Travel

Slow’s BBQ and the North American International Auto Show

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Although I love the new production and concept cars, my favorites are the classics like this 1934 Model 40. My other favorite was the 1952 Mercedes 300 SL. Both are gorgeous cars.

I was hoping to post this sooner, but I was having some problems with editing.  For whatever reason none of my revisions were saved and I was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong.  Eventually I figured it out so I apologize for being behind on posts.  But I digress. . . On to my story. . .

I am a car nut.  Not a gear head, mind you, because I can barely change a tire.  I can do stuff like switch out headlamps, but adding some forced induction to boost performance is way, way, way over my head.  I just love driving them (one of my favorite pastimes [I think that’s spelled wrong] is going out for test drives of new cars).  I like seeing what’s new and improved, seeing what sexy concepts are coming, and following all the latest automotive news.  And one of the great things about living in SE Michigan is that the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is held every January right in downtown Detroit.  Luckily I got a chance to go on the last day of the 2012 show on Sunday, January 22nd.  Now if you love cars, this is one of the best shows in the country, if not THE best.  Over the past couple of years, the NAIAS saw a drop which coincided with the economic downturn.  Automotive companies withdrew from the show, major debuts and premieres were shifted to places like Chicago, New York, or Geneva, and attendance dropped.  But from the looks of everything, the show has come back in a big way.

Another great thing about SE Michigan is Slow’s BBQ.  For the past couple of years, our new tradition has been to go to the auto show and afterwards head on down to Slow’s for some beers and a meal of barbecued deliciousness.  Slow’s has generated a big name for itself not just among locals, but across the country.  There was even a nice article in the New York Times about how Slow’s is helping to revitalize downtown Detroit.

So let’s get down to business. . . after hanging out at the auto show for a few hours, we got in around lunchtime (like around 1:00), so it was packed with an hour wait (the crowd does thin out around 3:00 so that could be a good time to go).  You could try and get a seat at the bar, but I wanted a table and didn’t mind the wait.  Besides, it gave me a chance to look over all the pics from the auto show.  Plus, I get a chance to figure out what beers I want to try — they have about 60 bottles and 20 beers on tap.

Here are today's available bottles

We started out with the Fried Catfish Appetizer and a couple of beers — specifically Bell’s Hopslam and Short’s Sour Puss.  These are two of my favorite breweries and if you come across either of these two I definitely suggest you try them.  The Hopslam is hoppy, and bright, and has strong flavor of grapefruit (especially on the aftertaste).  This is another one of the Bell’s beers that has a cult-like following, especially since it’s available for only about one month out of the year.  It is a lot stronger than your average ale, with a 10% alcohol rating.   Now, as for the Sour Puss, I was not familiar with it and I couldn’t find any info about it at all on their website.  So I had to drop the brewery a line; I haven’t heard back from Short’s so your guess is as good as mine.  But I will be scouring stores in my area to see if I can get my hands on some.  No surprise, but there is a very strong sour flavor and it was unlike anything I’ve ever tried before.  It was layered and complex, but I have no frame of reference for me to compare.  I just know that I loved it!  Unfortunately for a lot of y’all, Short’s beers are available only in Michigan, and they don’t have any plans to change that any time soon.  But hey, that’s a great reason to come and visit the state and visit Short’s Pub in Bellaire, MI.

Bell's Hopslam and Short's Sour Puss

So, on to the catfish. . . these morsels were perfectly cooked and served hot with a side of remoulade.  These were described as having a “tempura” batter, but that really wasn’t the case.  It was a lot more substantial than you would find in a tempura, but it didn’t overpower the fish.  I think that the cornmeal in the batter helped out with that.

Fried catfish morsels

Another round of beers. . . another Hopslam and this time I wanted to try the Firkin of Pineapple Ale.  Again, I don’t know much about this one and didn’t think to ask.  I’m still learning how to be a restaurant critic so I will try to remember to be more inquisitive. . . and to bring a pen and paper because using the notepad on my phone is a pain!  Now I’d say that this ale is closest to an IPA but on the sweeter side.  I didn’t quite catch flavors of pineapple, but I did get apple and citrus notes.  Since it was served closer to room temperature, the other flavors were easier to pick up.  Now this is definitely a better choice for the meal, because the Sour Puss might probably overpower the rest of the meal with its intensity.

Hopslam's in the background and the foreground is the Pineapple Ale

And now for the main course. . . we got the Longhorn sandwich with a side of waffle fries and the Big Three entrée with a side of green beans and the delicious Mac and Cheese.  The Longhorn is a sandwich with sliced beef brisket, onion marmalade, and shredded smoked Gouda.  The Big Three is pretty much a sampler platter of their barbeque offerings — pulled pork, pulled chicken, and the brisket.  Honestly, I think the brisket is the star.  You can get some of the crispy charring on the outside coupled with flavors with some of the fat on the beef (the fat is where the flavor is at!).  So not only do you get the layers of flavors, but also layers of texture which add a great deal to the experience.  I definitely think the brisket could stand on its own without any additional sauces or additions, but of course, that didn’t stop me from trying different combinations!  Don’t get me wrong — I love the pork and the chicken, but they can be a little bit on the lean side which means they are perfect vehicles for Slow’s selection of sauces.

