Thursday, December 04, 2014

My Year in Food: Union Woodshop, Clarkston, Michigan, December 2, 2014

We finally celebrated our November monthiversary on the second. Jeannene arrived home from work fairly late, but allowed me to drag her out, anyway. Luckily, Union Woodshop was still open when we arrived. I'd been hearing how great the barbecue at this place was for months. Ever since Boot suggested BBQ for his birthday dinner (he ended up going for Italian), I've intended to get here sooner, rather than later. Jeannene is often reluctant to venture very far from home for one of my dining adventures, but she grudgingly agreed to the 20-minute drive.

We walked in and felt instantly comfortable. The dining rooms are cozy and laid-back, with log ends sticking out from the walls, giving the impression of dining within a giant woodpile, and retro-looking blue booths anchoring the front corners of the room. We were seated promptly & cheerily. Looking over the menu, it was hard for me to choose between the brisket or the pulled pork. Since pulled pork is nearly always my favorite, though, I opted for that. Had I chosen, I could have gotten a sidecar of the brisket for $3.95. Luckily, Jeannene couldn't choose between the back ribs or the brisket, so she ordered a sidecar of the brisket that I got to try.

I was amused with the presentation of the meals, a small metal tray with waxed paper on it, atop which were dishes holding my meat & two---I opted for the Vermont Cheddar & Pinconning mac & cheese (made with penne and particularly stellar---I would go just for that) and the green bean casserole (made with fresh green beans instead of canned, which was, oddly, disappointing to me). We each got a wonderful corn muffin and a schmear of butter next to it on the tray, too.

The pulled pork was served without sauce, as is proper in a barbecue joint. I am suspicious of barbecue served already sauced. Truly, even naked, this pork was delicious and very juicy. However, the sauces at Union Woodshop shine, as well. They have a bunch of them available, all designated by region of origin. My assumption was that I would like the Tennessee-style sauce best of all, since I did, after all, learn to love barbecue while living outside of Nashville. The sweetish, tomato-based sauce was quite good, yes, but I found myself head-over-heels for the vinegar-based North Carolina sauce and the Alabama white sauce, a thin sauce featuring mayonnaise, horseradish, and pepper.

I've certainly had the North Carolina sauce before and had found it rather insipid and boring. I suspect it just wasn't made right because this version totally knocked my socks off with it's tangy yumminess. I, frankly, had never heard of an Alabama 'cue sauce, so I was intrigued to try it. I didn't figure I'd like it, as mayonnaise seemed an odd base for a bbq sauce, to me. Further, I'm not usually a big fan of horseradish. But, oh, man, was it terrific!

I also enjoyed the other sauces, except the Hell, Michigan, sauce, which was made with ghost peppers and was, for me, too hot even to have a discernible flavor. The New York sauce was an Asian-style sauce which tasted good, but didn't work, for me, with pulled pork. I think I would really have dug it on ribs or wings. The Texas sauce was similar to the Tennessee sauce, but with more heat.  The South Carolina (which a friend tells me is also popular in parts of NC) was interesting---and delicious---a vinegar and mustard-based sauce. Terrific stuff.

Jeannene's ribs were top-notch, as was her brisket. She ordered baked beans and the daily vegetable, which I wished I'd ordered as soon as I saw it. It was beautifully roasted butternut squash, parsnips, & carrots, and it was fabulous! I didn't try the beans, but they looked good.

I'd not planned to order dessert, but they had ice cream sandwiches, which sounded really great. They usually come in a trio and the flavors vary. I really only thought we needed one (or none) and the waitress allowed me to choose just one, the chocolate cookie and coffee ice cream one. It was so not worth eating. For one thing, it was less an ice cream sandwich than a couple of cookies perched precariously atop and sitting under a round scoop of ice cream. The cookie was incredibly crumbly, so it really ended up being bites of ice cream with cookie dust. The cookie flavor wasn't very intense, but it was a lot stronger than the ice cream, which was really the whole reason I was swayed into ordering dessert in the first place.

I love, love, love coffee ice cream. I want it, however, to really taste like coffee. This had a very faint coffee flavor, kind of akin to when someone orders a little coffee with their cream. Further, the waitress had gushed on and on about how very special their ice cream is, with a nitrogen production method, and on and on about that being why it's the most amazing ice cream. Well, I moved to Michigan from Columbus, Ohio, so I know a little something about really special ice cream from many trips to Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. Jeni's, this was not. Good thing I can find Jeni's in several local groceries or online, because I'm now hankering for her Coffee with Cream & Sugar ice cream. Or maybe I'll try the Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso, which is new since we moved away. Mmm.

As for 'cue, Union Woodshop rivals some of the best bbq I had in Tennessee. We'll go back. Probably soon.

No comments: