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Author Topic: Back Alley Blues & BBQ  (Read 12421 times)
Conan71
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« on: June 14, 2011, 12:36:03 pm »

Location(s) Being Reviewed: Between 1st & 2nd on Elgin in Downtown
Date/Time of Visit: 6/14/11; 11:40am
Quality of Food (1-5): 3.5
Menu/Food Options (1-5): 4
Quality of Service (1-5): 5
Atmosphere (1-5): 5
Overall Rating (1-5): 4
Price ($-$$$$$): $$$$
What makes this restaurant unique: One of the cooler adaptive re-uses I've seen in Downtown.  I've also never seen a couple of intermodal shipping containers re-purposed in a restaurant.  

Tell us about your experience:

I usually will give a place a few weeks to sort out the wrinkles before visiting or at least will refrain from passing too harsh of judgement.  The first thing you notice when you walk in is the back of an intermodal shipping container.  It's slightly dis-arming you don't see dining activity or kitchen activity up front, that's slightly unusual.  You are led down a narrow hallway that's approximately 60' long (I'm guessing since there's a 20' and 40' container back to back).  On the opposite side of that partitioning is the kitchen and bar area.  I'm more used to the kitchen and bar being at the back of the establishment.  However, if the owners are thinking the alley entrance will be the primary entrance, then the kitchen and bar are at the back of the restaurant  Wink  At any rate, the atmosphere is tre' cool.

I wanted to get there before the lunch rush so I could jump on a table.  At 11:40 there was still plenty of open seats.  My drink order was taken promptly as well as my food order, so it's obvious they are in tune with the idea that most downtown diners have an hour or less to leave, eat, and return to their desk.  I kind of got lost in time while I walked around observing the inside and outside of the building, the manager approached and acted concerned I'd not received my food yet.  He asked what I'd gotten, I told him and he re-appeared with my food in a minute.  No big deal, I'm used to waiting from two to ten minutes on 'que.  He was apologetic, and I assured him there was no problem.  Again, there's that sensitivity to the diner's time-line.  That's great attention to service, IMO.

I ordered a four meat combo to get an idea of the pit master's skills.  Ribs, brisket, pulled pork, pulled beer can chicken.  That's the first time I've ever seen beer can chicken on a menu...awesome idea!  For sides, I selected slaw and beans, really basic, but again I like original made-on-site sides.

The first thing I noticed is that was a huge amount of food.  I can pack it away, but it's seriously three lunches worth for me.  I'm used to the idea when you get a four meat combo, you wind up with about 2-3 oz of each meat.  In this case, it was four or five ribs and 3-4 oz or more of each meat as well as healthy helpings of the sides.

The meat is served dry as it should be with a couple of cups of their unique sauce.  Definitely vinegar based and I still cannot decipher what the main spice flavor was I was getting out of it, at any rate delicious.  All of the meat was very tender, the brisket was just slightly to the dry side, but it really worked well with the rub and seemed to pick up those spices quite well.  Pulled pork was also a little dry but dip it in the sauce and it dissolves in your mouth.  Note, I realize when you do pulled pork or chopped beef it can dry out quick on the plate.  The chicken stayed moist & tender.  The ribs were tender, the rub doesn't seem to impart a whole lot of flavor which is fine by me.  I don't like covering up the pork, a rub should enhance the flavor, not smother it.

I like the rub as it's not too salty and does not rely heavily on any tricks like cinnamon or cayenne (not that there's anything wrong with either one or both when done in moderation).  It actually reminds me a lot of my own.  The slaw is pretty much how FMC makes ours which is my favorite way, not a mayo-based slaw.  The beans are really tasty but a bit sweet for my palate.  There's no way I can eat a whole cup in one sitting.

The only thing missing to me is I don't pick up much smoke in the taste or aroma of the que. There was a smoke ring on the ribs, but other visual or sensory clues to much use of smoke are not there.  I do tend to like a good smoky flavor and aroma.  I didn't notice much of a smoke aroma in the restaurant nor in the vicinity of it which I thought was unusual for a BBQ place.

Of course my preference may be different than other people's.  There's one camp which believes too much smoke makes it bitter, another camp thinks you can't get enough smoke on it.  I'm somewhere in the middle.  If anything, I think the brisket seemed to pick up the smokiness the best, I didn't detect any in the chicken (not sure if it's supposed to be a smoked beer can chicken, I just do my BC chicken over hot coals in my Weber) or pork.  I poked my head around to see if I could tell what sort of smoker they are using and didn't see where it was unless it's behind the large stainless wall in the kitchen.  I guess I'm sort of used to "Memphis style" as having a big old greasy, well-seasoned wood-fired smoker somewhere in the kitchen or out back.

As an admitted BBQ fanatic, I will say I like a subtle presence in the rub.   I love to get the smokiness in the meat, it should be smoky enough that my fingers will smell like pecan or hickory after I'm done with the ribs but shouldn't be sooted up either.  Along those lines, I hope they will smoke it up just a little more.  The rub and sauce are spot on to me.  I do find it odd they don't put sauce on the table, you have to ask for additional sauce or a less spicy sauce.  I asked the manager if there were other sauce choices, he said the other was more or less Head Country, not sure if that meant it was Head Country or their clone of it.  I stuck to the spicy in-house sauce.

As far as other sides and appetizers, they obviously did some research on Memphis 'Que: fried green tomatoes and fried pickle slices as well as the desserts.

Altogether, a four meat combo (pictured below) which would easily feed FMC and I and make sure Butch got some scraps was $18.72 including a bottomless soft drink with tax.  Adding a tip of $4.00 I felt I got my money's worth at $22.72.  I couldn't afford to eat like that every day, but again, I'll get 2-3 meals out of it.  Looking around at folks having sandwich plates, they were also getting their money's worth as well.

