Sitting in my cabin up north, where the walls are lined with dead mammals, I couldn't help but think of hiring a taxidermist to wall-mount my favorite dishes for the kitchen. My first Chateau Briand steak lingering in limbo with wood-fired asparagus would hang next to my first Weber-grilled T-bone; Venetian gelato in a Dixie cup could sit next to an old Sweetland's malted. Of course, this décor would change with the seasons. I have, however, hit a wall selecting which barbecue cut to include within my dead barbecue menagerie and have opted to include all of the following.
Barbacoa, a term from Floridian natives, and from which we derive the more commonplace term barbecue, literally means "sacred fire pit" and is exactly how to explain the grills at Sandmann's (1200 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids). Chances are you've already smelled this place on a breezy day when the grills are out and smoking. Opened in 2000 by Randal Sandifer and Ursula Mann-Sandifer, Sandmann's (named after the concoction of both surnames) has won award after award for prize-winning barbecue and has been asked to grill in Grand Rapids' hotter Italian sister city of Perugia for several years in a row.
Meat here is slow-smoked over a charcoal grill and the sides are like granny used to make. Saddle up some southern style spare ribs by the slab or viciously delve into a complete and never-dry chicken. Jumbo chicken wings, gizzards, and plenty of seafood options exist, but the must-haves are the Rib Tips-this house specialty of bite-sized pork brisket with a signature smoky sauce is succulent and tangy. And for those DIYers, you can bring home a bottle of Sandmann's BBQ Sauce for your own homemade delight for the Mondays it's closed, or when its catering is overbooked.
Just a jaunt away, the brand new Twisted Rooster (1600 E. Beltline NE, Grand Rapids) has joined Local First with an entirely Michigan menu. Executive Chef Mark Noseda has developed more than 500 items and whittled it down to a mere 50 impeccable dishes. His genius at work has produced several barbecue plates that will surely become as notorious as they are decadent and all are available for a meager price that will preferably force out certain chains from the greater area. The Twisted Pulled Pork Sandwich is dry rubbed, braised, and sits in 250° for at least six hours in a spicy, smokey, sweet and vinegar barbecue sauce that, when done, creeps and finishes its bouquet of flavor in a manner reserved for premium whiskey lovers. It is served with a side of tangy coleslaw comprised of capellini noodles with a subtle crunch bringing authentically new sensations to the land of 'slaw. The BBQ Chicken and Gouda Quesadilla is another item, with grilled and carmelized onion, aforementioned smoked gouda, brined and applewood smoked chicken with cilantro, apple juice, brown sugar and that damn fine twisted barbecue sauce with a side of grilled sweet corn.
Love barbecue so much that you just gotta have it daily? Check out the daily specials at Hog Wild BBQ of Holland (154 W. Lakewood Blvd.) for a week's worth of food on the cheap. All meat is slow-cooked over hickory in a Friedrich pit (one of the oldest smokehouse makers). Monday and Tuesdays feature a Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich for $2.99 or a six-piece Chicken Wing basket available in fire, hot, mild, barbecue, teriyaki, or bourbon sauces. Wednesdays and Thursdays have a Roasted Half Chicken or Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs and Friday and Saturdays have a 3 Meat Sampler of pork, chicken and sausage. Oh, and Holland Hospital is about two miles down 31 on Michigan Ave. for those of you with beefy hearts.
Want to eat by the tray or study a phantasmagorial sandwich menu? Check out Sonny's BBQ Pit (889 W. Columbia Ave., Battle Creek) for an $85 plate of Barbecue Meatballs to split among friends. Don't want that many? OK, have a Charger '69, a sandwich of meatballs smothered in the house barbecue sauce with plenty of toppings and garnishes that could feed a starving village for decades. Hot and BBQ Wings are available at 50 cents a pop and make those phony flipper buffalo baby wings at chains obsolete. The Chrysler Windsor '56 is a grilled barbecue chicken sandwich, and the Ford Coupe '30 is a barbecue brisket and cheese sandwich devised for those with wide, long belts. Just don't blow a head gasket pulling out of the parking lot with your new added weight.