First Look: Poncey-Highland's Sweet Auburn Barbecue

By Christopher Hassiotis  |  March 11, 2014

After beginning as a food counter at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market and a food truck anchoring the Atlanta Food Truck ParkSweet Auburn Barbecue quietly opened its first legit storefront restaurant last week. The new spot maintains owner Howard Hsu's love of fusing the flavors of his Asian family heritage and Southern upbringing. 

The space on North Highland has been vacant since Hector Santiago's Pura Vida closed last year. Renovations spruced up the interior with a nouveau-rustic vibe featuring chicken-coop wire, wooden-planked walls and distressed shabby-chic furniture, and the menu of both preexisting Sweet Auburn locations were combined, expanded and elaborated. The restaurant's bar gets just as much attention as its food, with absinthe service, craft beers and thoughtful cocktails available. 

Sweet Auburn Barbecue is open 11 AM to 10 PM daily, though plans to stay open until "late" Thursday through Saturday. Click through the slide show for a closer look at the menu. 

656 N. Highland Ave. NE; 678-515-3550

  • Credit: Sweet Auburn BBQ

    Hsu brought on executive chef Marshall Rogers to develop Asian-inspired Southern cuisine and fusion barbecue, though a dish like this Texas-style brisket barbecue sticks closer to tradition than some, though traditionally Asian spices do make their way into the rub.

  • One bowl, one meal. This dish features Sweet Auburn's Carolina-style pulled pork atop stone-ground cheddar grits.

  • “Opening Sweet Auburn BBQ’s first full-service location is a dream come true for my family,” says Hsu. “Atlanta is home for me, and Poncey-Highland’s strong sense of community and pedestrian-friendly culture made it clear that this was the perfect location.”

  • The coconut-lemongrass pork spare ribs feature a sweet, smoky flavor that marries Asian and Southern traditions in what's become Sweet Auburn Barbecue's characteristic flavor experimentation.

  • Pimiento cheese wontons sport a bacon marmalade and sweet Thai chile sauce.

  • "We are making cocktails approachable again," says bartender Reuben Victor, formerly of Holeman & Finch. "Our cocktails, much like the food, rely on simple, fresh and familiar ingredients to produce a pure experience, but also instill a fresh edge to keep our guests intrigued. To me, that’s what keeps our city incredibly exciting."

  • Desserts include a banana pudding with a salted caramel sauce, mint tea sorbet, bourbon pecan pie with local High Road Craft Ice Cream's bourbon burnt sugar ice cream, and more.