As Saturday's Pig & Whiskey approaches, a look at local barbecue
Published: July 27, 2011
Red, Hot and Blue 33800 Van Dyke Ave., Sterling Heights; 586-979-6400; $$: Here are some formidable meals. You can get sandwiches, ranging from the pulled pork and chicken versions to the smoked sausage sandwich and on to something called the "Pig Squealin' Combo." There are also ribs (wet, dry or sweet), platters ("Five Meat Treat," "Delta Double" and "Tennessee Triple"), as well as such Southern faves as catfish, ribs and crispers, and fried Gulf shrimp. Sides include sweet potatoes, garlic-mashed potatoes, beans and more.
Red Smoke 573 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-962-2100; redsmokebarbeque.com: Try the sauces with a plate of pulled pork, whose texture couldn't be better; the beef brisket is also fork-tender; and both the pork and brisket show obvious smoke rings — telltale marks of proper barbecue. The pork ribs are dry-rubbed and far tastier, with just enough connective tissue left to keep meat attached to the bone and come right off in the teeth. Eight Michigan beers are on draft, from such venerable mainstays as Bell's Two Hearted Ale and New Holland Full Circle to local brews from Dragonmead and Motor City Brewing Works. Open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight, and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m.
The Rib Rack 5304 Dixie Hwy., Waterford; 248-623-4800; 28601 Southfield Rd., Lathrup Village; 248-483-7427; $$: The Rib Rack is a place where you can enjoy the outdoor barbeque atmosphere at picnic tables and choose from a variety of traditional but tasty barbecue. Their specialty, of course, is ribs, infused with flavorful barbecue sauce and with meat that practically falls off the bone. The menu also includes a variety of specialty sides, including the house-made "Rib Rack Potatoes." The Rack could even provide the food for your next tailgating party if you'd rather drink instead of barbecuing. Just see their catering menu.
Roast 1128 Washington Blvd., Detroit; 313-961-2500; roastdetroit.com: Some will bristle: "Roast isn't a barbecue joint; it's upscale casual dining with a twist!" Really? We feel that, with all the effort that Roast puts into its meat, barbecue mavens might feel right at home with a plate of beef that's naturally raised and dry-aged for a minimum of 21 days. The same care is lavished upon all proteins, including poultry and seafood as well. Still doubt us? Visit the main dining room, where you'll find a wood-fired rotisserie gradually turning tomorrow's "roasted beast of the day" over coals. Wood plus smoke plus meat: If that isn't barbecue. ...
Rub BBQ 18 W. Adams St., Detroit; 313-964-0782; rubbbqdetroit.com: A big draw is the beer selection: 29 drafts — from PBR to Bell's Two-Hearted Ale — and the scores of domestic and international bottles. The stars are the meats, of course, including the fabulously tasty appetizer of "pig wings" — petite braised shanks, with a slightly crisp exterior and a bit of maple flavor. If the correct formula for rib tenderness has the meat splitting down the middle, rather than cleaving cleanly away from the bone, Rub has accomplished that goal with its baby backs, which leave some shreds for gnawing. Prominent in each booth is a six-pack of squeeze-bottle sauces, labeled: Detroit, Carolina, Texas, Kansas City, apple and Buffalo.
Slows Bar-BQ 2138 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-962-9828: A few blocks west of Tiger Stadium, in a meticulously revamped 1880s building, Slows has excellent barbecue, a mac and cheese that's a satisfying combination of sharp and creamy, and potato salad that could have come straight out of an Alabama picnic basket. There's also a generous list of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and soups, including chili, and gumbo with andouille and shellfish. On busy weeknights after work, the joint fills up quickly, but the bar, fortunately, is a beer-lover's paradise, with more than 20 beers on tap, usually featuring at least a dozen brewed in Michigan (including Bell's, Arcadia, Founder's and Dragonmead), and a pages-long beer menu, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 bottles depending on the season. All of which keeps the place packed, with a steady crowd waiting at the bar. Fans of Slows may find less of a wait at Slows Express & Catering, 4107 Cass Ave., Detroit; 877-569-7246.
Smoke & Spice Southern Barbeque 1515 Ottawa St., Windsor; 519-977-0112; smokenspice.com: French-cuisine-trained Ryan Odette moved from one concept of cool to another when he closed his tiny bistro and opened a crowd-pleasing barbecue joint. No more roasted apricots and fig jus: Now it's ribs, wings and pulled pork, playing to a full, and much bigger, house. These ribs appear rather dry-looking, but in the mouth they are multifaceted chunks of meat, a combination of smoke, tenderness and earthy animal goodness. As for sauces, there's the slightly sweet, mostly tangy tomato-based barbecue sauce, the chipotle, and the runny mustard that's the most unusual and complex of the three. What's more, the wings are not an afterthought, luscious and meaty, smokier than most wings. Pulled pork and beef brisket round it out, though there's also a mild and tender catfish with remoulade and spicy breading, and an apple wood-smoked half chicken worth checking out.
