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Apr 12, 2010 03:16 PM

A recent review of Slow's Bar-B-Q, Detroit MI

Full review with pictures in context: Text as below.

Okay – I’ll admit it, I’m not the person best qualified to judge barbeque food; I rarely eat it and my experience with barbeque outside of things we made on the grill at home is limited to a few specific occasions – few of which are memorable for good reasons. With that said, I do like to think I know something about dining out, good food, great service, and a nice setting – all of which I was told I’d find at Slow’s, a relatively new school bar-b-q (est. 2005) joint largely removed from the downtown business sector of Detroit. Arriving at the Corktown establishment in the midst of a torrential downpour shortly after opening to find the restaurant absolutely packed I luckily nabbed a table in the main dining room near a window where I’d sit and be amused by myriad patrons running from their car to pick up an innumerable number of takeout orders - obviously others had heard the good word about Slows, as well.

Greeted promptly by a friendly young man named Jarvis who appeared to be working the whole main room I asked a couple of questions (specifically whether a substitution on the Big Three – Catfish instead of Brisket) and placed my order. A moment or two passed while my server made sure the substitution could be allowed (a $2 surcharge) and my water was filled – it remained filled and I was checked in on frequently both before and after my food arrived. Sitting back and listening to the overhead speakers as they poured forth jazz and blues ranging from Robert Johnston to Charlie Parker to BB King I have to say I loved the vibe of Slows and the table spacing was more than adequate to prevent feeling crowded or hearing all but the loudest of speakers (thankfully “that guy” was seated across the room near the bathrooms.


Approximately 20 minutes passed before my meal arrived – and what a meal it was. Beginning with the sides – 2 were included with the entrée and the third ordered because I couldn’t settle on just two – my first taste at Slow’s was their much celebrated Macaroni and Cheese. Featuring a crunchy (and just short of burnt – in a good way) cheddar crust and shell noodles that were much akin to dumplings in texture I must say that the dish lived up to the hype – while not “gourmet” by any means, the manner in which the creamy yet sharp cheddar was brought to a peak by hefty notes of black pepper and paprika was fantastic.

My second side, the cornbread, was the only “miss” at Slow’s – and a pretty substantial miss, unfortunately. Dry, flavorless, and even with the packet-butter the cornbread was grainy at best. Using the cornbread largely to soak up the juices from the proteins on my plate and to taste the various barbeque sauces I will admit it was slightly better with added hydration, but certainly not good enough to warrant the $2.25 pricetag for such a meager slice.

The final side dish was my personal favorite of the three – the sweet potato mash. Featuring heavy notes of cinnamon, maple, butter, and cream the potatoes had a pleasant heterogeneous quality indicating hand mashing and they worked great on their own – but even moreso with the proteins.

Moving on to the main course my first taste was Slow’s interpretation of Carolina Style Pulled Pork. Featuring Neiman Ranch Pork butt, slow cooked until falling off the bone, and a multitude of spices I won’t even attempt to venture a guess at I have to say the meat was much less fatty than I anticipated – it was also much less “wet” than pulled pork I’ve tasted in the past – both of which were very agreeable to the palate. Tasting the pork on its own I loved the manner in which the smoky tones accented the savory meat and these flavors were only heightened by the addition of the multiple sauces, my favorite of which was certainly the apple as it tasted like the very essence of green apple, hickory, and cinnamon – sweet, but not overpowering, and perfect with the pork.

Moving on to the chicken, another slow smoked option but featuring a clearly different blend – more savory and less spicy – than the pork, my first bite was a revelation in that this was some of the best non-fried skinless chicken I’ve ever tasted. Moist and tender, meaty without being chewy, and although lacking the textural contrast of the crispy skin featuring a through-and-through juiciness that was plenty succulent without the addition of any sauce at all. While I personally would have loved a bit more contrast, it is hard to argue that something done so well could be done better.

My final taste of the meal was the Alabama Farm Raised Catfish in Cornmeal tempura with creole remoulade and aside from the remoulade (which tasted like fire mixed with vinegar) this dish was another beauty. Clean and flavorful the mild catfish was complimented nicely by the hefty sweetened cornmeal crust forming what can best be described as a haute-fishstick. Wonderful on its own I found that the fish paired very nicely with the “spicy” sauce, the thicker of the various sauces at Slow’s, featuring mild “heat” but more-so notes of cumin, paprika, and cayenne.

