Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Low and Slow at Slows BarBQ

During our trip to Ann Arbor my requisite stop was to be Slows BBQ in downtown Detroit. I had heard rave reviews about the food and endless griping about the wait staff (as well as the wait to get in). I actually enjoy going to a spot that people complain about the wait times. For me it means there’s something special going on. In fact, what’s going on inside those four walls is so special; people are willing to wait inordinate periods of time for the sole privilege of getting a seat.

I’m not a big service person when it comes to barbecue. Give me a reasonably clean place to sit, a decent selection of beer, and refrain from raping me on price, and I’m a happy man. Admittedly, waiting a long period of time to eat does up the ante. If I have to wait over a half an hour then it has to be above average. In case you were wondering, at Slows there are plenty of clean places to sit, the draft selection was well above average, and the prices are very reasonable.

But as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. For the sake of this review various smoked meats were substituted for said pudding.

The interior (and exterior) of Slows is very smart. The lacquered wood you see all around the restaurant was all reclaimed when they opened the restaurant. The bones of the actual building are exposed and give the space a very hip yet rugged feel. The outside patio has lots of seating that certainly allows them to seat more people, but I think puts more stress on the kitchen. There’s actually a nicely landscaped area just outside the restaurant where you can sit and wait for your table to be ready. Slows gets very high marks for aesthetics and attention to architectural detail. With all of the hard surfaces indoors it does get pretty loud, but this is a barbecue joint.

Waiting area outside

I have heard repeatedly that the service here leaves much to be desired of, but I’d actually disagree. Our server wasn’t bad, she just had too many tables. Getting through the crowd around the bar is an absolute bitch. Without elbowing people in the back of the head it can be quite the task getting from table to kitchen. In reality, I think a big part of the problem is that they spend more of their time weaving than they do serving, which in the end is no fun for either party.

So what about the food?

I wanted to sample all three meats, so I ordered the Niman Ranch brisket enchilada and the chicken wings, while Regina ordered the Niman Ranch baby backs with baked beans. For me the brisket enchiladas were probably the best part of the whole dinner. They had a perfect amount of spice to them, without being ridiculously cliché. I thought the wings and the ribs were cooked properly – I just didn’t really care for their sauces. Some people say that, “The sauce is the boss.” I don’t buy that shit. If the meat has a good rub on it, smoked properly, and cooked to a perfect internal temp, you don’t have to hide behind a sauce. These needed a little bit of sauce, because the rub just didn’t do much for me. I found this to especially be the case with the wings.

I don’t typically write up a place on the first go around, but seeing as I live in Cleveland it’s hardly around the corner. Do I think Slows is worth another try? Sure. Do I see myself going back anytime soon? When I have to wait and the food is just “good”, I tend not want to jump right back in line. There are too many other places that I want to try in the Detroit area, which I don’t often get to, that are on my radar. I will say that Slows has a fantastic selection of drafts, cook with high quality meat, and have prices that are certainly inline with what you find at other barbecue restaurants.

Slows Bar BQ
2138 Michigan Ave
Detroit, MI 48216
(313) 962-9828

Slow's BarBQ on Urbanspoon


  1. You hit it right on the money, the food is good, but not great. I don't understand why it's rated the #1 BBQ in Detroit. Surely most of the reviewers haven't have real cue.

  2. They have a nice product, a cool space, and a well put together concept. I just don't think the level of execution matches the wait times and RAVE reviews from people.