Meat’s the thing
Satchel's BBQ reviewed
by M. B. Lewis
If you’ve been around long enough to fondly recall the old roadside BBQ stands of Mr. Rib on North Main and DeLong’s on North Fifth Avenue, you’ll be glad to know that a new meat’s-the-thing joint has appeared to carry on in their low-key style. Look for it on Washtenaw just west of Whole Foods, behind the Verizon store. Or roll down your window, close your eyes (assuming you’re not driving), and follow the sweet aroma of wood-smoked ribs up to Satchel’s front door—or at least to one of its big black outdoor smokers when they’re fired up and wreathed in nearly edible wisps of dinner-to-come.
The meats are served unadorned, with four sauces available for do-it-yourself application. The cooked juices of the ribs and thick-cut briskets cake to a crackling crust with a heavy coat of dry spices (overpowered by celery salt in one to-go order I had—so watch ’em back there in the kitchen if they try to shake on even more of the spice mixture before wrapping up). Pulled pork comes drenched in its own smoke-flavored broth, from which a lot of authentic hickory can be discerned. (Owner Hugh Morgan says he also uses fruitwood and hardwood.) Chicken, ripped from the bones and plated naked, is most in need of dressing up with one of the sauces. Impressively complex, they’re free in squeeze bottles on picnic tables if you eat in the pleasant dining room, or they’re $6 a quart or $1 a condiment cup to go. Working the range from blondest to darkest, the choices are:
Hot mustard: maize-colored, kinda watery, but has a peppery kick. Not the yellow fast-food mustard you splatter everywhere …
Carolina: Southern friends loved this, but it reminded me too much of a salad dressing—thin, pours fast, very acidic. The spices are also inclined to separate from the vinegar base, so give it a shake first.
House: thick and tomatoey, lovely brick red, still more vinegary than most around here.
the most familiar to a northern palate, this one’s burgundy red and honey-smooth.
Have fun trying them all out—there’s a lot of flavor to experience, and Satchel’s meat is an excellent vehicle.
The first time I tasted Satchel’s ribs I was halfway home. My little car had filled up with that wicked smoke-spice-meat smell, and I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I stretched to the passenger’s side, reached into the brown paper bag, lifted the lid of the nifty pressed board container (props for no plastic or squeaky Styrofoam), and pulled off the rib on the end of the slab. The meat was so tender that no utensil was needed. (Is your mouth watering yet?) I took a little nibble, and it had just the right caramelly crunch over tender meat—so well cooked that I even got a taste of melded marrow, like osso buco wannabe. I finished off all the meat on that bone before the next red light. And I have a manual transmission. The shifter needed a wipe-down when I got home.
Almost everything in that first carryout order was delicious. The thick-cut beef brisket was very tender, spice-rubbed at the edges and smoky all the way through. Perfectly prepared collard and mustard greens with a few gems of pork. Creamy baked macaroni just string-cheesy enough to prove something more than American or Velveeta was in the mix—try it with any of the four sauces. And for dessert, heavenly crumbly, buttery brownies that almost made us forget the main dish.
The second time, I ate in for lunch. The spacious dining room has sky-blue walls and split-rail fence decor, great bluesy music, iced tea that’s sweet but not sickly sweet. Trying more sides, I liked the robust baked beans, but coleslaw was microprocessed into flakes so tiny that they would have washed through a colander. The corn bread was overly sweet and disappointingly rubbery. The beans and rice were good and substantial. As the
parent of a vegan, though, I wondered why this dish, at least, couldn’t be meat free. I asked my friendly cashier (not the Seth Rogen-look-alike meat slicer or Jennifer Hudson-esque smiley sides gal), “What do you tell the vegetarians who wander in?”
“We tell them to go next door to Whole Foods,” he answered.
So be it, but any place this specialized has to be perfect in the meat department. And a last carryout order, after we’d talked the place up big, was disappointing. This time the ribs hadn’t been cooked as long, and the once-delectable brisket was fatty. I started feeling guilty about judging Satchel’s in only its second month in business. But I forgive myself—and I’ll forgive them if they get outdoor seating and beer by summer.
3035 Washtenaw, 971–5100
Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–9 p.m.,
Sun. noon–8 p.m.
Sandwiches $6–$7, plates (with two sides) $10–$23
[Originally published in May, 2011.]