Throw a brick of charcoal in any direction during the summer and chances are you’ll hit an earnest barbecue critic. I’m not one of them.
I’ve never been to Memphis or Kansas City, west Texas or North Carolina. So for those of you entering competitions with whole chickens, racks of ribs and a handful of butts, take my word with a grain of seasoning salt.
For the rest of you who are just looking for really good food, heed this: Meat Southern B.B.Q. & Carnivore Cuisine in Lansing’s Old Town is worth a visit any time of year.
I decided to visit the buzzed-about restaurant, which, if you inspect closely, has a period after its name. (I’m leaving it out so readers won’t think I’m chanting the word “meat” as part of some barbarian ritual.)
Meat is serious about meat — so serious, our server told us, they buy all of their meat from Mert’s Meats, a specialty meat shop in Okemos.
Shiny picnic tables and thick-topped wood tables offer diners casual, comfortable seating. Little clear globes on strings softly light the interior from the ceiling. Nearly everything is painted black with blazing orange accents here and there. Chalkboard menus announce the meat deal of the day.
Our server further explained the mission of Meat: the specials menu changes often. The chef is always on the hunt, working with what’s available, divining inspiration from the woody smoke of the barbecue, or listening to the hum of feedback from the dining room.
If the menu were etched onto a rack of ribs, it would not have surprised me or my dining companion — there’s little else on it but meat. We went with a combo plate that included two sides ($16.50) and a specialty chopped brisket “meatwich” ($9).
I wasn’t especially tempted by the mac & cheese, so I was happy to see a starchy alternative in the bleu cheese and bacon potato salad. It’s a cold salad that lets the ingredients do the work (as opposed to those over-mayoed, vinegary varieties found at pot lucks). The sharpness of the bleu cheese gave the chunks of potatoes a bit of creaminess without turning them into porridge. And the little chewy bites of bacon added a nice salty touch. The bourbon baked beans were even heartier than the potato salad and provided a welcome warm contrast.
The meat is why we came, though, and we had plenty on our combo plate. The wings, like all of the meat we had at Meat, were tender and smoked to a delicious char. They were juicy, too, so we didn’t have much need for the caddy of homemade sauces that was delivered to our picnic table.
The pulled pork was the least satisfying of the three meats in the combo. It was tender, sure, but for us perhaps a bit too soft — the meat kind of came together in the mouth, giving it a bit of a mushy sensation. With the house barbecue sauce, though, we were convinced enough to eat it all.
As for the Texas hot link, we’re talking actual sausage here, the kind that has real ground meat in it instead of some homogenized pink goo that’s been sterilized, colorized and squeezed into a fake casing. We happily sampled each of the five sauces with the hot link, which was a bit dryer than the chicken. Our favorite was the “Cherry Bomb,” a cherry-based sauce that starts out slightly tart, slightly sweet and finishes with a spicy lick of chipotle that tingles ever so subtly.
The “BueBBQ” sauce was a bit sweet for us, but we went crazy for the dijon honey mustard. The mustard flavor is mild, so those looking for a kick may be disappointed. But I thoroughly enjoyed the touch of sugar and fresh herbs.
It was our sauce of choice for the boot string cut French fries, which were cooked to a perfect golden brown and sprinkled with salt and cracked pepper.
The fries came with a brisket sandwich called the “Adamizer.” Like the pulled pork and hot link, the brisket was a tad dry, but that didn’t pose much of a problem with so many sauces at hand. The sandwich came with a spicy mayo and generous slices of avocado. Roasted red pepper added an extra touch of summer flavor to a top-notch sandwich.
While we ate, we overheard diners at a neighboring table talk about the 5-star quality of the food and a desire to shake the chef’s hand. Later on, we heard a patron chat with a server about the finer points of barbecuing, offering suggestions to be relayed to the chef and maxims about how sauce or smoke can’t hide meat that’s not quite cooked right.
I won’t be offering the chef barbecuing, smoking, brining or braising advice anytime soon. But I will give this tip to anyone who’ll listen: find your way to Old Town and follow your nose to Meat.
Meat Southern BBQ & Carnivore Cuisine
1224 N. Turner St., Old Town, Lansing
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday