnymack

October 13th, 2011
4:30 pm

You had me at “smokey ribs”. I’ll add this to the list.

Native Atlantan

October 13th, 2011
6:53 pm

Im sorry, this place cant hold a flame to Heirloom BBQ on Powers Fy or Wallaces in Austell.

DENNIS HART

October 13th, 2011
6:59 pm

hi-
If you click the “close” tab for “W” ad it opens a new window for the W ad. Someone paid for hits on a website or a mistake???

Loves me some food

October 13th, 2011
8:19 pm

This is really more East Cobb than Roswell, if you’re into splitting hairs.

Can’t wait to try it!

Scott

October 14th, 2011
6:20 am

Been there a couple of times – consistency wasn’t an issue. Food is always great. The Mac n Cheese is fantastic, as well as the ribs and pulled pork. I do wish for french fries though.

Would I drive across town – no, but I wouldn’t drive across town for Wallace’s, William Bros or even Fox Bros.

This place is the kind of ‘Hey go by Grand Champion on your way home from work’ place.

Zeus

October 14th, 2011
7:13 am

I’ve eaten barbecue at many, many places in the suburbs and some have been good and a few are great. Grand Champion is right up there at the top of my list.

The ribs are quite simply some of the best I’ve ever had anywhere. The brisket (yes, order from the fattier end) is moist and delicious.

Anyone complaining about portion size or price must have no clue about value for money, because the quality of ingredients used and the level of expertise both with the ‘cue and the sides are worth every cent of the price, which isn’t all that high compared to other high-quality ‘cue joints.

I have never left here hungry – in fact, we usually have to take home a doggie bag.

Typical Redneck

October 14th, 2011
11:07 am

Good to know if I’m ever in the area.

Anna

October 14th, 2011
12:34 pm

My husband and I frequent a lot of BBQ and highly approve of GC! The portions were adequate and the price is what I expect for such high quality. If you want more for less, go to Sonny’s BBQ, which doesn’t even touch the word quality.
We love GC BBQ and plan to make it a regular stop!! It is in East Cobb with a Roswell address.

Milt

October 14th, 2011
2:43 pm

On our first visit to the NE Cobb restaurant – we shared the sampler platter and enjoyed everything we tried. It is a great addition to the neighborhood.

Native Atlantan

October 14th, 2011
5:24 pm

I would and have driven accross town on many occasions to eat at Heirloom or Wallaces. Good food is worth the drive.

Jim Wooley

October 15th, 2011
3:07 pm

The ribs are definately the best of the meats. Pink smoke penetrates all the way to the bone and the rub has a nice heat to it as well. Definately a welcome addition to the East Cobb area.

AJinCobb

October 15th, 2011
5:13 pm

As somebody else mentioned above, “… bringing top-quality barbecue to his hometown of Roswell. Located in a Publix shopping center deep in the suburbs of Roswell, …” is really laying it on a bit thick considering the place is not in Roswell at all, but solidly in unincorporated Cobb County.

I live near this spot, and although in the wisdom of USPS a swath of northeastern Cobb County is assigned to the Roswell 30075 zip code, this ain’t Roswell. It’s the northern part of East Cobb.

msnell

October 16th, 2011
7:47 pm

Thanks for such a good review, but I do not agree, it is well worth the drive. It is about a 25 mile drive for us. We have driven it multiple times because we know this is the BEST BBQ in the metro Atlanta area, probably the State, and maybe the USA. To be fair, we have not tried all the BBQ places in the US, but of the ones we have tried, HANDS DOWN!!!!!!

Matt

October 17th, 2011
6:07 pm

Native Atlantan, I grew up about 5 miles from Wallace BBQ and if thats what you consider to be good BBQ I feel sorry for you, its certainly no where near as good as GC and Heirloom. I know live less than 1\4 mile from Heirloom and eat there on a regular basis. They have some good que. Their fusion style dishes are great, although as far as traditional BBQ goes I much prefer GC. Please don’t do either of these restaurants the disservice of comparing them to Wallace BBQ.

Marty

October 18th, 2011
11:27 am

Great food but I think the high prices will keep this place from taking off. Higher than comparable BBQ (BBQ 1, Big Shanty, Cue) without a doubt.

Toots

October 18th, 2011
11:38 am

When you look at the meaning of two stars, I see how Jon may have chosen this; but the review to me reads as a three. I’ve become a regular there, as it is close (somewhat) to home and have never been disappointed. The ribs are hands down the best anywhere in the region…and oh, that mac…I recommend the coleslaw. It’s a bit different than your run of the mill Southern style slaw. Highly recommend Q lovers to check them out!

Native Atlantan

October 18th, 2011
7:15 pm

The success of any restaurant can be measured in their longevity. Lets see if any of these new upstarts in the Atlanta area can be around near as long as Fresh Air , Wallaces, or Harold’s near the Fed Pen. My guess is they wont, so enjoy them while you can.