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Dec 28, 2013 06:04 PM

Tried CAYA Smokehouse Grill in Wolverine Lake, MI (DTW area) last night...

Donna and I decided to try this place for the first time (for either of us) last night, and we liked it pretty well. I won't say that it was cheap, nor will I say that it was too expensive, either. As well, it wasn't better than Slows. That being said, Donna and I were both satisfied and happy with the place on pretty much every level.

Our server, Maggie, did a great job, though both Donna and I agree that she thinks a bit too highly of the place than it perhaps deserves. She was quite aggressive in pushing us to get things, and I have to admit that to a good degree, it worked. I'm pretty sure that we might not have gotten a side dish, and possibly not dessert, if she hadn't been a bit, er, "pushy". Her pushiness was *just this side* of unwelcome. She found the edge and straddled it nicely, and was pretty good on the other fronts, too. Occasionally she'd forget to get a straw, or take a dish or something, but these are small caveats. She definitely listened to any issues we had (including taking back the one real food "miss" of the night), had several good suggestions of her own, and kept us pretty well taken care of, even though she had quite a busy section. We tipped over 20%, so you know she did a pretty admirable job.

The food was pretty darned good, some better than others. We started out with the burnt ends appetizer, and were the second-to-last to get them in the place, somewhere before 6PM. It was a special appetizer, and while I'm glad they weren't going to have any go to waste, the fact that we *barely* got them less than 1.5 hours into service means that for the rest of the night, people were going to be asking for burnt ends, only to be told that they weren't available. Perhaps not the best of planning, but we enjoyed them. If you don't like fat, burnt ends are not for you. Good accompanying sauce as well.

Moving on to the mains, Donna and I both had the sandwiches that Maggie had recommended: Donna had the portobello mushroom sandwich (with added spicy mayo per Maggie's suggestion), and I had the smoked turkey sandwich. Donna's sandwich was very, very good, a complex, multi-flavored and multi-tasking thing which, with the spicy mayo added, was really, really nice. We were both impressed with it, and I didn't miss the meat. This was a winner.

Maggie pushed us into a side item (we decided to share one) and she suggested the grilled asparagus with balsamic reduction at $6. Excellent. I was honestly surprised at how good this was, considering the fact that it's not the season for asparagus, the crunch was dead-on indicating that the preparation was correct, and the balsamic reduction was very welcome. A perfectly sharable size between two people each having a sandwich, this was well worth it. Besides: any ordered sandwich comes with *zero* side items. Well worth the investment.

My smoked turkey sandwich was the big miss for the night. The turkey itself was absolutely devoid of flavor. The sandwich, unlike the portobello mushroom sandwich, came together like a lead balloon. While the smallish amount of bacon present did taste good, it wasn't any great shakes considering that everything they serve here is made in-house, including this bacon. The whole sandwich, after one bite, was basically a loss. Maggie understood, and asked if I wanted a menu to order something else, which I did. I decided to try what should have been an easy, old standby: their pulled pork sandwich.

This was better, but nowhere near the ethereal heights of The Reason at Slows, or the pulled pork sandwich at Union Woodhouse, or anything like that. The pork was fine, the sauce that came with it was okay (I ended up asking for some more of the sauce that came with the burnt ends, which was better), and the pickled veggies that were included on the sandwich were basically a waste. They didn't add anything to the sandwich, nor was their flavor easily detected even when eaten separately. The bun was fine. As a replacement for a failure, this worked well. Compared to the portobello mushroom sandwich, though? This took second by a couple of lengths. Still: they took a sandwich with tasteless meat and replaced it with one that had good meat. Well done.

We finished by splitting a dessert by, once again, sort of being talked into it by Maggie. It was a Rum Raisin Bread Pudding (served with vanilla ice cream) which I was very apprehensive about, but it turned out to be very, very good. Donna and I both liked it quite a bit, and for me to enjoy bread pudding is, I have to admit, a pretty rare thing. That's got to count for something.

