Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Union Woodshop: The Best BBQ in Town!

. . . and by "town", I don't just mean Clarkston; I mean Southeast Michigan. 

If you aren't a Michigander this might not mean much but we live in Royal Oak, Michigan. That's about an hour away from Clarkston and we make the drive because it is worth it. I'm not the only one that thinks so; the Union Woodshop was featured on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives a couple of years ago when Kid Rock gave Guy Fieri the tour. Sometimes the joints featured on the show don't live up to the hype (I can say we have visited a few in our travels) but this one certainly does.

Even though there were some hazardous driving conditions (it's February in Michigan) last night there was still a 2 1/2 - 3 hour wait. I bet the locals wait for bad weather so they can have their restaurant back. Going to the Woodshop is a destination and it takes some planning if you live far away because they will not take reservations or allow for call ahead seating. You have to show up and put your name in and they hand you a beeper. There isn't much to do in Downtown Clarkston once the shops are closed so we have come up with our strategy. We put our name in and take the beeper and head out of town, a little ways South to Great Lakes Crossing to kill some time. This way we aren't hanging out in the bar with two kids for 3 hours. We come back within a 1/2 hour buffer of our estimated seating time and it all works out.

Now this place isn't fancy by any means. The name "Woodshop" is a good name for this place. There's an assortment of tools, particle board floors, vintage lounge booths and lighting, and a kitschy illuminated art deco inspired bar, along with some rock memorabilia. The waitstaff wears "Made in Detroit" apparel or local homage to sports teams and it's a comfortable atmosphere. It's homey and warm and it just works. A nice little touch is that wine and cocktails are served in mason jars along with soda and pop. I have learned to love having a Margarita in a mason jar rimmed with salt. The margarita there has a little extra something anyways, as they add a shot of Badass beer (again a Kid Rock reference) to the drink.

Last night we sat in the first room, by the art deco bar, right under the Guy Fieri autographed beam. We couldn't resist getting a photo of that for The Orange Door since this is our first time back since this blog started. There are some really good appetizers to start with at the Woodshop but I think that if you are there for BBQ you want to pace yourself and adding an appetizer may be too much (it is for me). If you are interested in small plates before they have items such as woodsticks (bread sticks with garlic powder and cream cheese dip), deep fried pickles, and my personal favorite - burnt ends. Burnt ends are those charred edges of a beef brisket that have a distinct chewy textures, smothered in barbecue sauce and served on Texas toast. I should not that everything at the Woodshop that can be smoked, is smoked, and it's all done in-house. that includes shrimp (that you can add to a Caesar salad or have in a shrimp cocktail), bacon on your burger, and chicken wings. 

Food is served on heavy metal trays with a simple paper liner.  Main dishes of BBQ include pulled pork (they are famous for it), ribs, hot links, and chicken. Along with your choice of meat, should you decide on barbecue, you get to pick two sides. Picking sides is not easy because they are all very good. Last night I had beef brisket with green bean casserole and sweet potato jalapeno mash. I rely on other family members to get additional sides so we can share. I don't know why their green bean casserole is so much better than mine (and I don't mean to make that sound pretentious) but I think they use fresh green beans and there is a smokey flavor there that I cannot replicate even after I added bacon to my recipe at home. The sweet potatoes are not spicy but they have a great flavor. Other sides that are worth mentioning include cheesy potatoes and collard greens. The Union Woodshop and the Union (down the street) are known for their famous Mac and Cheese. That was a big focus on Diner Drive Ins and Dives. I may be in the minority but I think it's just okay. . . I prefer my mac more creamy and less crispy but others LOVE it so you might want to give it a try. It's very dense and even with a side you may have leftovers. I also recommend getting onion rings or fries not just because they are good but also because you get a side of dipping sauce called Memphis Mayo. Good stuff. I will eat fries just as a vehicle to eat the sauce.

Now with BBQ you know that the sauce is a big part of the equation - there's no getting around it. All the meats here are dry rubbed and smoked so your sauce is a finishing touch. There are 5 - yes FIVE! - sauces on the table representing the best of BBQ across the United States. There's Tennessee, with is tomato and vinegar, really mild. Texas, is very red and has a little kick with tomato and chipolte. South Carolina is mustard and vinegar, yellowish in color. Alabama is a white sauce with mayo and horseradish and it's very thin. My favorite is NYC which is a hoisin base and very sweet. Once you get familiar with this stuff, folks make their own concoctions. I typically start with NYC and add some Tennessee and Texas to make it just right. . . a real melting pot of flavor. I should mention that there are other choices upon request to add to this variety. There is a North Carolina and one from Hell Michigan. I said "hell" and it's hot.

All dinners are served with a little corn muffin with more jalapenos and some sweet butter. I wish the muffins were bigger. I also wish that just simplified things by having a sides platter and let me just make that my whole meal. I get "let" isn't the right word because no one is stopping me from ordering them - I'm sure they would take my money and not tell me to go home.

My kids are not as inclined to the whole BBQ experience as much as the adults are. Fortunately there are other choices for them, including a very nice kids meal (mac and cheese, grilled cheese and the usual choices) along with the regular menu full of wood fired pizzas and burgers. The kids both prefer the "Juicy Lucy" on the adult menu as their choice of burger. This burger is best served "medium" because it's a patty of beef filled with American Cheese. It's really juicy as the name applies. . . the cheese just oozes out. 

Of course there are desserts at the Union Woodshop too. It was a late night so we just ordered some cupcakes to take home (based down the street at the Union General Store) but one of the items that they are also famous for is nitrogen ice cream. They use liquid nitrogen to cool the liquid ingredients that make ice cream at a supersonic speed. At the Woodshop they serve vanilla but at Vinsetta Garage (another one of their joints in Berkley) they have Faygo Red Pop Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream). I digress. . . that's another blog article. . .  Anyways the vanilla ice cream is creamy and flavorful and great on top of their seasonal cobblers and brownie skillet. I think it's best featured in their Maple Bourbon Sundae. .  . 

I would definitely recommend checking this place out. If you love BBQ you will love this!

No comments:

Post a Comment