If you’re flying home to Lansing and begin to salivate once the plane touches down, you’ve likely caught a whiff of the north side’s newest restaurant.
King of the Grill is stationed on Grand River Avenue, just west of the airport entrance. Don’t worry if you’re not good with maps, though: Once you get close, your nose will lead you to where you need to go.
Fred Mendoza, a meat cutter by trade, opened King of the Grill six months ago. The restaurant has been a lifetime in the making.
“I’ve been barbecuing all my life, doing brisket in the backyard since I was 5 years old,” Mendoza says.
Mendoza has been cutting and smoking meat since he was knee-high, from Nebraska to Texas to Florida and then back home in Michigan, where he last sliced pork, beef and poultry for L&L Shop Rite before it went belly up in bankruptcy. The timing was right for Mendoza to start a new venture, and his restaurant is just the beginning.
Soon, Mendoza will be processing meat at the wholesale level. He has been federally licensed by the USDA to open a processing and retail outlet from which he will both sell his King of the Grill brand meats locally and distribute his products nationwide.
Keeping things local is a priority for Mendoza. He’ll be selling other Michigan made products at his retail outlet, and his meats already taste local at King of the Grill.
You see, Mendoza, says, it’s important to use wood that’s native to the area when smoking and barbecuing. In Texas, grill masters use piquant mesquite wood or live oak; in Florida, it’s white oak or sugar cane. Here in Michigan, Mendoza says, he uses applewood for pork and black cherry for beef and poultry.
“Those woods are plentiful in Michigan, and they have good flavor. They’re milder than something like mesquite, which can be overwhelming.” Mendoza says. “It’s the real deal barbecue. We use all wood — no gas, no electric.”
The ribs at King of the Grill are worth checking out. Smoky and tender with enough flavor from the rub (sans MSG and binders, Mendoza notes) all by itself, any extra sauce would be overkill in my book.
The sliced chicken is delicious, too. The meat I was given was incredibly moist, and, like the ribs, no further adulteration was necessary beyond the herbs it was cooked with.
The brisket, pulled pork and flank all do well with some barbecue sauce. Diners can order those and other meats as a sandwich ($4.99) or as part of a meat plate with two sides ($5.99 for one meat, $7.99 for two and $9.99 for three).
Meat, it seems, can be ordered with everything, from the loaded potatoes to the salads. Mendoza even tells tales of converting vegetarians.
At the end of the day, though, Mendoza’s sole focus, guided by his religious faith, is on feeding people, even those who might not be able to visit his restaurant.
“If anyone’s ever hungry and can’t afford something to eat, send them to me,” Mendoza says. “I’ll fatten ‘em up.”
Michael’s Southern Style B-B-Q
There’s plenty of barbecue on the south side, too, even in the dead of winter.
Michael Bernard opened Michael’s Southern Style B-B-Q six months ago on Holmes Road, just west of Pleasant Grove Road, in the little takeout building where Ida’s Southside Carryout stood for years before that.
Bernard, a trained chef who has cooked around the hemisphere, began his career in his native Jamaica at the Hilton Hotel. He came to the United States 18 years ago, first landing in California before settling in the Grand Rapids area as an executive chef at the Holiday Inn.
Since then, he has been an executive sous chef at the Lansing Center. Two years ago, he bought a food truck from which he has offered unique flavors and meals at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Mt. Hope Road.
That food truck will be humming again come summer, but until then, Bernard is serving up Texas-style chopped pork, slabs of ribs, fish, Jamaican jerk chicken and more on Holmes Road.
Bernard also makes homemade peach cobbler for dessert, and his Louisiana-style red beans and rice and Southern medley of vegetables — collard greens, cabbage and carrots — are hard to find anywhere else in town.
King of the Grill
4400 N. Grand River Ave., Lansing.
11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday.
(517) 862-8306. kingofthegrill.net.
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Michaelīs Southern Style B-B-Q
2227 W. Holmes Road, Lansing
11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; noon-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; closed Monday.