Overall, out the door, $44 with tax and tip included. No beverages except water for the both of us, and it was an impressive first impression. I'd avoid the turkey in the future, but it's entirely possible that it's more the bird's fault than theirs. Best things were the asparagus, the portobello sandwich, and the rum raisin bread pudding. Happy with the burnt ends, the pulled pork sandwich was decent, and the service, although pretty pushy, did a great job and never crossed the line of pushing too far...though we both agreed she came a bit too close. Had it been a problem, we wouldn't have tipped how we did.

Not sure when we'll go back, but it's certainly a welcome place to the area.

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    1. re: VTB

      If you want them, you'd better get there early. Really early.

    2. Went back tonight, and it's still pretty good. I didn't go as crazy or spendy tonight, but what I had was quite good, and I didn't go cheap or anything.

      I was *hungry*. I'd had a few bites of chicken salad at home today, but that was it, and it was about 5:30PM, and I was in the area of CAYA, so I decided to head back there. Not crowded at all at that time of day, and I was able to sit inside in the A/C at a table rather than the offered patio seating. I needed to get out of the heat for a while.

      It took my server Fred a couple of minutes to get over to my table, but that's the last thing I could have complained about from Fred. When he did come, he came bearing a glass filled with ice and water (and I've got to say this: THANK YOU, CAYA, for actually bringing water to the table without being asked), a menu, and a helpful spirit asking me if I wanted to know what tonight's specials were, did I want anything else to drink besides water, etc. He knew what was on offer, and he was cheerful with my decision of water only...and again they bring a bottle of tap water to the table so I can refill it myself. I love this; Diamond Jim Brady's does the exact same thing, and it works wonders for me.

      First thing that drew my attention (after ascertaining that burnt ends weren't available) on the menu was the Sides section: the asparagus that Donna and I enjoyed last time was still there, but new to the section was Roasted Corn with Tomatoes for $5. To me, that's basically a must try, especially since the pulled pork sandwich has no sides. So I got those two things, completely forgetting that I should have gotten the portobello mushroom sandwich instead. My fault, but it also served as a chance to give their pulled pork another try, and while I certainly finished it, it's (again) nothing special when compared to the likes of Slows or Union Woodhouse or Lazybones. It's just not. It's good, but it's nothing to make it a destination at all. Nonetheless, it was completely consumed. Plenty good enough to eat, but it sure could use a little more something, and it's not that weird house-specialty blueberry BBQ sauce they have. That stuff is just strange. The bourbon sauce and the mustard sauce fare far better.

      Welcome to the Side Show (this is Side Show Sam)! Let's watch Roonie consume the Roasted Corn and Tomatoes like the happy little kangaroo that he is. This is a *very good* side dish, and in fact, it stole the show. Tomatoes, onions, corn cut right off the cob and freshly grilled, some spicing, and some artificial sweetener, I think. The only thing I might change is the sweetener, which tastes a *tiny* bit of artificialness, but it's a very minor quibble on an otherwise *dandy* side.

      In fact, that's twice now where the side dish has really kind of outshone the main(s). They must take great pains with these...$5 was a fair price for the amount received, and I ate every last wonderful nugget I got.

      I probably could have stopped, but earlier I saw an adjacent table get served some type of sliders, which I asked them about. They were kind of ambivalent about them, but also said, "For $2, they weren't bad." Since I wasn't stuffed, and I wasn't feeling "desserty", I asked Fred what kind of slider it was: pulled chicken with pickled onions and a bleu cheese sauce, which was $2 per slider for Happy Hour (before 6PM). I opted for one as a last course, minus the bleu cheese sauce, of course. Just one.

      Very not bad. In contrast with the somewhat useless/muted pickled veggies on the pulled pork sandwich, the pickled onions on this little beastie really help the thing along, bringing a much needed/desired acidity to the savory flavor of the pre-sauced pulled chicken. I'd say that the slider was a good four bites (just about right for a slider) with a standard slider bun, and I liked it the way it was. I can also see why someone might want a bleu cheese sauce on there in addition, but of course, that's anti-me. For $2, I was quite happy with it, and I'd get it again.

