It's official: Metro Detroit is barbecue-crazy!
Published: February 1, 2012
Smoke & Spice 7470 Tecumseh Rd. E., Windsor; 519-252-4999; smokenspice.com: The ribs appear unpromising: rather black and dry-looking, with a startlingly pink interior. But in the mouth they are multifaceted chunks of meat, a combination of smoke, tenderness and earthy animal goodness. You may not want to sully that flavor with the sauces: a slightly sweet, mostly tangy tomato-based barbecue sauce; a chipotle; and a runny mustard that's the most unusual and complex of the three. Wings are not an afterthought: Unlike tasteless industrial poultry, these birds are luscious and meaty, smokier than most wings, which tend to taste just of sauce. Pulled pork and beef brisket are the other two main meats, though there's also a mild and tender catfish with remoulade and spicy breading, and an apple wood-smoked half chicken worth checking out, if the wings are an indication. It's a marker of the staff's eager-to-please mind-set that when our reviewer told the server the ribs were better than Slows', she immediately ran to the kitchen to tell the cooks, reporting back gratefully that all were thrilled.
Smokin' BBQ 37310 Gratiot Ave., Clinton Twp.; 586-469-3000; smokinbarbq.com: At Smokin', all meals for dining-in are served on trays, in some cases quite literally. Expect a full, uncut slab of ribs on a plastic platter lined with checkered paper for $19.99 (or $22.99 with two sides). Combo platters, sandwiches and sides often get their own containers, a mix of sturdy reusable plastic trays and disposable take-out containers. The sandwiches are a little easier to handle: A burger, catfish or any of the smoked meats are available between bread, but consider one of their named specialties, each accompanied with slaw and a side for $8.99. Rapid service is among their chief aims. Food ordered at the counter takes fewer than five minutes to arrive. Open 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday.
Union Woodshop 18 S. Main St., Clarkston; 248-625-5660; unionwoodshop.com: 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, which creates the pink smoke ring that is a sign of authentic country 'cue. 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. Do not miss the mac and cheese!
Uptown BBQ 15700 Livernois Ave., Detroit; 313-862-7427; uptownbbq.com: Wedged between the Lodge Expressway and the University of Detroit Mercy, Uptown is one of those small joints where your order can be placed through a hole in the Plexiglas that seals in the cooking area. 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. An order of ribs is a deal, as Uptown charges $15.67 for a trimmed slab drizzled with sauce. Owner Nathaniel Fanning's signature sauce works well with the meat, sweet and mild, not hot — and so good you'll likely end up sucking the bones clean. It's not just ribs: Shrimp is another specialty, and their soul food sides are a force to be reckoned with.
Vicki's Barbecue & Shrimp 3845 W. Warren Ave., Detroit; 313-894-9906: At Vicki's, it's worth watching the cook cut the slabs artfully. With a knife, she cleaves each rib, leaving a fringe of meat to hold it all together. Using a pair of tongs, she folds it in half, dunks it in the sauce completely, then pops it into a polystyrene tray and seals it up airtight with plastic wrap. For the hot ribs, the only difference is the application of hot powder to the top and bottom of the ribs, as well as one more generous pour of hot sauce on top for good measure. A sign advises that you may tip the cooks for this graceful operation, and we recommend it. Vicki's is a bit expensive, costing $19.62 a slab, but with quality like this, who'd argue over pennies. What's more, slabs come with four pieces of white bread and a serving of the one side at Vicki's that's worth ordering: Little wax-paper bags of fresh-fried fries. There'll likely be so much sauce left over you'll be able to dunk your fries in it.
Special thanks to editorial intern Sharon Jacobs for her assistance compiling this column.
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