Upon wiping my plate clean with the rest of my cornbread Jarvis stopped by yet again to check up on me and ask if I’d like dessert or anything else. Already with plans for a dessert stop I declined, mostly because the options on Slow’s online menu didn’t seem all that appealing and the only item I saw delivered to a table, presumably the Chuck Norris, was entirely too big for one person after so much food. Settling the tab I was bid farewell by no less than four servers and upon making my way to the street a quick jog across Michigan Avenue led me to my car (free parking aplenty in Corktown.) At $29 (tax and a good tip included) Slow’s certainly isn’t bargain basement barbeque – but then again, with high quality preparations and names like Neiman Ranch on the menu you shouldn’t expect bargain basement bar-b-q – Slow’s is a whole lot better than that.

Slows Bar B Que
2138 Michigan Ave, Detroit, MI 48216

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  1. This is honestly a shocking review to me. Not so much because of the food, mind you. For the most part, at least in the case of the meat, Slows tends to do very well. On the sides, it can be hit-or-miss, and part of it depends upon the taste preferences of the eater, obviously.

    It's the *service* that's absolutely got my eyes wide. I hate to tell you this...but your service level is practically unheard of. Servers that refill drinks? Pleasant people? Staff who *wish you goodbye*? You were either there on an extremely good day, or (and this is really what I'm more hoping for) the owners have started to realize that the place is getting a steady rap for absolutely *crappy* service, and they're trying to do something about it. I would be extremely pleased if the latter was the case, as I've been avoiding Slow's due to the jaw-dropping service issues I've been saddled with the last several times I've been there. It's to the point where I don't want to tip *at all* there anymore.

    Anyway, I'm glad that you enjoyed things so much. I'm right there with you on the pulled pork, the catfish, the remoulade, the apple BBQ sauce, and some other items (try the split pea/okra app the next time you're there). In fact, your $29 seems quite high compared to what my normal bill might be, but usually I'm satisfied with a pulled pork sandwich ("The Reason") and perhaps a drink. Obviously, an entree would be more, as would making a substitution and adding an extra side. Did you have anything to drink at all?

    I'm honestly kind of uneasy with this...if I go next expecting adequate service, and I'm let down yet again, I'm going to feel a bit flim-flammed. I want to go back...but is this reviewer's service level an accurate reflection of how things really are, or was their experience simply an anomaly?

    Curiouser and curiouser.

    20 Replies
    1. re: boagman

      I drank water with the meal, but it remained filled throughout. I can't really comment as this was my first visit, but I was VERY impressed by the service - it was on par with or better than anything I'd have expected at a restaurant such as Slow's and every person I encountered was quite pleasant. The $29 included a substantial tip, the upcharge, and an extra side.

      1. re: uhockey

        Maybe someone has taken charge of the front of the house!

        I may risk some good BBQ to find out.

        1. re: JanPrimus

          Let me know when you're planning to go. I'm precariously curious.

        2. re: uhockey

          I was there last month on a Sunday at lunch time. The wait was over an hour (I can't remember exactly how long). The host at the front was really incurring a lot of intensely indignant, irritated faces. He seemed (granted, I can't read minds) to quickly have taken enough attitude (maybe even before the start of his shift), and switched out of any empathetic hospitality mode, and put forward a matter-of-fact attitude of "find a place to stand out of my way (i.e., on the street with the panhandlers), or leave...your choice." I can't say I could have done any better. Just reporting what I saw. I ended up eating at the bar, and the servers there exceeded my apprehensive expectations. They were busy, but when they were dealing with me they were very friendly.
          My thickly sliced smokey brisket had a lot of good, soft intramuscular fat, and my sides of beans and potato salad were fantastic. Overall, I was quite happy I went, but that doesn't mean things there have changed, according to my single sample.

          1. re: vtombrown

            Well, yeah...I mean, the place is often (*quite* often) slammed, and the people running the FOH should be able to adequately manage the rush to the point that they won't start sneering and sniping and such. From most of my recent experiences, those who work at Slows seem to have an absolutely overabundant feeling of hubris and/or entitlement. It's like I should be grateful that I can eat there at all, and refills on your drinks? Or a decent attitude? Man, *forget it*.

            I'm not an unreasonable guy when it comes to understanding that there's pressure involved in such jobs, but I'm *paying* for the service, right? Shouldn't I get what I'm paying for, at least to an adequate degree?

