It's one of those magical summer days in metro Detroit. A balmy low 80s, humidity not too high, and just enough clouds in the sky to shield you from scorching UV rays. Just the type of weather ideal for a picnic. Or better yet, a barbecue.
That's just the scenario that the folks behind Woodpile BBQ Shack had in mind when they redesigned a vintage A&W drive-in on Main Street just south of 14 Mile Road in Clawson. The spot opened in December, first as take-out only, and now is open to outdoor seating. At the helm are partners Zac Idzikowski and Scott Moloney (owner of Treat Dreams ice cream and dessert shop), with award-winning pitmaster Steve "Bubba" Coddington, formerly of Lockhart's in Royal Oak.
The reclaimed wood and metal work details that abound throughout the interior and exterior of the walk-up eatery and adjoining covered dining area give the place a rustic, family-picnic-at-the-park vibe. Guests place their orders from a large chalkboard menu at an indoor counter and are given a number to bring out with them to their tables. Servers then bring out the food atop metal, paper-lined trays. Seating is a mix of wooden barrels crafted into circular tables for large parties and a number of high-tops. There are also a few picnic tables and bike racks set up on an uncovered patio, guarded by a hefty metal hog sculpture. A small bar is set up in the dining space, where customers can order a number of craft beers on tap, organic lemonade, ice tea, and other beverages. During the winter, diners order take-out, but during the warmer summer months, finding seating can require a bit of maneuvering around strollers and lingering guests.
Coddington — who was named by his pitmaster peers a BBQ Person of the Year — dry rubs his meats and cooks them low and slow overnight over wood smoke, without heavy use of sauce. His repertoire spans several regional barbecue styles, including Central Texas beef brisket, pulled pork, jalapeno cheddar sausage, whole or pulled chicken, and St. Louis spare ribs. Order meats by themselves by the half pound, inside a half-pound sandwich on Crispelli's Bakery brioche buns, or in a number of combo meals (ranging from a $10 lunch to a feast for four at $44.95). Add-ons of candied bacon or burnt ends are also available.
Barbecue is not necessarily native to Michigan, but pitmasters like Coddington (plus spots like Slows in Corktown and hidden gem holes-in-the-wall like Vicki's Barbecue and Shrimp on Detroit's west side) are making strides to make the Mitten State competitive with other parts of the country. During a recent visit, our dining partner (who hails from the heart of Texas barbecue Country) was thrilled by the charred, peppery bark from the brisket. We were in love with the meatiness and smoky ring of the ribs, as well as the expertly shredded and juicy pulled pork. We also dug into a pulled chicken sandwich that came out quite succulent. Not that sauce was needed, but the sweet peach bourbon, tangy/slightly spicy Shack, Carolina, and the mustard all complement the meats nicely.
Now onto the sides, a vital component to any respectable barbecue spread. They're all made from scratch and include a popular, meaty roadside pit beans, three types of creamy mac and cheese (regular, pepper jack, and barbecue with pulled pork), cornbread with honey butter, home-style slaw, and seasonal veggies.
As is the case with most traditional barbecue joints, the food is only available until it runs out — there is no reheating involved. That means if you come in closer to closing time, you just might find yourself out of luck.
As for dessert, Treat Dreams is what you'll want. A separate dessert window serves up the cold stuff, where one can indulge in Southern-inspired flavors like peach bourbon, which can be enjoyed in scoop or shake form. We opted for a shake topped with whip cream. It came out super thick and with just the right balance of fruit and spicy bourbon flavor. There's also a homemade bread pudding, which we just might have to partake in on our next visit.
During our most recent visit, the city of Clawson was hosting an outdoor movie screening, meaning Main Street was closed to traffic and families could stroll about and enjoy the summer air. The addition of Woodpile BBQ Shack certainly adds to that warm weather whimsy, and we welcome it.
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