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Jan 7, 2006 01:46 PM

Ramen or Real BBQ in the Detroit Area?

  • d

Apologies for the weird conflation of topics, but I just had a terrible eating experience. So I woke up this morning, in the mood for ramen, actual ramen with a pork broth and maybe some butter and corn. I do some research and Noodle House in Novi seems like a good bet. Being an idiot, I don't call ahead to see if the place even exists. After driving a half hour to Novi, I get to the correct address and find . . . New York Thai Restaurant (strange name). I talk to the owner of the Korean market in the same plaza, and he explains that Noodle House has been closed for a while. There is one Japanese restaurant in the plaza, but my rule of thumb is that I do not order ramen at a restaurant that does not specialize in ramen. Disappointed, I try to think of some place to eat lunch in the area (I didn't drive twenty miles for nothing). On my way over to Noodle House, I noticed a new building with a sign that said, "Red, Hot, and Blue: Memphis Pit Barbeque." I think that this could be promising, so I stop by.

The first bad sign was that there was not a waft of smoke to be found emanating from the building. I walked around the building, sniffing (this probably looked weird to people pulling in to the parking lot), and got nothing. I walked inside, and there were a ton of awards and kudos for the RHB in MEMPHIS. There was also an article from the Free Press that gave the place in Novi three stars. I thought that while a chain is usually a bad sign, I was willing to settle for even mediocre barbeque at this point. I get the menu, and the second bad sign hits: the menu reads like TGI Fridays, with a section for "smoked meats." The third bad sign is that they did not offer rib tips. But a good sign was that they offered the ribs dry. But the fourth bad sign was that they served their individual beverages in these mini novelty pitchers. But a good sign is that they offered sweet tea. So I order ribs, pulled pork, and brisket, wondering what was going to come out. What did arrive from the kitchen was uniformly awful. I would wager that the meats before me had never been within twenty miles of an actual smoker, let alone a barbeque pit. The probable main cooking method for all three meats was boiling, maybe braising, but definitely not smoking. Both the pulled pork and brisket were covered in sweet sauce that was also terrible. The ribs had a "rub" that was pretty much paprika and cayenne thrown on right before serving. I cannot fully describe how far this food was from actual barbeque. The server came by and asked if the food was good, and I nodded my head, my mouth shriveling in horror at what was currently being chewed therein (if I complained, could the server have produced a barbeque pit?). As I was leaving, I took a closer look at the Free Press article, and it was pretty obvious that the reviewer did not know what the hell s/he was talking about.

If I wasn't so busy at work, I would genuinely entertain the idea of suing this place for false advertising or fraud. When a meat is categorized as smoked, it should be smoked. If I order fried chicken, I do not want stewed chicken. I know, many places parboil ribs and then finish on a grill, but these places do not advertise the ribs as smoked, but as barbequed (which I guess has become an adjective meaning covered in barbeque sauce). A restaurant should not be allowed to have the subtitle "Memphis Pit Barbeque" and not have a barbeque pit. I know, I should have derived from the fact that there was no smoke outside the building that there was no smoke inside the building. Call it the inner optimist in me, but I desperately wanted to believe that I had stumbled upon actual barbeque in my failed ramen quest.

So that was a long-winded way of asking these two questions: First, is there a place in the Detroit area that serves good ramen. I prefer a ramen house, but if someone knows of just a Japanese restaurant that serves a good version, that will work as well. Second, is there a good place for barbeque in the area? I've been to Slows, and Memphis Smoke has also been recommended, but I'm looking for something a little more hole-in-the-wall-ish. A barrier of bullet proof glass between myself and the smoker is always a good sign, in my book. Any help is greatly appreciated. And never eat at Red, Hot, and Blue in Novi, although I am now determined to eat at the one in Memphis.

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  1. I hear ya Dave. I used to work in the area, had lunch at RH&B and was very disappointed. Too bad you had your heart set on 'Q or Ramen 'cause you were very close to Diamond Jim Brady's, one of my our favorites. On the Q' subject, have you tried Slow's BBQ on Michigan? I have to go down to the Gaelic League and reup my membership so I'll give it a try and report back. You must be "Babe's" sig. other.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Sony Bob

      Hi Dave and Sony Bob,
      FYI berkleygary is s.o. for berkleybabe....sorry you were bummed by RH&B--we ate at one many years ago in DC and it was really decent food. Maybe new ownership, conglomerate ate it up, etc.

      I don't specifically know of ramen houses in the area--there are tons of Japanese expats working here (esp. Southfield, home to DENSO and other tier 2 and tier 2 suppliers.) The DENSO cafeteria served the best Japanese food I've ever had--of course it's manned by two certified sushi chefs.

      Have you tried Musashi at the Southfield Town Center--the first real Japanese rest. in town, est. by one of the DENSO chefs. Youshould get authentic chow there. Nipponkai in Clawson on 14 mile is also a venerable Japanese place and there was, I recall, Cherry Blossoms in Novi--one of the hotels in Novi, I think it was the now closed Sheraton had a concierage esp. for guests from Japan, Japanese breakfasts, tea ceremony, etc. May still exist at other hotels near the center there.

      Let us know if you discover any finds--we'll be right behind you!