            1. re: boagman

              > but I'm *paying* for the service, right? Shouldn't I get what I'm paying for, at
              > least to an adequate degree?

              Yes. Adequate should be part of the meal charge. I tip for service beyond
              adequate. My last visit, I tipped precisely zero ... and wrote a letter, lamenting
              that the FOH staff requires training, standards and leadership. I didn't get a reply.

              I REALLY hope that they've hired a pro to properly train and organize the FOH
              staff, and lead by example. That said, I won't return until I see about half a
              dozen "they have really fixed the FOH problems."

              1. re: rainsux

                Meh, comment deleted. not the time or place for the tip debate.

              2. re: boagman

                Aren't the aloof fronts reminiscent of a hip NY or SF attitude? Perhaps the employees just are trained "above and beyond"---trying to take Detroit to the next level? (I'm only half serious, and yes, I'm far too old to be impressed by attitudes.)

                That being said, I must admit that I, too, wrote Slows about this, but they DID write back to me. Perhaps rainsux's letter had so much genuine anger in it, that Slows thought it safest to just step away and cut their loss? (I didn't see his letter, but a $0 tip surely hints at strong feelings, and I don't question the validity of those feelings)

                PS--When I suggested that nothing likely has changed within the last month, I should comment that the weather recently is getting nice enough that the Slows' patio may now be open, such that the waiting list would be 17 parties, rather than 24(?).

                1. re: vtombrown

                  The patio was opening the day after I was there, per the in-store ads.

                  1. re: vtombrown

                    > Perhaps rainsux's letter had so much genuine anger in it, that Slows
                    > thought it safest to just step away and cut their loss?

                    I don't write angry letters, they accomplish little beyond letting the writer

                    > I didn't see his letter, but a $0 tip surely hints at strong feelings.

                    Yikes! Are you suggesting that they may not have grasped cause and

                    Actually; whenever leaving a tip less than 18%, I always explain my reason(s). If the reply is anything other than a genuine acknowledgement and apology, I shift to my cold icy stare.

                    1. re: rainsux

                      rainsux, you are pretty brave. would you really go back to slow's or some other place (upon hearing that service had improved) if you'd had a previous staredown with a server? i'm pretty sure those food servers have good memories, despite their off-duty partying ways. more power to you!

                      1. re: vtombrown

                        > would you really go back to slow's or some other place (upon hearing
                        > that service had improved) if you'd had a previous staredown with a
                        > server?


            2. re: boagman

              Boag - I have never had anything but great service at Slows....go at lunch.

              1. re: momskitchen

                I've been there for lunch at least once. Didn't change a darned thing with the service. Can't say that I've been there for lunch multiple times, though. Even's a near-constant issue with the place from just about every account you'll hear. That's why I was so jaw-droppingly surprised at this reviewer's comments about the service. I honestly haven't had good service at Slow's since the first time I went there with four other people.

                1. re: boagman

                  Sounds like I am just lucky, I guess!

                  1. re: boagman

                    Perhaps my experience was abnormal, but I definitely stand by my review - it'd benefit no one for me to lie. There is always the chance that my experience was "different" from the norm because I dined alone - in general solo diners get extra attention by the very nature of them dining alone, but I've found this to be more the case at high end eateries than a casual spot.

                    1. re: uhockey

                      Oh, no, one's wanting you to temper the truth at all. You tell it as you see it! Especially in the case of good things, it's important to know that there are standards being met, or (as is the case with most of my service expectations at Slows) not being met.

                      It's strange: I've probably dined at Slows alone for at least 1/3 of the times I've been there, and the service still made me shake my head. Again: *perhaps* it's something that the FOH is being instructed to work on, because it's been a while since I've been there (for the service reason), and the owners know that once a place gets on the "They treat me lousy, there" list, it's extremely hard to get that monkey off your back no matter *how* hard you try. I sincerely hope that they're working to improve things, and that the experiences that you and momskitchen have had are a direct result of this.

                      Don't ever shortchange on your reviews, either good or bad.

                      1. re: uhockey

                        I'm glad you had a good experience. The times I have been I didn't have anything negative to say about the service. And once was even with a group of 6 adults and 2 children......tho I've never been on a Friday or Saturday night.