Just a light lunch!
The Big Three
The Longhorn sandwich and some Mac and Cheese

There’s a selection of four sauces — Apple, Sweet, Spicy, and North Carolina.  In my opinion, the best all-arounders would be the smokey, sweet Apple and the vinegary North Carolina.  I think the Spicy works best with the pulled pork, and the Sweet goes well with the chicken.  Keep in mind that there are other dishes there, like the ribs, salmon, jambalaya, even vegetarian options, so these sauces could strut their stuff with other pairings.  Maybe one of these days I’ll opt for the ribs and a side of the black-eyed peas.  And maybe one of these days, I’ll remember to leave room for dessert.

Sauce selection

Slow’s BBQ is quickly becoming an Michigan culinary institution, if it isn’t one already.  I think that over hour wait that you’re likely to encounter when you get here attests to that.  But if you can wrangle up 5 of your friends, you can call ahead for a table because they take reservations for parties of 6 or more.  I love Slow’s and I recommend you checking them out.  If you’re careful, your bill doesn’t have to be exorbitant like mine tends to be.  But I get here once a year, and what can I say? —  I’m a sucker for great food and great beer!

Breakfast in Traverse City

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Here’s another post from my trip up to the Traverse City area.  If you saw my post on Elk Rapids, I likes me a nice breakfast when I’m on vacation — usually an omelette (still don’t know if it’s one “t” or two).  This time I got a chance to go to J&S Hamburg on Front St. in Traverse City, MI.  It has that whole charming hole-in-the-wall / diner feel.  Plus, it was during Halloween, so that gets to add a little something to the experience — I guess some folks like to dress up in their costumes for the whole day.

Farmer's Omelette @ J & S Hamburg

I ordered a Farmer’s Omelete which had tomatoes, sausage, and mushrooms.  Much to my surprise it came with a stack of pancakes!  Everything was delicious and well cooked; maybe I’m just a sucker for eggs, but since I always order them, I know a good omelette when I taste one.  It’s like when I judge a sushi restaurant by how good their spider rolls or temaki are.  But I digress. . . you get a lot of good food for the price.  Definitely worth a return visit.

Of course, I also had to check out what the town had to offer in regards to pumpkin donuts.  And that’s where Potter’s Bakery comes in.  As you may recall, I visited the Elk Rapids Sweet Shop and sampled their offerings.  Potter’s makes a doughnut that can challenge the Sweet Shop for what I think is the best pumpkin doughnut.  What makes the one from Potter’s different is in the flavor profile.  The main thing that stands out is the spiciness of the it.  It wasn’t overwhelming, but gave it a nice kick.  It was a nice way to warm up a chilly autumn morning.

Can we go to D.O.G. Bakery now?

Also joining us on this road trip were the puppies Daisy and Cooper (well, maybe not puppies anymore).  So I wanted to make a stop that was specifically for them.  And Traverse City is home to D.O.G. Bakery, which stands for “Daisy and Oscar’s Gourmet Bakery”.  You may have seen some of their goods since they have vendors in Michigan, Florida, Indiana, New York, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Ohio, and Tennessee.  The store is located on Front Street in Traverse City and has some of the standard items that you would find in any pet store.  What makes them special is the bakery in the back (plus the fact that they donated over 7% of their proceeds to pet focused charities).  They use quality ingredients and use local food producers whenever they can, which is great.  Naturally dogs are welcome inside.  Thankfully there were no other puppies inside when we went in because Daisy and Cooper have a tendency to be excitable.  But it was nice for them to go to a place where they can be included — it’s not like those two would be welcome inside North Peak Brewery (which I will post on soon).

Special Treats for the puppies!

So stay tuned for my final post about my trip up north when I will share a little bit about North Peak and Shorts Brewing Companies!  It’s the last post about my vacation, I promise!  That is, until the next vacation.

Breakfast in Elk Rapids

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This is another post of my visit to the Traverse City, MI area.  Now I’m only here for a couple of days and I will be doing lots of traveling around Northwest Michigan so breakfast is going to be super important!  Well, breakfast is super important anyway, but there are lots of things that I want to see in the area and I’m going to need some fuel to keep my  body going (of course, I could try to burn off some of my, um, stored “energy reserves”).  But I’m on vacation, and when I’m on vacation, I likes me a nice breakfast.  Judging by my pattern, I usually get an omelette if I get a chance (is it one “t” or two cuz I’ve seen both).  But if I’m going on a long, long road trip, my travel foods of choice are chicharonnes and pecan logs, including a stop at the first roadside Chick-Fil-A I see.  It is a small miracle that I can make it to my destination on a diet like that!