I'll be back.  The atmosphere is really cool, the food quality was good though I'd love for them to tweak the smoke a bit.

« Last Edit: June 14, 2011, 12:41:00 pm by Conan71 » Logged

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CharlieSheen
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« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2011, 01:24:53 pm »

The entrance is supposed to be in the alley so you did go in the back way.  I think depending on where you are coming from the alley or the elgin entrance is the closest.  It will be interesting to see as people go which they pick   Next time do you think you will go in at the alley entrance?.  The wood smoker is in the very back corner towards the Elgin entrance.  When you walk in that direction do do smell the smoke.  But I think the air system works really well and the smoke smell doesn't make it all the way to the alley side of the place.  I wonder if the AC running 24/7 in the heat has anything to do with it?  
« Last Edit: June 14, 2011, 01:27:43 pm by CharlieSheen » Logged
rdj
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« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2011, 02:17:34 pm »

I was told they'll be putting a deliveries only sign on the Elgin door.

I think once the patio and rooftop are done more people will recognize the alley as "front".
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Conan71
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« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2011, 02:21:04 pm »

The entrance is supposed to be in the alley so you did go in the back way.  I think depending on where you are coming from the alley or the elgin entrance is the closest.  It will be interesting to see as people go which they pick   Next time do you think you will go in at the alley entrance?.  The wood smoker is in the very back corner towards the Elgin entrance.  When you walk in that direction do do smell the smoke.  But I think the air system works really well and the smoke smell doesn't make it all the way to the alley side of the place.  I wonder if the AC running 24/7 in the heat has anything to do with it?  

Most likely I'll come in through the Elgin entrance due to parking.  Either I'll park on the street or on the big lot east of Elgin or visit Arnie's first and use their lot.  the only parking options which go logically with BA's back, er front entrance are the pay lot just outside its south wall or the truncated lot off Detroit.  I also think security-wise, most patrons will prefer the Elgin entrance, especially after dark.  JMO.  I never would have picked that spot for a BBQ joint, I commend Blake on his vision, it works quite well.  I also think the shipping containers are really clever.  Any idea if the plywood floor is re-used from something else?

They may not have been smoking anything when I was there which would explain the lack of smoke aroma around the area.  You might want to tell them Conan said to throw another log on the fire Wink
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« Reply #4 on: June 14, 2011, 02:34:20 pm »

If the vision is fully realized patrons will feel more than comfortable.  The alley will hopefully be shut to vehicular traffic and receive new, consistent brick paving as well as lighting, a solution for the dumpsters and overall appearance upgrades.   In addition, the back of the building where Lyon's is now would make a great companion to Back Alley.  If Sager (or a successor buyer) ever finishes the loft project it will create more pedestrian traffic in that alley because the tenant parking is the lot just east of that building.
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« Reply #5 on: June 14, 2011, 07:57:25 pm »

If Sager (or a successor buyer) ever finishes the loft project it will create more pedestrian traffic in that alley because the tenant parking is the lot just east of that building.
Gotta start something to finish it.   Smiley
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CharlieSheen
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« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2011, 08:34:42 am »

Back Alley has $25 for $12 on living social for the next 19 hours.

Living Social $25 GC for $12
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Conan71
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« Reply #7 on: October 27, 2011, 08:45:13 am »

Have they tweaked the smoke and rub any more in the last couple of months?  It was still a little on the bland side last time I was there.
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jacobi
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« Reply #8 on: October 27, 2011, 09:34:37 am »

If the area ehind lyons was converted this would be fantastic.  I also would love to see sager turn that parking low between lyons and Dwelling spaces into another multistory residential building with comercial space that fronts the alley.  That would be awesome sauce.  I'm off to dream about having enough money to do these kinds of things...
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CharlieSheen
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« Reply #9 on: October 27, 2011, 09:50:14 am »

If the area ehind lyons was converted this would be fantastic.  I also would love to see sager turn that parking low between lyons and Dwelling spaces into another multistory residential building with comercial space that fronts the alley.  That would be awesome sauce.  I'm off to dream about having enough money to do these kinds of things...

Why don't we just hope Sager finishes the building he already got money from the city to finish.
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Townsend
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« Reply #10 on: October 27, 2011, 09:51:23 am »

Why don't we just hope Sager finishes the building he already got money from the city to finish.


You sure that's still the plan?
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CharlieSheen
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« Reply #11 on: October 27, 2011, 10:02:25 am »


You sure that's still the plan?

Replace seger with Anybody
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heironymouspasparagus
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« Reply #12 on: October 27, 2011, 10:16:30 am »

Back Alley was ok.  Not great, though.

Albert G's is still better.

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« Reply #13 on: October 27, 2011, 12:27:59 pm »

Back Alley was ok.  Not great, though.

Albert G's is still better.



When I want to hang out in a gas station on a  Friday or Saturday night that is where I go.
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« Reply #14 on: October 27, 2011, 01:08:19 pm »

Back Alley was ok.  Not great, though.

Albert G's is still better.



Albert G's is very good.  Not super consistent, but very good.

He's planning on dumping some real cash on his downtown location.  I'm interested to see how that works out.  He's a micro-manager, so it may be a challenge running two locations unless he chooses to fold up the Harvard spot, or has a trusted protégé.  Of course RibCrib is going to bring their "commercial flavor" there too.

There's another group also looking at a location for Q downtown, but I don't know much about them, except they have gotten quotes on two very large Ole Hickory smokers.   

I'm glad we are developing a strong BBQ culture downtown.  I love urban areas where the smell of good food floats through the streets, especially if that smell includes pecan wood! 
 
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