                        I"m going to be dreaming of their mac & cheese tonight...with that perfect almost-burnt crust on top. Mmmm

                        1. re: uhockey

                          > Perhaps my experience was abnormal

                          Indeed! ... and in a very good way. I'm hoping that the owners have decided
                          that the FOH operation matters. I'm *REALLY* hoping that your experience is
                          a new "normal" for Slows.

                          > but I definitely stand by my review

                          Just as you should.

                    2. re: boagman

                      Hey Boag.

                      We visited Slows for lunch around Thanksgiving and had exactly the same level of service as U. Very friendly, attentive but not intrusive. All in all a great experience and meal.

                      U, if you go back, try the Triple Thread Pork sandwich with the Carolina mustard sauce. Fabulous.


                    3. slow's for lunch today with four other guys. check out this timeline - i am a bit surprised:

                      11:30 - walk in the door and ask the hostess for a table for five. she says that it will be a half an hour wait, takes my name, hands me a buzzer, and says we can hang out inside, outside (it is 83 degrees on march 22!!), or down at astro coffee. i grab the buzzer and check the time. how many minutes shoul i set the over/under at?

                      11:58 - buzzer goes off - right on time. whoa!

                      12:01 - seated, greeted, menus handed out

                      12:05 - drinks and food ordered

                      12:07 - drinks arrive (hmmm!)

                      12:14 - food arives (wtf - am i at slow's??)

                      12:24 - waitress stops by and asks if everything is ok (who is this woman? she must be a trainee)

                      12:39 - check arives (i am speeding through another dimension also known as the twilight zone....)

                      12:43 - exit stage right (there's no place like home...there's no place like home...there's no place like home)

                      i had the triple threat: pulled pork, thick cut bacon, and a thick slice of ham on texas toast with a side of slaw - very good. lunch for five = $65. half hour wait, but in and out in 45 minutes - remarkable.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: xman887

                        Hmm. Perhaps everyone is across the street trying the new Mercury Burger Bar? Is the rooftop deck over there open yet, I wonder?

                        Sounds like you had a great lunch! I fear it was an aberration ...

                        I guess the build-out is happening for the Italian place going into the former bank/loans building up the street. Perhaps that will take some of the pressure off Slow's as well.


                      2. In regard to the service, perhaps someone is listening and taking steps to correct the problems. Nothing worse than having a great product and losing business because of lousy service.


                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Davwud

                          > perhaps someone is listening and taking steps to correct the problems ...

                          Everyone say, Amen!

                          1. re: rainsux

                            Was there for dinner this past Sunday. Hourish wait at 6pm, but we snagged two seats at the bar after a few minutes. Food literally took five minutes to come after we ordered -- here I'd been planning to nurse my draft Hopslam and enjoy a little NCAA tourney ball, but instead I was cruelly force to attend to my Reason. The nerve! I don't know what is causing this super fast food delivery (maybe an effort to increase turnover/receipts?), but the food didn't suffer for it. The bark was crazy good.

                        2. So I headed to The Place In Question last night (late Saturday night), as I was actually pretty hungry for BBQ, and hadn't been to Slows in at least two years. [Side note: why was I hungry for BBQ, or at the very least, thinking about it? Because I was on Yelp reading the crappy reviews of the now-long-gone Kirk's BBQ in Birmingham, and enjoying it, snarkily. I'm not defending my behavior as redemptive...just explaining why I wanted BBQ last night.]

                          I called ahead to make sure that the kitchen would still be open when I got there (it would be, according to the phone prompts), and I was well aware that the Tigers game was in the afternoon, so I wouldn't be having to deal with any of the after-game crowd killing the place for hours after the fact.

                          I arrived between 11:45PM and 11:50PM and found streetside parking on Michigan Ave. without trouble. I've gotta tell you: I felt pretty good leaving my car there with all of the street traffic around that area from Slows, Mercury (across the street), and Sugar House (next door to Slows). Lots of people out and about, on a very pleasant night.

                          Walked in, and was pleasantly greeted by the hostess, quickly telling her that I'd eat at the mostly empty bar, so I wouldn't take up a table. Sat down at the bar and was quickly given a menu, and quickly ordered The Reason and a Coke. Service at the bar was quite good, even though they were obviously cleaning up a bit. There were *lots* of employees, and that may have helped the service to be good.

                          I kid you not: my sandwich was out in probably 3-5 minutes. *Hyper*-fast. That, by far, is the fastest I've ever received my food here, and it was extremely welcome. My sandwich, such as it was, looked extremely appetizing, with quite nice presentation. The presentation didn't last long though, as I was there to *eat*.

