RE: Roadhouse Bar-B-Que Sauce Summer 2006 Tour
Fri, 06/16/06 1:37 AM
Saturday, June 10, 2006
I woke up this morning with a hankering for Comet Burger. I was ready to face the day and whatever hurdles life might plop down in front of me in the race course of life, because tonight, no matter what, I was gonna be munching on a Comet Burger on Main Street in Royal Oak, Michigan! Yessiree, I will plop myself right down on that genuine 1950s stool, prop my elbows on that long Formica covered counter and I’ll holler, “Gimme a Comet Burger with everything and make it slide!” I have no idea what “make it slide” is supposed to mean, I just wanted to throw some genuine sounding diner lingo into the mix.
So, I dropped Dad off at his store, wished him luck and said, “See ya for Comet Burgers tonight!” I got to my store, and set up for work with visions of sugarplums and Comet Burgers dancing in my head. I imagined their juicy, greasy goodness complimented by a huge pile of steaming hot fries and a frosty thick chocolate milk shake made with real ice cream. Madge and Louise, the two imaginary waitresses in my head would saunter by occasionally and ask, “Everything alright here, Hon? Can I freshen up that glass of water for you?”
And then it happened. Just as I was about to get Louise’s phone number (let’s keep that just between you and me; not a word to Mrs. Roadhouse, please), a real live customer brought me back to reality with a discussion about local ‘Que.
“Listen man, you’ve got to try Slow’s down on Michigan.”
“Mmm-hmm, did you happen to hear the last two digits of Louise’s phone number just then?”
“What? No really, these guys do it right. Pulled Pork, Brisket, great Ribs; they've got it all.”
“Sounds good. What do you suppose that perfume was that she was wearing?”
“Perfume? What...? Listen if you want good ‘Que, this place has it. Excellent sides, good place to get a drink, too.
“Okay, whatever. Hey wait! Did you say Slow’s? You’re the third guy in three days to recommend Slow’s Barbecue. This is really good stuff? 14th and Michigan? Near old Tiger’s Stadium? Yeah, yeah, we’ll give it a try.”
Only this time I meant it! Sorry Comet Burger, you’re getting tossed into the back seat of that ’57 Chevy once again. Slow’s, here we come.
When I picked up Dad, before he could get out a word, I asked him, “Where do you think we’re going to dinner tonight?”
“I’m guessing not Comet Burger.”
“You are an excellent guesser,” I told him. “Get on the cell and call information. We want the number for Slow’s!”
The nice man at Slow’s talked us in like an air traffic controller bringing in a plane flown by the guy who knocked on the cockpit door and found the pilots in a drunken stupor. Hey, this was new territory for us. In ten years of doing business in Detroit, we’d never been to Detroit before!
The directions were spot on and in little time we found ourselves at the back door entrance of, not Slow’s Barbecue, but the apostrophe free Slows Bar-B-Q, 2138 Michigan, Detroit, (313) 962-9828. Slows, it turns out is not someone’s name, but rather a knowing reference to the “low and slow” method of cooking true barbecue.
We were clearly not in the best part of town, but as long as we kept our eyes on Slows’ building, we weren’t all that aware of our surroundings. Apparently the three owners of Slows, one of whom is the chef, bought this once dilapidated building for mere pennies, and sank a boat load of money into its renovation and restoration. It really shows!
The outside of the brick building has been sand blasted and all the wood trim and architectural details have been freshly painted. Inside they have done an excellent job of maintaining the original roughness of this warehouse space, mixing the heavy, hewn wood ceiling beams and exposed brick with large areas of dark wood paneling and lighter wood parquet. The ceiling itself is painted a deep reddish brown barbecue sauce color with dark wood trim creating a rectangular pattern. The bar wraps around from the front door entrance into the second dining room tying everything together. All these sophisticated design elements still manage to preserve the manly, rugged qualities that personify Barbecue.
Even the menus play their part in the ambience; each one is made up of two pieces of 10”x 8”, dark stained, 3/8” plywood, hinged together with the paper menus sandwiched in between. Just watching the waiters stack up and carry away a load of menus from a large table is quite a show!
Dad and I did our usual first time order for a new greasehouse, a plate of Pulled Pork and a plate of Brisket. Each meat came with two sides; we chose the Mac-n-Cheese, Potato Salad, Cole Slaw, and Baked Beans.
