When suckling the last globs of sauce from a rib, gnawing at the thing for remaining bits of meat, circling a good clean bone, it becomes hard to imagine any cuisine quite as savage as barbecue. It wears no disguise. Order up a joint’s three-meat platter and look at your dish. What you’ll find is a plate of animal parts torn asunder, plus a square of cornbread as distraction. Meat. It’s so obviously central to barbecue that you’re not wrong to wonder why anyone bothers with baked beans at all.
We at Revue don’t intend to destroy any positive associations you may have with barbecue, however. On the contrary, West Michigan restaurants are honoring the traditions of yore with such skill, they’re helping to soften the image of an American slobbering over a drumstick. In talking to some of our region’s pitmasters, there’s consensus regarding the cornerstones of good barbecue: passion, patience and a pinch of magic. Here are a few places carrying the torch for barbecue in our area.
Two Scotts Barbecue
536 Leonard St. NW, Grand Rapids, twoscottsbbq.com
Opening to a wave of hype back in 2015, Two Scotts was heralded as the second coming of barbecue in a scene desperate for some smokey fare. Since then, Scotts has earned its reputation as Grand Rapids’ go-to barbecue spot by delivering an unparalleled lineup of meats. Catch the crew after a busy lunch rush and chances are the brisket is all gone, a testament to how fresh and irresistable the stuff is.
I stopped by at 2 p.m. and ordered half a pound of burnt ends. I’d never heard of them, but learned the fatty nuggets of brisket are a Kansas City staple. The collision of textures — at one moment sinewy, the next like melted butter — was enough to force an audible coo. More baffling yet were the complex smoky flavors. Scott Luecht, one of the two Scotts, stressed the importance of sourcing applewood and hickory locally. “While our state doesn’t have a history with any particular meat, what we do have here in Michigan is great wood,” Luecht said. He humbly described Two Scotts as “a hole in the wall where you don’t stick to your seat.” True, but you might want to stick around for seconds.
Daddy Pete’s BBQ
2921 Eastern Ave. SE, Grand Rapids, daddypetesbbq.com
For Chef Cory Davis, family has always been at the heart of his barbecue. Raised on a diet of slow-smoked goodness, Davis inherited a passion from his father, the namesake Daddy Pete, who was well-known throughout the neighborhood for busting out endless racks of ribs on Superbowl Sunday. Translating his legacy to the nth degree, Daddy Pete’s has grown into big league business, catering to hundreds of weddings and remaining a food truck presence in the greater Grand Rapids area. The business now has a takeout location too, and you can smell the smoker from blocks away.
Me being a first-timer, Davis recommended a food truck specialty called The Mess. Presented as an ultra ooey-gooey, savory parfait, one spoonful displays a stratification of the barbecue essentials: pulled pork, mac and cheese, baked beans at the base, and a coleslaw garnish. Each bite felt like a full-body hug.
6394 Adams St., Drenthe, facebook.com/americanchar
An oasis in the labyrinth of rural Zeeland, American Char is drawing clientele from counties over to experience Chef Len’s take on Texas-style barbecue. I went full monty and sampled nearly every meat the menu. The brisket was an unctuous delight, the pulled pork and chicken fantastic too, but the dry rub on the wings truly impressed. Hints of cajun spice balanced by heat and sweet unlocked the wings’ spring-loaded juiciness. To slather the thing in sauce would be blasphemy. That said, the homemade sauces aren’t to be missed, the Memphis Sweet a fan favorite, and Len pointed out a batch aging in a New Holland rum barrel that promises to be a knockout.
Despite establishing American Char as a tourist destination, the community still comes first. On any given evening, Len is likely moseying about the dining hall, chatting with his stable of regulars, gathering updates about their families, divulging ideas for new recipes. He has the frame of a firefighter and the welcoming aura of your Opa. I’d imagine he and Guy Fieri would get along, and Guy, if you’re reading, American Char absolutely deserves a spot in the Flavortown pantheon. Check out the summer kickoff event on May 5 for a smoker extravaganza, or look for the food truck in rotation at Rosa Parks circle.
Even More Barbecue
154 W. Lakewood Blvd., Holland
Slows BBQ Grand Rapids
435 Ionia Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
The Grilling Company
6231 West River Dr. NE, Belmont
The Pit Stop
6479 28th St. SE, Grand Rapids
Arcadia Brewing Company
701 E. Michigan Ave., Kalamazoo