Press & Reviews
In the winter of 2007, after helping to open more than two dozen restaurants during his career as a consultant, Chic Dillard decided that it was time to open his own.
He just didn’t know what kind of restaurant it would be. While driving through Kennesaw one day, Dillard spotted his inspiration in the form of a tiny roadside house.
“I had no idea I was going to open a barbecue restaurant,” said Dillard, whose years in the industry have included positions ranging from chef to director of operations. “I was actually looking at other buildings when I drove by here, saw the ‘For Rent’ sign out front, and thought, ‘Hmm, that would make a great barbecue place.’ ”
And how right he was. Within 60 days of finding the space, Big Shanty Smokehouse opened for business and established itself as one of the top destinations for smoked meats in Atlanta. All of Dillard’s barbecue gets a heavy dose of hickory smoke, yielding succulently juicy brisket, moist chopped pork rich with smoky bark, and tender ribs that pull clean from the bone.
While he had plenty of industry contacts he could call on to run the place with him, Dillard decided to keep it in the family and hired his wife, Sissy, and daughter Shannon, both restaurant veterans in their own right. After working in various management positions with Buffalo’s Cafe for more than 14 years, Sissy turned in her notice the day the lease for Big Shanty was signed, and Shannon grew up in the restaurant business, working the front and back of the house for multiple restaurants since she was a teenager.
Though he runs the smoker and the Dillard women create the sides and desserts, Chic says everything is a team effort.
With more than 30 years of industry experience, Dillard has served in nearly every position in the business. In 1992, he started his own restaurant consulting company, helping clients such as Barnacles, Buffalo’s Cafe and Fat Matt’s with opening new locations, menu creation and cost control.
With that background, Dillard knows how to run the business side of the house, but his commitment to the quality of his product led him not to follow the same advice his clients once paid him for.
“I could cut my food costs 5 percent tomorrow if I dropped the standards of what I’m doing. A lot of people won’t spend the extra money,” Dillard said. “It is kind of ironic because as a consultant, that is usually what I would go in and teach people to do.”
Thankfully, Dillard remained true to sourcing fresh meats. His skill with a smoker does them justice, and has earned Big Shanty Smokehouse a spot in any conversation about great barbecue in Atlanta.
As I come to my last bite of smoky spare rib and gaze at my near-empty plate, my eyes widen in momentary panic. I’ve just remembered that they have barbecue sauce here. Perhaps I should try some if I’m supposed to review this place.
“This place” is Big Shanty Smokehouse in Kennesaw, opened three years ago by Chic Dillard, who has 30 years in the restaurant industry. Dillard serves as pitmaster while wife Sissy and daughter Shannon oversee the sides and desserts, including the popular banana pudding.
Little more than a roadside shack deep in the heart of Kennesaw, Big Shanty produces some of the best barbecue I’ve seen come out of Georgia. Dillard respects his meat and it shows. Briskets and butts get a healthy coat of house-made dry rub and are bathed in hickory smokes for 13 hours, where they develop a bark that will earn the respect of the most discerning barbecue purists.
The balance of that bark, with the bold hickory smoke flavor that permeates the meat, makes sauce almost inconsequential. Big Shanty serves only one kind of barbecue sauce — a sweet and tangy tomato-based concoction‚ and every meat gets a light brushing before plating, as well as a cup of extra sauce on the side. However, I highly recommend trying the meat straight out of the smoker before you consider adulterating the flavor with more sauce.
A great starting point for first-timers is Steve’s Sampler ($14.95), a tour de meat featuring brisket, house-made sausage, ribs and pulled and chopped pork. Dillard pulls his pork butts by hand, saving the flavor-rich bark for the chopped pork. Pulled and chopped pork are moist and tender, but the chunky bark mixed into the chopped version makes it the clear winner. The meat on the superb ribs ($8.95 half slab, $16.95 full slab) pulls cleanly from the bone when you bite into it; it’s tender but not overcooked to the point where it just falls away.
Big Shanty does not represent itself as specializing in Texas barbecue, but the brisket would make any Texan proud. From my vantage point at the two-seat bar, I watch as Dillard carved inch-thick slices of glistening smoky brisket so tender that it pulls apart with the slightest nudge of my fork.
The meats are the star of any meal at Big Shanty, but the sides ($1.50 each) do not disappoint. The baked navy, pinto and kidney beans spend three hours in the smoker, where they’re pumped full of hickory goodness, and the Southern-style potato salad brought me straight back to my grandmother’s kitchen. Along with the coleslaw, they are the only sides to have permanent slots on the menu, although other options such as collard greens and mac and cheese make regular appearances.
Big Shanty Smokehouse belongs in any debate over the best barbecue in Atlanta. Whether you live inside or outside the Perimeter, if you have barbecue on the brain, it is worth the drive.
If living south of the Mason-Dixon Line has taught me anything, it's that barbecue is better down here. Whether your palate craves ribs, brisket, pulled pork or chicken, Southern barbecue just can't be beat.
Residents of Kennesaw are fortunate to have one of the best barbecue restaurants in the South. Big Shanty Smokehouse, at 3393 Cherokee St., held the title of Best Barbecue in Atlanta on Urbanspoon.com for all of 2009, and after one visit (and about 1,000 times after that), I found out why.
In 2008, Chic Dillard opened what is becoming a juggernaut among Kennesaw restaurants. Chic and with his wife, Sissy, run the everyday operations at "The Shanty." Their daughter, Shannon, makes award-winning desserts (she won first prize at 2009's Taste of Kennesaw) and works the counter.
Their menu is loaded with delectable meats, homemade sides, daily specials and, of course, Shannon's pastries.
When I walked into the restaurant, the Dillards greeted me in true Southern fashion, with a hello and a smile. The big board menu displays the regular options, while a dry-erase board lists specials and daily side dishes.
For this review, I sampled the beef brisket sandwich, Brunswick stew and apple cobbler.
The sliced brisket was served on a hamburger bun with a side of barbecue sauce, pickles and a bag of chips. The Texas-style brisket was layered high on the bun. A pink smoke ring, essential to good brisket, surrounded the tenderly cooked meat. After slathering the meat in sauce, I was pleased by the succulent flavor. The meat melted in my mouth.
The caramelized dry rub is excellent, and a hint of paprika accentuates the brisket's outer layer.
The traditional barbecue sauce accented the smoky flavor of the meat perfectly. There is only one sauce option, so if white or spicy sauce is your preference, you might be disappointed. Hot sauce is available on every table if that's what you fancy.
The Brunswick stew contained pulled pork, chicken, onions, beans and corn. The red barbecue sauce was the dominant flavor. Combined, those ingredients enveloped the taste buds. The vegetables and sauce nicely accented the pulled pork and chicken. Each spoonful contained all the elements.
After this meal, I barely had room for dessert. I pushed on, however, and dug in to the final course. The apple cobbler had a flaky brown crust and featured fresh apples coated in a wonderful glaze. Subtle traces of cinnamon brought out the flavor of the apples and crust.
Based on the cobbler, Shannon deserves her reputation for desserts. Sampling one of her creations is a must when visiting The Shanty.
The rest of Big Shanty's menu offers typical barbecue items: brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, chicken, smoked salmon and homemade sausage, as well as many sides. In addition to the regular menu, Chic and his crew cook up daily specials. Currently, they are dishing out smoked turkey ribs and "incredible smoked duck."
Hands down, Big Shanty Smokehouse serves some of the best 'cue in Georgia. This place gets an easy A.