There are certain aspects of the Phoenix area that are tough to get used to. Not in the sense that they are bad in any way, just that they are different. You see, I spent much of my life thinking that good food is a pretty rare find in a strip mall or as a standalone building in the parking lot of a strip mall. But, when a city is basically all strip malls, the good food simply has to be there. Thus, while my expectations of BBQ spots are generally a bit less pristine than a strip mall, I couldn’t pass up the chance to check out Naked BBQ in Scottsdale.
It’s hard to make BBQ trendy. It is inherently something that people have very specific expectations for, and anything “new” and good is almost always a minor tweak that makes a real difference. So where can innovation come from? Booze. At least that’s what Bootleggers BBQ in Phoenix was thinking, offering a pretty snazzy modern divey bar that also serves up BBQ. It’s like a gastropub meets a BBQ spot and I was eager to see how the meat would hold up.
Like in LA, food trucks are a thing in the Phoenix area. And it makes much more sense here because everything is so damn spread out. Pasadena spoiled me. But I digress. The good news is that my office is all about bringing food trucks in every month (not for free, of course) to mix things up and to keep us from driving literal miles to the nearest food. This last time, it was Sweet Magnolia Smokehouse, serving up BBQ.
Good food is always made better if it’s found in a strange place. You know, like the Cheetos you find in the couch cushion. No, but seriously, like BBQ at a gas station. Such is Tom’s Thumb in Scottsdale. And while it may be more of a restaurant that happens to have a gas station attached than the other way around, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that this is literally a gas station and BBQ place.
BBQ is pretty much the best. But the Bay Area is a long way from where the best BBQ is supposed to be. Yet, while there for a quickie trip I made my way to 3 Pigs BBQ in San Carlos. The place definitely has a rustic feel, with an homage to the southern source of great BBQ in the form of an American flag made from Bud and Bud Light beer cans. It seemed like my kind of place and I set to work on ordering.
It would have been much more convenient to go to Blue Tractor BBQ in Ann Arbor. After all, I seem to get there about once a year. The trouble is that every time I’m there I can’t help but stop at Zingerman’s, with an occasional other restaurant thrown in once every blue (or maize) moon. Instead, I went to the location a number of hours further away in Traverse City, Michigan, not far from Sleeping Bear Dunes.
At 8 miles around, Mackinac Island is known for a few things. A beautiful hotel, horses, bikes and even some food. That food is fudge, so I’ll not bother with writing about how Murray’s Fudge is the best, but the island is not without other restaurants catering to the throngs of tourists that make their way and need something to eat. On this visit, we left the main drag and found Ice House BBQ.
Harbor Springs in Northern Michigan is a long way from Japan, but that doesn’t stop a place called Vernales from sporting a Wagyu Brisket Burger. You see, Vernales is kind of a sports bar masquerading as an upscale restaurant, so it only makes sense that if they are going to serve a burger, it’s going to include some fancy beef. And after a long time looking over the menu, I knew that burger was what I had to have.
When I’m in the south, I pretty much need to eat BBQ. Thus, as my trip to Atlanta had nearly reached its conclusion and I hadn’t eaten BBQ yet, I did my best to find a spot close to the airport. Pit Boss came up on the interwebs as a good spot, so I made my way there. It looked and felt old school, which is exactly what I was hoping to find, and judging by the blue collar-looking people I had high hopes.
What is Montrose? For the first 6+ years I lived in LA I probably would have answered that it is some sort of mythical creature composed of combining a mongoose with an albatross. The fact is that it is neither. Instead, it is a town up near Pasadena, built into the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. And in that town is a restaurant called Zeke’s Smokehouse.