Detroit, MI: Slow’s Bar BQ

In the early stages of the 20th century, not long after Henry Ford fired up his model T for the first time, manufacturing jobs became the new gold rush. Thousands of skilled laborers rushed to the car plants of Detroit, Michigan. Why Detroit? Centrally located in the United States, it was perfectly positioned to receive the raw material coming in by train from all over the country.

Armed with the best and brightest workers, Detroit continued its expansion, opening up defense plants during World War II. Black workers were placed on the assembly line, due to racial segregation allowing for cheaper labor. Detroit was suddenly a mixed city; people with roots from all over the country, all blue collar, all just looking to make a buck.

Unfortunately, by the 1980’s, the automobile industry had turned to cheaper alternatives; outsourcing labor to Mexico, and automating a large number of factory jobs. The plant owners pulled out in droves, leaving tens of thousands of people out of work, and without hope. Unemployment shot sky high. Homes were lost. Families were broken. Crime rates shot up sky high.

The city still hasn’t fully recovered. There are areas I wouldn’t recommend traveling to. Rust-lined factories from yesteryear blanket the city; a constant reminder to the once thriving economy, left for dead.

Through this, however, has come optimism; and a food resurgence has come at the city with gusto. The melting pot of cultures that came together during the prosperous times has left behind an incredible array of choices. Because lots have become so inexpensive, restaurants have popped up en masse. Detroit houses just about any style of food you can imagine; and lots of it.

On Michigan Avenue in the heart of Corkstown sits one such restaurant; a popular barbecue joint opened in 2005 by fashion model Phillip Cooley, and his family.

Slow’s has been a success every year since it opened. Its take the first year was $1.8 million, and has grown substantially since then. Cooley is more than just an entrepreneur; an artist, and a philanthropist, eager to see Detroit reach its potential. He contributes to the growth of the artistic community, as well as businesses in and around his restaurant. What’s good for them is good for him.

It’s the kind of business you want to support, and going in, I was ready to tantalize my senses.

See – the night before, I’d hit a skunk on the backroads near Guelph, Ontario. A car wash had worked to a degree; but the lingering scent of unrelenting rotting cabbage and sulfur hung around like an unwanted guest; unwilling to leave, and growing more irritating with every passing minute. Thankfully, by the time I got to Windsor it had mostly dissipated, but my palate needed cleansing like a marathon runner needs a shower.

Entering Slow’s, I was met with the most wondrous smell of wood smoke and dripping meat. It was mid-afternoon, so we were able to get a booth right away. My 2-month old immediately passed out, and I like to assume it was from sensory overload.

After nearly 5-minutes of agonizing over an incredible array of offerings, I finally played a game of BBQ roulette, going with a sampler platter and pointing at various proteins. Minutes later, heaven arrived, and it came with sides!

Brisket, pulled pork, and smoked chicken. Old MacDonald had a farm, but now it’s sitting on my plate. To the side was their mashed sweet potato and jalapeno black beans. I must have done something right in this lifetime to get a bounty like this.

But first, I had to choose my sauce wisely.

After careful deliberation, taking my decision with the kind of painstaking precious left to professionals, and irritating the piss out of my wife, I finally settled on the mustard sauce for the pork, and the North Carolina barbecue sauce for the brisket. Both are great representatives of the Carolinas. White vinegar and tomato play so well together because they’re gentle acidic flavors, and it’s normally my favorite interpretation of what barbecue sauce should be. Paired on the fall apart brisket, with just a sliver of fat for flavor, and you were looking at a damned fine meal alone.

But that was before we touched on the pork. Mustard barbecue sauce isn’t always good, but Slow’s found the right balance of spices, and this stuff is bomb diggity. And, of yeah, the bark? I haven’t even mentioned the bark.

LOOK AT THAT! That’s exactly what you want on a perfect butt. A rich, dark pink ring where the smoke was able to slowly work its way into the meat, and a crunchy, almost jerky like exterior. This is the candy of the BBQ world. And there was so damn much of it on my plate. Without hyperbole; and I am speaking as someone who has eaten BBQ from all regions of the United States, this was the absolute best pulled pork I’d ever had.


While I was contemplating proposing marriage to my meal, my wife was working over her salad.

How do you take something as basic as the chicken caesar and elevate it? Smoke the chicken, and don’t overdo it. Chicken breast might be the most difficult piece of meat to get right. Because it’s such a lean cut of meat without much fat, it dries out quickly. Smoking is a long process, and chicken requires absolute precision. Too early, and it’s Salmonella City for the unsuspecting diners. Too late, and you’ve got shoe leather.

Of course, these are professionals, and they nailed it. The chicken absorbed the wood smoke like a sponge in a bucket, and Emily was very happy.

I could go on, but I can sum up in a single paragraph why you need to visit. They’re a small family owned restaurant that’s living the American dream, gives back to the community, and most importantly makes damn good food. And really, what else is there?

Address: 2138 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI
Facebook: Slow’s Bar BQ
Twitter: @slowsbarbq

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