      $19 out the door today, with the sandwich being $8, the Roasted Corn being $5, and the slider being $2, tax it up to almost $16, tip out at just over $3 and Bob's your uncle. Perhaps a bit more than I had intended to spend, but I'm glad that I had everything that I did, minus the pulled pork sandwich, which next time *will be* the portobello mushroom sandwich.

      They pick things up and they put things down. Solid effort and very good smaller plates. Again: I'll be back.

      1. Based on your review; we decided to try CAYA tonite.

        At 6PM, there were only 8-10 customer cars in the parking lot. Not a good sign.

        Plenty of open seating on the screened-in deck. Adequate room between the tables so there was none of the bump & grind common to so many establishments.

        The dining room is one big room with lots of hard surfaces. While it was empty tonite, I imagine that it gets rather noisy.

        Andrea was our server. She was knowledgeable and attentive, without being pushy. She kept the water glasses and wine glasses full. She knew the menu,
        preparations, options & sauces.

        The wine pour struck me as a tad stingy. The list is short with nothing particularly "special." I grade it as
        neighborhood dining competent.

        Crab cake appetizer arrived, promptly and hot. In a word, wonderful.

        I loved my corn, guacamole & greens salad.

        Brisket and ribs were our entrees. Bark on both was good. Smoke ring was noticeable. Both arrived unsauced, thank you very much. Portions were over-sized. PLENTY of leftovers for at least one more meal. The sauces were a bit of a let down. Not bad. Not incompetent. But none of the sauces delighted us.

        The sides were onion rings and tater tots. Both were excellent ... and VERY lightly salted. Thank you. Again, the portions were oversized.

        I like their cornbread. Sadly; it arrived hot from the kitchen with a mountain of wanted butter plopped right on top. It was easily removed. Only a hint of sweetness to the cornbread ... and it included a bit of whole kernel corn.

        WiFi is excellent. CCW is permitted. The only downside was what I assume must be the mgr, based on his interactions with the staff. He rolled into the parking lot in a lifted, blacked-out Hummer and proceeded to park it table-side. I really didn't want his Hummer at my elbow. There were PLENTY of spaces in the front row.

        3 Replies
        1. re: rainsux

          Hmm. I'm glad I could help you out with a good recommendation. In the future, should I decide to get BBQ meat, I'll order the plate rather than the sandwich, based on what you said.

          I, too, thought the pour on the wine was a bit smallish, but that was only judging it based on seeing a glass being transported to another table by a different server. However, it didn't occur to me to say anything about it since, 1. I never order or drink wine, and 2. As a result of #1, I might be misinformed as to what constitutes a fair pour of wine. So I didn't say anything.

          It sounds like they really, really major in the minors here: our side items, appetizer, dessert, and my slider, and your appetizer, sides, cornbread, etc. I'll be more inclined to order off the appetizer menu next time, and get another side. Heck, maybe I'll go with all side dishes.

          Glad you liked it!

          1. re: boagman

            > really, really major in the minors ...

            Yes, they sweat the details on the appetizers and salads. Next time, we will split an entree and order an extra side or two.

            Now, about that lifted, blacked-out Hummer that parked at my elbow. Whether it is mgt or staff, it's gotta go ...

          2. re: rainsux

            A few more comments after a night to sleep on it:

            I like their cornbread recipe. I prefer just a hint of sweetness, not SWEET, and a bit of coarseness in the cornmeal grind. CAYA nailed it. The glob of butter? Not so much.

            I am not a fan of salt (or sugar). A teenie amount can make a dish. But for my tastes, too many kitchens are turning out veritable salt licks. Kudos to CAYA for going light with the salt.

            The level of business last night, did not seem sufficient to keep the doors open. That would be a shame. CAYA is turning out better smoked products than Ginopolis, and it is nice to have something closer than Lazy Bones and less frustrating than Slows.