                          Oh, my heaven...they have not lost a single step when it comes to the food. I enjoyed every stinking bite of that lovely morsel. I mean, it actually hurts me to know that I haven't had one of those in over two years. Now, I think that Union Woodshop's pulled pork sandwich is plenty good, too, but the depth of flavor in The Reason and the way the flavors and textures interact in that sandwich, well, it's the A game, people. This is the high water mark, and at $8.49 (sandwich only), it's still a fair price.

                          So, fair enough: it may not be the best time of day or crowd to judge by, but my service was very good, and the food was still as magical as it ever was. At $13 out the door, it was great stuff, and I'm honestly flabbergasted that the service was, in point of fact, very good.

                          I mean, who woulda thunk it? How original! ;)

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: boagman

                            Have to say it really warms my heart that Slows hasn't jumped the shark. BTW, I usually ask for extra pickles for my Reason -- I can't get through a whole one so the extras come home and make the leftovers that much better.

                            1. re: oppsie

                              I actually did think about doing that, but didn't want to push it. I realized that I was there only a few minutes before the kitchen closed, and didn't want to be "that guy".

                              I actually ended up alternating bites with the mustard and apple BBQ sauces. The apple was just as I remembered it, but somehow the mustard was even better!

                              Oh, and I just now realized how similar my experience was to your last experience, right down to speed of service! Maybe you're right...perhaps they are working to increase turnover or something. Either way, service was at *least* two letter grades (and possibly three) better than 90% of my previous experiences.

                              1. re: boagman

                                Okay. Okay! OKAY! Uncle! I'll give them another chance.

                                1. re: boagman

                                  Oh boagman, you'll always be "that guy." :)

                                  And wait -- you didn't do NC sauce on The Reason? I'm pretty sure that's illegal.

                              2. re: boagman

                                Wow. They pulled it off...*again*. After being told the wait at Polish Village Cafe for a two-top would be 10 minutes, my cousin and I arrived to find a wait that would be *substantially more than* 10 minutes. It was revised to 20 minutes, but both my cousin and I knew that with the crowd in there, it was going to be a full half hour. We told the name-taking gent that we were going to try someplace else so that he could take our name off the list (we were sure we could come back in 45 minutes to a basically no-wait situation anyway). The nice guy said he'd keep our names on the list, just in case. Turned out not to be necessary, but a nice touch anyway. We called Slows, and were told 30 minutes, which we decided would be good enough.

                                After driving there, I dropped my cousin off at the door and took about five minutes finding a parking spot on Michigan less than two blocks away (I know, I know...I'm a gambler!). His initial estimate when walking in was half an hour...and before I'd even entered Slows, he called me to say that he'd been seated at a two-top! Already! That is un-stinking-heard of as far as my experience has gone. I guarantee you we were seated before we'd been seated at PVC. Glorious start.

                                Followed up by a glorious visit. Our server was friendly, attentive, handled questions well, refilled drinks *without being asked or prompted to* several times, and generally did a bang-up job. Even when my sauce bottle made a stinking mess on the table (don't ask), her attitude was great. Lovely gal, got a heck of a great tip, and some decent tips from me for avoiding jetlag on her trip to Australia next Wednesday. She was just right: available often enough when we needed her, checking in from time-to-time to make sure we were okay, well-versed on the way the place is run, and easy to work with. I can honestly say that this is the best service I've had there since the very first time I visited Slows.

                                Food was the same as always: terrific. It was my cousin's first time at Slows, and he liked it quite a bit. He had The Reason and a side of mac-and-cheese. His can of hard cider was a bit pricey at $6, but that's about the only minor complaint a person could come up with. And he liked it, anyway, so no problem at all! The sauces were as good as I remember, but it's worth noting that they no longer place the mustard sauce on the table with the other four...a person needs to know about it beforehand and ask for it. It's brought without any issue...and man, couple that with some of the Apple, and you've got yourself a pork dish you'll be happy with.

                                This is a pretty dynamic turnaround, service-wise, for Slows, considering how bad they'd gotten in previous years. I've now been multiple times sequentially, and gotten great service both times...once when the place was dead, and once when the place was hopping.

                                I'm pleased to say that I think it's quite safe to go back there and expect high water marks on all fronts now. I'm back to being very pleased with them. Oh: it should be noted that prices appear to be the same as they were a year ago, at least for the food.