But I digress. . . I love going to diners and local eateries on trips.  There’s always a good chance to experience some local flavor at a diner!  And I stumbled across a great one in Elk Rapids, MI.  This town wasn’t on my travel itinerary but I’m glad I stopped, because I happened upon the charming Harbor Cafe.  It’s a nice, small, and modest restaurant with a black awning to help shelter patrons.  Of course there is a “harbor” theme, which makes sense since Elk Rapids is right on the water with Grand Traverse Bay on the west and Elk Lake on the east.  Plus, you can boat up to it!  The outdoor seating was tempting, but it is autumn here in the northern reaches of Michigan, and it’s not exactly warm outside.  You can expect some traditional diner fare, but with their own twist!

This Corned Beef Hash Omelette is a great way to start the day!

We got a couple of their omelette specials (all their specials were written on a large chalkboard which dominated the wall next to the kitchen) — the Corned Beef Hash omelette and the Reuben.  Both were outstanding!  The Corned Beef Hash came with some sautéed peppers,onions, and Swiss cheese, while the Reuben came with all the usual fixin’s that the sandwich has, including the Thousand Island Dressing.  It is easy to see why this place is a favorite in the community.  Everything was cooked perfectly; the hash didn’t overpower the omelette and the flavors of the Reuben really worked together which shocked me a bit.  Never thought sauerkraut would taste good in an omelette!  And the friendly staff recommended another local product that I should try and I was again pleasantly surprised.  It was called Wild Bill’s Root Beer from local company Northwoods Soda.  Such a distinctive and delicious flavor, unlike any other root beer that I’ve tried.  I find it difficult to describe, but if you ever come across it, I definitely recommend it.  You can check the link to see where it’s available.  I have to come back soon to try some of the burgers and the Blueberry and Cream Stuffed French Toast!

The Elk Rapids Sweet Shop

On the way out, I noticed a little shop that people were literally running towards.  Not knowing what the big draw was, I had to stop and investigate.  Just out of arm’s reach from the Harbor Cafe is another small, unassuming, modest establishment hiding the absolute best pumpkin donuts I’ve ever had.  Welcome to the Elk Rapids Sweet Shop (check them out on Facebook)!  I am craving some of those donuts right now!  The ones that you’d find at some of the larger chain stores and big box groceries are weirdly dense and coat the inside of your mouth with some sticky conglomeration of undercooked flavors.  The donuts from here were light, fluffy, flavorful pillows of pumpkiny goodness.  I swear I’ve never had anything like them, and I’ve eaten lots of donuts, hence the extra “energy reserves” 🙂  There aren’t any pictures of my donuts because, let’s face it — I just can’t control myself sometimes!  I had selected the glazed pumpkin donuts; there were also iced and cinnamon-sugar versions.  If you check out their Facebook page you can see that they offer a wide selection of other baked goods and pastries including pies, breads, and packzis (hopefully y’all know what those are, but I can explain on Fat Tuesday).  I wish I had more time to sample more of what they have to offer.  All the more reason to come back!

A difficult choice, but there was a sign that said "pumpkin donuts today!", and twist my arm!

So if you’re ever in the area, stop by give these two places a try.  You won’t regret it.  And check out the rest of town, if you get a chance.  I was visiting at the end of the season, so a lot of the places had already closed up for winter.  I look forward to coming back, hopefully when the weather is warmer, although I have been known to drive up to Sault Ste. Marie in a snow storm. . . but that’s another story. . .

St. Ignace — Land of Pasties and Smoked Fish

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Well, not really.  It’s actually the Magical Harbor!  But pasties and smoked fish are the two things that I need to buy when I am visiting, and it’s been some time since I’ve been up north.  It seems like those two things are everywhere in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) so sorting through all the different kinds can take some time.  Here’s where I can help!

Time for some coffee!

But first things first — a quick stop at Java Joe’s for some coffee.  This place is a fun little cafe that serves a nice selection of breakfast items.  Everything is good, but I’d have to single out the crepes as something to try.  They can be tricky to make yourself, and you just don’t find those in every restaurant.  Plus the decor is fun, especially the mural on the outside.  And the coffee is great as are the people who work there!

You gotta love a place that features a hopping winged unicorn carrying a steaming cup of smiling peace coffee on its back.