      1. re: berkleybabe

        I should have known better since I remember you doing a post re: Golden Mushroom and Gary's birthday (if mamory serves)

        1. re: berkleybabe

          I see this post is several years old , but Nipponkai in Clawson has been closed for some time . Didn't want another driver to be disappointed upon arrival . Not really a ramen place , but Fuji Buffet on John R in Madison Heights has surprisingly good food .I usually run as fast as I can from local asian buffets as they are with few exceptions frighteningly awful . Not there . Go early to get all the good stuff , we are frequently the only caucasian family in the place , clearly word hasn't really gotten around . ( Or maybe white folks like bad buffet food . I don't . ;)

        2. re: Sony Bob

 you went and made me feel bad for liking the pulled pig sandwich at RH&B, SonyBob!

        3. For good Q try Lazybones Smokehouse on Groesbeck north of I-696. Take out only.


          1. For absolutely great ramen in a hole in the wall frequented by Japanese salarymen, try Matsuchan in Canton. It's authentic and small, so get there before 12n to beat the lunch crowd, or you'll wind up standing outside for a while waiting for a seat. You get to share a table with strangers when it gets crowded.
            It's also open for dinner.
            Located in the strip mall at the north east corner of Ford Road and Sheldon.
            Haven't been there for about two months, so it's time to go for a ramen fix.
            BTW, I had the same experience with the Noodle House in Novi several months ago - drove there and it didn't exist, but I had a decent meal at the replacement Thai place.

            7 Replies
            1. re: FT
              david de berkeley

              Thanks for all of the replies to my query. I ended up trying Matsuchan on Saturday, and it was exactly what I was looking for. It had all of the standard variations of ramen (miso, shoyu, butter corn, clear, spicy, curry), plus one I've never seen ("pork," with the description in the menu being a creamy and unique broth). Of course, I had to try the "pork" ramen and it was very different, but in a good way. The broth was a milky white, and it did have a bit more unctuousness then a typical broth. It reminded me of a pork version of the korean beef broths for gom tang and sol-long tang. I would guess that it had half the salt of a normal broth, and it had a mellow, though pervasive, pork flavor. Most importantly, the noodles were correct; firm, chewy egg noodles, didn't strike me as house-made (could be wrong, I've only been there once), but good anyway. Topped with the usual green onion/blanched bean sprout/nori, but with the addition of pickled ginger, which I thought at first was odd, but it did cut through the heaviness of the broth. The size of the bowl was another plus, probably the biggest regular size I've seen. I also ordered a side of gyoza that were homemade and pretty good.

              I also like the "Chowhound element" of this place; it's in a strange strip mall with a dollar store and other weird offerings. There didn't appear to be any other Japanese stores in the area. Of the packed restaurant, I was one of only two tables that was non-Japanese (and those two were Korean). This seems to be a definite "word of mouth" restaurant.

              After I finished my original post, I remembered that there is a pretty good resource called Without surprise, there was a review on Matsuchan (as well as two other recommendations that I believe echo what babe recommended). Check it out if interested in ramen (the listing is quite good for the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, and, sadly, the Chicago listing is accurate with only two ramen places, both in the far suburbs).


              1. re: david de berkeley

                So, is there any place for ramen in SE MI?

                1. re: crinoidgirl

                  Ajishin and Cherry Blossom in Novi do a great job with ramen. Ajishin has also some of the best sushi in the area, at reasonable prices. You know a place is good when you see hungry Asians lining up before the restaurant opens, even in the winter!

                  1. re: crinoidgirl

                    Yeah the place just mentioned, Matsuchan. There's also a new place in Ann Arbor called Tomukun. It's the best Ramen you're gonna get in Ann Arbor, but it's definitely not in the league of Matsuchan.

                    1. re: moose734

                      I'm assuming Matsuchan is on 14mile road? Any more specific directions?

                      1. re: berkleybabe

                        Sheldon Rd just north of Ford Rd, Canton

                      2. re: moose734

                        Also have had good Korean-style ramen at University Cafe on Church in student land. Try the kimchi ramen. But I would agree that Matsuchan is the best.

                2. > is there a good place for barbeque in the area? I've been to Slows, and Memphis
                  > Smoke has also been recommended, but I'm looking for something a little more
                  > hole-in-the-wall-ish

                  Last night i tried the 3-meat & 2 sides combo at Brickyard BBQ in Pontiac. I was very
                  happy with the sausage, pulled pork & ribs. The two sides were a tad small-ish. The
                  mac & cheese was of the creamy type, very good, but I prefer a bit of crunch. The baked
                  beans were excellent. Of the available sauces, I preferred their "original".

                  Overall; I consider it very good BBQ. It's not (yet) to the level of Lazybones or Slows, but
                  it's also MUCH more convenient for me ... so I will certainly become a regular customer.

                  1. I recently had lunch at Matsuchan. Other than watching Tampopo a few times, I am not a ramen expert. What I do know is that I liked this place very much, and I am looking forward to returning. Just upon entering I got excited when I saw the menu items boldly listed on the wall in Japanese, with English underneath. There was a man at the counter who nods as you walk in. While the food was certainly tasty, what really makes this place so nice is the lady host/waitress. Even with what appears to be her limited English, she was warm and friendly and added to the enjoyment of the meal. I had a combo that included pork ramen in clear broth and fried rice. The soup has a smoky taste that became better as I ate more and more. And while I didn't come for the fried rice, I found it to be exceptional. It was fried lighter than what I usually come across, and very tasty--similar to what I have had in Chinatown in Toronto. The clientele appeared be mainly other Japanese men. I tried not to stare too long at their interesting choices, and I am looking forward to my next time back. Closed on Mondays (I found this out the hard way), and they are closed a bit between lunch and dinner hours.

                    Matsu Chan Restaurant
                    5990 N Sheldon Rd, Canton, MI 48187