Updated: Apr 8
This week, Trail Master Guy threw a change-up on the opening day for Major League Baseball by selecting a "sneaker hike" for the four available Trailheads (Roy, Brad, Patrick, and Guy). George was in Bend, OR, and Steve was dealing with a U-Haul truck helping one of his sons move––happy not to be Trailheads Moving Co.
We rested our hiking boots and laced up comfy walking shoes for an exploratory stroll through Grant Park in southeast Atlanta.
You may think Grant Park was named for Ulysses S. Grant, who dispatched Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to visit Atlanta and make it a hot spot during The Civil War, but you'd be wrong. No history grant for you!
Grant Park is a 131-acre green space and recreational area, surrounded by a neighborhood of Craftsman bungalows, Folk Victorian, Shotgun and Double Shotgun, one-story Queen Anne homes, and two-story mansions, spread over 430 acres of rolling terrain.
The park was named to honor Lemuel Pratt Grant, born in Frankfurt, Maine, in 1817, who bought large tracts of land (tracts is a funny word, it sounds like a skin rash) southeast of Atlanta. In 1883, Grant donated his property holdings to the city. What a sweetheart of a guy, right?
Grant was a railroad man who knew his beans and worked hard, rising through the ranks to become the chief engineer. This was before Thomas the Tank Engine was a thing. Grant’s foresight brought about Atlanta's rail system development, which launched the city into a railroad hub nicknamed Terminus.
In 1862, Grant became a colonel in the Confederate Army. In late 1863 and early 1864, he was responsible for designing and constructing a system of defensive fortifications for the city of Atlanta. Uh-oh.
Sherman's troops penetrated the perimeter (the traffic wasn't so bad back then) and burned the city to the ground, giving Margaret Mitchell a terrific dramatic scene for her novel (she was having some writer’s block). It appears Lemuel Pratt Grant was better at railroads than fortifications.
After the war, Grant jumped back into the business world and participated in developing early street railways (streetcars, none named Desire), buying scads of real estate, and serving in Atlanta's first Board of Education, establishing public schools in the city. At one time, ol' Grant was the largest landowner in southeast Atlanta. Fortunately, the old boy was also generous.
His tracts (that word again) of land donated to the city became a large park, and Atlanta added more property around it for building neighborhoods. Soon homes started popping up like Orville Redenbacher's kernels in hot oil. In the early days, this area was considered suburbia––imagine that. Grant designed streetcar lines to extend into this area, making commuting a breeze. What a cool concept--convenient public transportation.
In 1889, a lumber merchant named George V. Gress gave the city a collection of former circus animals and some buildings to house them (rent-free) in Grant Park. Apparently, Mr. Gress was unable to housetrain elephants and wild cats. His donation began the Municipal Zoo, now called Zoo Atlanta.
In 1893, Mr. Gress donated The Cyclorama to the city (were people more generous back then?). Cyclorama is a 49-foot tall, longer than a football field, circular painting of The Battle of Atlanta created by artists in Milwaukee. The massive work weighed 10,000 pounds (the artists must have used lead paint) and it was housed in a circular building in Grant Park.
Soon, the art-in-the-round became a major attraction. Today, you'll find Cyclorama and a very honest film recap of the war between the states at Atlanta History Center (read more about it here).
A walk through Grant Park is a stroll through Atlanta's history, and on a beautiful day, as we had, it is an intoxicating experience without the bothersome hangover.
But first, we had to figure out paying for parking. And that we did––eventually ("What do you mean, our National Parks passes don't work here?").
Teachers herded busloads of kids into lines for entrance to Zoo Atlanta. Ah, the thrill of a field trip. We saw more buses than a Greyhound station. There was even a high-end luxury bus. We assumed it was one of the elite academies of Atlanta. We didn't see any children emerge. We thought they were probably dining on Denver omelets with toast points and caviar before appearing to mix with the riff-raff commoner kids.
Trailheads kept moving, giving our sneakers a workout on the pavement. We were on the path to truth and barbecue, afraid of being captured and put on exhibition in a cage. Or worse – herded into a school bus.
"What's that?" little Brook would ask her friend as she saw us in our Zoo cage.
"Looks like some Trailheads," Jeremy would say. "Don't get too close to them with barbecue. They’ll bite."
Guy was sporting a new "Hike The Hooch" shirt, and Brad wore a "Barbecue is Truth" pig shirt. Both Brad and Patrick had the new Trailheads trucker summer hat with air conditioning for the back of our skulls (we overheat when we think too much). Check out all the stylish new gear designs here.
ALL our profits go to Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy, who keep our Hooch parks and trails looking great. Yes, this is a shameless promotion, but the apparel is for a great cause. And the styles are pretty sweet looking. You’ll look marvelous in them.