The Pulled Pork was moist and smoky. Slows serves their Pork in big chunks, so you know you’re eating a real piece of meat, not a pile of finely chopped mush. There was an excellent ratio of chewy, well seasoned crust to moist tender inner meat. Dad even commented on their similarity to Kansas City Burnt Ends. This from a guy who hadn’t even tried Burnt Ends until he was well into his 70s. I guess I’ve been a positive influence on the old man.
The Brisket was thick sliced, about 3/8” to 1/2” thick and it was butter tender. Let's face it, anyone can slice a Brisket thin enough so that even the toughest, most over cooked piece of shoe leather will be easy to chew. When you can slice it this thick and still cut it with a fork, you know the pit-master has done his job. The pit-master at Slows also understands that Pork is far more forgiving of a heavy smoke flavor than Beef. An over-smoked Brisket can turn bitter and acrid. This Brisket was delicately flavored with just enough smoke to add a little richness to the meat.
All the side dishes were given a neat little twist on the usual preparation and presentation.
The Mac-n-Cheese, the best of the sides, was made with shell pasta and had a very creamy cheese sauce with a slight peppery edge. It was served in a chafing dish and broiled to a lovely, appetizing browned crust on top.
The Baked Beans were fairly typical, but served with a big spear of okra garnishing the dish.
The Cole Slaw was a fresh, coarse cut, creamy style version with a very distinct spice mix featuring garlic.
The Potato Salad was a tangier than most cream style offering.
Oh yeah, they had some sauces there too. I guess I should talk about those since that may be the one thing I’m actually qualified to discuss. Slows has five different table sauces.
The Sweet Slows is described on the menu as a “Kansas City style sauce”. I didn’t notice any strong similarities to the KC sauces I’ve had. It was a good sauce; thick and smooth, with a pleasant balance of sweet and savory. There was a distinct onion flavor which I enjoyed.
They’ve wisely avoided making the Slows Spicy just a hotter version of the sweet. This was not a sweat producing hot sauce by any means. There was just enough heat to compliment the flavor of the meat without overpowering it. It had a nice bite and a more savory than sweet taste with a strong presence of cayenne flavor.
The Mustard sauce was different from any version I’ve ever had. This seemed to be made with a brown mustard rather than yellow. There were also jalapenos, and onions in there, making it slightly sweet with medium heat and a very complex spice mixture
Slows is smart enough to include a North Carolina Vinegar sauce on the table. This was a classic version; water thin, bright red/orange from a simple mixture of vinegar, red pepper mash, and a pinch of salt. They may have thrown in a little sugar to make it more palatable to the locals. Excellent with the Pulled Pork.
The last sauce seems to be following a trend I’ve noticed in the sauce biz, an Apple Barbecue Sauce! This was the sweetest sauce on the table, although not too sweet. It was a very clean sweetness, not that high fructose corn syrup, sticky sweetness. A hint of cinnamon gave this sauce some nice character.
Overall, the food was excellent! Slows marks an overdue return to Detroit of good ‘Que. The last place we liked, Memphis Smoke (oddly enough, on Main Street in Royal Oak) was taken over by new owners about five years back. The last time we ate there, I took one bite of the brisket and called the waiter over.
“So, when did you change owners?” I asked.
Instead of denying it, he replied, “About three months ago.”
“So, how are they smoking the Brisket these days?”
“Oh, they slow simmer it in a beef base for about three hours and then finish it on the grill,” he said without a hint of shame or remorse.
"Wow, I didn't realize my Grandmother had gotten a job in your kitchen."
The waiter didn't get the joke and walked away. We choked down our meal and never returned.
We’ve made do with an occasional stop at a Red, Hot, & Blue franchise, but up until the arrival of Slows this town was seriously Barbecue deprived for a good few years. In fact, the locals know how sorely lacking they’ve been in the ‘Que arena. They have welcomed Slows in massive numbers. We waited almost an hour for a table. Folks who walked in after us were told the wait would be two to two and a half hours. And most of them stayed and waited!
For those considering a meal at Slows, you should know it is as much bar as it is restaurant, with a young, trendy clientele that appreciates a very hectic, noisy ambience. At present, Slows does not do carry-out. So, if you want to try this stuff, you’ll have to endure the decibel level.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s worth it!