Smoke House Blues 4855 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-434-5554; smokehouseblues.com: For 10 years Smoke House Blues has had customers tear themselves apart when it comes time to order — choosing between ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket or gumbo — and their revamped menu still has all the old favorites. And Smoke House Blues also offers full catering and throws a helluva tailgate party. They have daily specials and a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. nightly. Cool your smoky palate with sweet potato pie and some of Aunt Gina's homemade rice pudding.
Sweetwater Tavern 400 E. Congress St., Detroit, 313-962-2210; $$: Downtown in the shadow of the towering Millinder Center, this venerable Detroit business, in a 117-year-old historic building that's been recently renovated, is famous for its Sweetwater Wings. And that's no surprise when the wings come in fresh from Eastern Market and are marinated in their special spices for 24 hours. Sweetwater doesn't offer a huge variety of different barbecue sauces, but their single sauce definitely doesn't disappoint. Their pulled-pork sandwich, dubbed "The Big Pig," uses only tender pork that's been slow-cooked in spices before being pulled off the bone, piled on a roll and served with a slice of onion and coleslaw.
Tunnel Bar-B-Q 58 Park St., Windsor; 519-258-3663; $: Visible pretty much the second you leave the tunnel, the TBQ has a full line of sauces and spices to light the fire in your food-life. If all those original recipes aren't enough, get a load of the bakery's strawberry Romanoff, deep dish pecan pie, any number of home-made desserts. Ten varieties of bottled beer will wet your whistle, enjoyed at the restaurant's new bar (a former smoking room). Just remember your passport.
Union Woodshop 18 S. Main St., Clarkston; 248-625-5660; unionwoodshop.com: Our critics singled out Union Woodshop for its terrific barbecue last year, and with good reason. Located on Main Street in downtown Clarkston, the upscale Union Woodshop has a look that is the antithesis of barbecue joints found on the dirt roads hidden from rural highways in the Carolinas and in Texas. The joint's food, however, shares the flavors that can usually only be derived from low-and-slow wood-smoking. From tender brisket and pulled pork to ribs and chicken, there are no disappointments here. The pizzas, cooked in a wood-burning oven, are as good as the barbecued meats.
Uptown Bar B.Q. 15700 Livernois Ave., Detroit; 313-862-7427; uptownbbq.com: This rib joint between the Lodge Expressway and the University of Detroit Mercy has been in business since August 1989. Proprietor Nathaniel Fanning, whose childhood home is nearby, has had a longstanding interest in barbecue. He created his own secret sauce at a young age, and doesn't compare his creations to any other kind of 'cue, preferring to call it "home-cooked, authentic barbecue." A slab of ribs is a deal, as Uptown charges $15.67 for a trimmed slab drizzled with sauce. The ribs are excellent, full of pit-cooked smoky flavor, with the short ends a bit crispy but not overdone, just like the perfect backyard barbecue. Fanning's sauce works well with the meat, sweet and mild, not hot — and so good you'll likely end up sucking the bones clean. Uptown is open 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday.
Vicki's Bar-B-Q 3845 W. Warren Ave., Detroit; 313-894-9906: Vicki's small storefront and the menu is short: shrimp, ribs and a few sides. But those ribs are amazing! They come hot or mild, but we prefer a full hot slab, which get a shake of hot powder and a double dab of hot sauce. The sauce and ribs create a nearly perfect package: The meat is perfectly cooked, not too fatty, not too crispy; the sauce imparts a sweetness but doesn't overwhelm the meat's smoky flavors. They're a bit expensive, costing $19.62 a slab, but with quality like this, who'd argue over pennies? Vicki's is open 4 p.m.-midnight Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, 2 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays; closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Zingerman's Roadhouse 2501 Jackson Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-663-3663: The Roadhouse is a sprawling place with a semi-open kitchen, full bar, two dining rooms and — yes, indeed — very good food, which includes pit-smoked beef brisket, chicken-friend steak, pit-smoked spare ribs, and a barbecued pork entrée that's blended with your choice of barbecue sauce, including "Eastern North Carolina vinegar BBQ sauce," "Memphis tomato BBQ sauce" and "South Carolina mustard BBQ sauce."
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