Speaking of giving back, Patrick participated this week in the Emory Healthy Brain Study, research that will help medical science find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease. A battery of tests is conducted every other year, including an extensive cognitive examination, bloodwork, lumbar puncture (that’s the rebranding for "spinal tap" - the medical procedure, not the heavy metal band), carotid artery and cardiovascular assessment, and an entire body MRI.
There are openings for participants, and if you would like to help science in this important project, get more information here. And no, a lumbar puncture isn't as bad as you imagine. Like a root canal, the sound of it is much worse than the act itself. We suspect Patrick gets a free Panera Bread panini coupon for every new person he recruits.
Enough of the do-gooder stuff. At every turn, Grant Park offers beautiful vistas. We walked to the top of a hidden parking deck with an overlook into the Zoo. An elephant was out sunning, and a couple of giraffes were stretching their necks.
Curious, we fired up the Zillow to gauge the cost of the beautiful homes surrounding the park. Guess what? They're much more expensive than you'd think. Twenty years ago, this area was considered cheap. Not anymore, not once gentrification moves in and jacks up prices. We found a few signs that people are not so fond of gentrifying.
By this time, we had an appetite, and Fio and Elvis were thirsty ("What's it take to get a drink around here?" the dogs asked angrily).
We found the pups a fountain, called it a day, and selected a virgin spot for us––Bullpen Ribs and BBQ in Summerhill. It seemed appropriate for the opening day of baseball, and we are always looking for new smoked meat places. Roy's physical therapist had suggested this restaurant.
On the way, we passed Wood's Chapel. It's one of our favorite spots. The pull was intense, but we were committed to trying something new.
This cavernous BBQ joint is in the shadow of the old Ted stadium, now rebranded Center Parc Stadium, home of the Georgia State Panthers Football team. You got a sense that it fed hundreds of fans back in the old days of Atlanta baseball.
Today, there was a minimal lunch crowd, and we bellied up to the counter. The menu has everything you'd expect––ribs, rib tips, pulled pork, brisket, chicken, tenders, wings, and fried catfish, brought to you with the usual suspects of traditional sides.
The friendly woman working the counter loved Brad's "Truth is Barbecue" pig shirt, and as its designer, he blushed and said, "Aw, shucks. What do you recommend, my good woman with exceptionally great taste?" She pushed the brisket.
Both he and Patrick went for the ribs and brisket platters. Roy ordered the brisket sandwich, and Guy opted for a pulled pork plate. We had only run a few bases leaving the chicken and catfish behind.
We preferred the ribs. The building sign reads "Bullpen Rib House"––it’s good advice to go for the namesake. These are meaty spareribs (not baby backs) with a nice flavor and peppery bark. The thin-sliced brisket was a little dry. We prefer our brisket moist in thick slices or chopped. We're snobby about brisket.
Roy enjoyed his brisket sandwich because he said the buttery bun was soft and an excellent counterbalance to the brisket. The meat and bread played well together. The slaw he added on top with its tart celery seeds made it a juicy feast in two fists.
Bullpen offers three barbecue sauces: traditional sweet, hot, spicy, and Carolina Mustard. The sweet has a light flavor, the spicy kicks like a mule who's been doing his taxes, and the Carolina Mustard is a perfect blend of flavors. Try them all, heck, mix and match. It's legal.
Guy liked his pulled pork and did some severe spoon-digging into his order of homemade baked beans. The man likes his beans, as his car passengers can attest.
The fried okra was good, with a nice brown batter protecting the green seeded nuggets of vegetable healthiness.
The French fries were crinkle cuts, which is not our jam. We don't like when potatoes put on fancy airs. But they were good when dipped in Heinz Ketchup. It's just not ketchup unless it's Heinz for us Trailheads. Please don't try cutting corners with No Name Catsup!
Patrick said the Brunswick Stew had a hearty tomato base studded with corn, pulled pork, and brisket morsels. His cornbread was an excellent stew companion.
We finished our plates, expecting the manager to call us in from the Bullpen and pitch a couple of innings (Brad has a smokin' 42 mph heater). But no call came. So we went home and slipped into meat comas––happy hikers.
Rating: Four Ribs*
Bullpen Ribs & BBQ
735 Pollard Blvd. SW
Atlanta, GA 30315
*About Our Barbecue Rating System
Trailheads do not claim to be food experts, epicureans, or sophisticated palettes. We are hungry hikers who attack a selected barbecue venue and ravage our way through whatever smoked fare and fixings they're dishing.
Our reviews feature what we believe are the highlights of the menu we sampled. So our intent is not to trash talk the saintly folks who tend to smoldering smokers on hot, humid summer days. They are sacrificing themselves in the noble art of smoking meats and feeding the drooling masses. Many are independent entrepreneurs who are the backbone of this humming American economy.
Now that you know our standards, you may wonder why every barbecue place gets a four ribs rating. The answer is easy: our group has acclaimed designers, and they think the ribs graphic looks cool.
Who are we to argue? Enjoy.