Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Slow's Bar-B-Q, Detroit MI

Okay – I’ll admit it, I’m not the person best qualified to judge barbeque food; I rarely eat it and my experience with barbeque outside of things we made on the grill at home is limited to a few specific occasions – few of which are memorable for good reasons. With that said, I do like to think I know something about dining out, good food, great service, and a nice setting – all of which I was told I’d find at Slow’s, a relatively new school bar-b-q (est. 2005) joint largely removed from the downtown business sector of Detroit. Arriving at the Corktown establishment in the midst of a torrential downpour shortly after opening to find the restaurant absolutely packed I luckily nabbed a table in the main dining room near a window where I’d sit and be amused by myriad patrons running from their car to pick up an innumerable number of takeout orders - obviously others had heard the good word about Slows, as well.

Greeted promptly by a friendly young man named Jarvis who appeared to be working the whole main room I asked a couple of questions (specifically whether a substitution on the Big Three – Catfish instead of Brisket) and placed my order. A moment or two passed while my server made sure the substitution could be allowed (a $2 surcharge) and my water was filled – it remained filled and I was checked in on frequently both before and after my food arrived. Sitting back and listening to the overhead speakers as they poured forth jazz and blues ranging from Robert Johnston to Charlie Parker to BB King I have to say I loved the vibe of Slows and the table spacing was more than adequate to prevent feeling crowded or hearing all but the loudest of speakers (thankfully “that guy” was seated across the room near the bathrooms.)

Approximately 20 minutes passed before my meal arrived – and what a meal it was. Beginning with the sides – 2 were included with the entrée and the third ordered because I couldn’t settle on just two – my first taste at Slow’s was their much celebrated Macaroni and Cheese. Featuring a crunchy (and just short of burnt – in a good way) cheddar crust and shell noodles that were much akin to dumplings in texture I must say that the dish lived up to the hype – while not “gourmet” by any means, the manner in which the creamy yet sharp cheddar was brought to a peak by hefty notes of black pepper and paprika was fantastic.

My second side, the cornbread, was the only “miss” at Slow’s – and a pretty substantial miss, unfortunately. Dry, flavorless, and even with the packet-butter the cornbread was grainy at best. Using the cornbread largely to soak up the juices from the proteins on my plate and to taste the various barbeque sauces I will admit it was slightly better with added hydration, but certainly not good enough to warrant the $2.25 pricetag for such a meager slice.

The final side dish was my personal favorite of the three – the sweet potato mash. Featuring heavy notes of cinnamon, maple, butter, and cream the potatoes had a pleasant heterogeneous quality indicating hand mashing and they worked great on their own – but even moreso with the proteins.

Moving on to the main course my first taste was Slow’s interpretation of Carolina Style Pulled Pork. Featuring Neiman Ranch Pork butt, slow cooked until falling off the bone, and a multitude of spices I won’t even attempt to venture a guess at I have to say the meat was much less fatty than I anticipated – it was also much less “wet” than pulled pork I’ve tasted in the past – both of which were very agreeable to the palate. Tasting the pork on its own I loved the manner in which the smoky tones accented the savory meat and these flavors were only heightened by the addition of the multiple sauces, my favorite of which was certainly the apple as it tasted like the very essence of green apple, hickory, and cinnamon – sweet, but not overpowering, and perfect with the pork.

Moving on to the chicken, another slow smoked option but featuring a clearly different blend – more savory and less spicy – than the pork, my first bite was a revelation in that this was some of the best non-fried skinless chicken I’ve ever tasted. Moist and tender, meaty without being chewy, and although lacking the textural contrast of the crispy skin featuring a through-and-through juiciness that was plenty succulent without the addition of any sauce at all. While I personally would have loved a bit more contrast, it is hard to argue that something done so well could be done better.

My final taste of the meal was the Alabama Farm Raised Catfish in Cornmeal tempura with creole remoulade and aside from the remoulade (which tasted like fire mixed with vinegar) this dish was another beauty. Clean and flavorful the mild catfish was complimented nicely by the hefty sweetened cornmeal crust forming what can best be described as a haute-fishstick. Wonderful on its own I found that the fish paired very nicely with the “spicy” sauce, the thicker of the various sauces at Slow’s, featuring mild “heat” but more-so notes of cumin, paprika, and cayenne.

Upon wiping my plate clean with the rest of my cornbread Jarvis stopped by yet again to check up on me and ask if I’d like dessert or anything else. Already with plans for a dessert stop I declined, mostly because the options on Slow’s online menu didn’t seem all that appealing and the only item I saw delivered to a table, presumably the Chuck Norris, was entirely too big for one person after so much food. Settling the tab I was bid farewell by no less than four servers and upon making my way to the street a quick jog across Michigan Avenue led me to my car (free parking aplenty in Corktown.) At $29 (tax and a good tip included) Slow’s certainly isn’t bargain basement barbeque – but then again, with high quality preparations and names like Neiman Ranch on the menu you shouldn’t expect bargain basement bar-b-q – Slow’s is a whole lot better than that.

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