Now on to some pasties.  I think I may have talked a little bit about them in my post about the PastyFest 2011 in Calumet, MI.  Recipes can vary, but there are those who are adamant that the filling must include rutabagas and not potatoes.  In my opinion, it is the crust that makes everything shine.  And Bessie’s Homemade Pasties does it the best.  It’s a little bit further from the main strip downtown; just drive down the road, and up the hill until you see the giant sign.  Like a lot of restaurants in the Upper Peninsula (UP) the inside of the restaurant is simple and unassuming, with charming guestbooks that visitors can sign.  But in there, you will find some of the best pasties in the land.  These are my favorites by far — the filling is delicious (even if they don’t use rutabagas) and the crust is top-notch.  Plus, the pasties look happy to be there!  Luckily I planned ahead and brought a cooler so I could take some frozen pasties home.  Hopefully I can make them last for a while because I have no idea where to get pasties in SE Michigan.

Bessie's!
See? I told you they have some happy pasties here!
I cannot wait to dive right in!
One last step -- Gravy!!!

And finally a stop at Manley’s Smoked Fish.  You’ll pass it on the way to Java Joe’s and Bessie’s.  If you’re a Green Bay Packers fan, you will definitely see it.  You’ll probably notice it even if you’re not a fan of the Pack since the complex is painted in the team’s green and yellow colors.  But it’s not all for show — they have great quality smoked fish, homemade beef jerky, pasties, whitefish, lake trout, among other goodies.  We picked up a few smoked whitefish to bring home.  I don’t know exactly what they do in their smoke house, but they definitely know what they are doing.  There are lots of other purveyors of smoked fish in the northern reaches of the state, but this is worth a stop.  And the prices are extremely reasonable; respectable smoked whitefish down here can be around 5 times the price at $25 a pop.  I will be using these golden formerly swimming packets of goodness to a make smoked fish dip which I will be posting soon.

Gotta make a stop

Exploring Traverse City and the Great American Cherry Pie War

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Now I know I’ve been relatively quiet for the past few weeks.  But it’s the weird transition in the house between taking down Halloween decorations, leaving up Thanksgiving decorations,  and putting up Christmas decorations.  Plus I’m in vacation recovery mode (I went to the Traverse City [TC] area and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan).  I promise not to bore y’all with all my vacation escapades.  I will just share some of the food-related finds.

If you don’t know where Traverse City, MI is, I will show you on your handy Michigan map.  Just take your right hand and look at it palm-side-up; looks like the lower peninsula of Michigan, right?  Traverse City is just to the right of the tip of your pinky.  Don’t believe me, just check out this map.

Traverse City is actually a great foodie town.  Chef Mario Batali spends his summers just north of the city; Chef Jacques Torres opened up his first chocolate shop outside New York and Las Vegas in Traverse City (it has since closed); it is home to the National Cherry Festival; and prime Michigan wine country is just a stone’s throw away.

Speaking of cherries, have you heard of the Great American Cherry Pie War?  Well, I don’t know if it’s called that, but that’s the moniker I’m using.  TC and rival town just up the road Charlevoix, MI engaged in a heated battle vying for World’s Largest Cherry Pie.  Charlevoix fired the first volley by baking a pie that was over 14 feet across and 2 feet deep.  It weighed over 17,000 lbs and was baked in 1976 to help celebrate the US bicentennial.  It held the title until TC took the title away with a pie that was over 17 feet across and over 28,000 lbs.  Some town in Canada broke the record several years later, but you can visit the pie pans for the Michigan record breakers.

They make them big in Charlevoix, MI!
They make them even bigger in Traverse City!
TC's pie did not appear to be as manicured and celebrated as the one in Charlevoix, as evidenced by the disrepair.

I had actually come across this by accident when I noticed a giant pie pan on the side of the road while taking the scenic route up to St. Ignace, which is just over the Mackinaw Bridge in the Upper Peninsula.  That triggered a memory of the duel between the two rival towns that I had read on the Roadside America website.  You can read about quirky tourist attractions all over the country.  Just type in a city and find out what’s nearby.  This website also brought up another interesting TC landmark.

TC is home to a memorial to Colantha Walker, “The World Champion Cow of the Insane”.  She was born in April 1916 and was under the care of staff and patients of the Northern Michigan Asylum.  While living on the farm on the Asylum grounds, she produced 200,114.9 lbs. of milk and 7,525.8 lbs. of butterfat.  Now I have no clue as to how this compares to non-world champion cows, but it was sufficient enough for her to be immortalized with a rather sizeable granite tombstone after her death in January 1932.  But after doing a little research, her landmark year was 1926 when she produced almost 23,000 lbs. of milk, which earned her “World Champion” title.  According to census records, the Michigan average for dairy cows was just over 3,900 lbs. a year.

Exciting stuff!  Like I said, I promise to try not to tire you with yarns about my trip.  I’ll post on some great budget-friendly restaurants, a couple local breweries, a bake shoppe that makes the best pumpkin donuts that I’ve ever had, and throw in some smoked fish and pasties (the pastry, not the adornments worn to cover up your unmentionables).  I’ll even work in a recipe or two.  Stay tuned!