Bo's Brewery & Bistro 51 N. Saginaw, Pontiac; 248-338-6200; $$: With three separate levels occupying almost 12,000 square feet, Bo's Brewery & Bistro offers patrons full bar service, billiards and more. As many as 40 people can sit at the bar and enjoy such Michigan craft beers as Bell's and King's, followed by special desserts every week. Climb up to the third floor during the week for dance classes. And then there's the barbecue: They will be expanding their menu this year to include more smokehouse meats, including beef and pork.
Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar 770 N. Lapeer Rd., Lake Orion; 248-814-8600; $: One of numerous metro locations. Mondays and Thursdays tout 60-cent boneless wings, which are more like really crunchy chicken tenders, only to be trusted after a couple of the franchise's whopping 22-ounce beers! Tuesdays are buy-one-get-one-free on any order of wings. They have a full-service bar and billiards for their older guests, and they even offer something for the little guys. Wednesday night is kids' night — any kids' meal is $1.99 from 4 to 8 p.m. B-Dubs is a good place for friends to gather, drink, steal some Wet-Naps and maybe catch a game or two.
Cleary's Pub 113 S. Main St., Chelsea; 734-475-1922; $$: This small joint in the center of downtown Chelsea has 19 tables, three booths, a full bar and a nonsmoking area — as well as a couple of TV sets with Keno. The kitchen usually serves until 11 p.m. and is extensive with fish (sometimes serving frog legs), ribs, salads, sandwiches and burgers. The clear favorite among barbecue offerings would be the baby-back ribs with homemade Jack Daniels sauce. Sorry, no happy hour, because they're always happy! Any draft beer is on special for $2.25 all day every day!
Famous Dave's 20300 E. 13 Mile Rd., Roseville; 586-293-2900; $: Why is Famous Dave's so Famous? The barbecue, of course! Serving hot-smoked ribs straight out of the Southern Pride Rotisserie Smoker, you'll need lots of Wet-Naps, a cool beverage and probably a ‘slice of heaven,' a home-made bread pudding. The bar seats 10, and there's Blue Moon on tap. They offer $1 pints on Wednesdays and $3 you-call-it drinks on Thursdays. No, it doesn't get much sweeter.
Irene's Southern Cookin' 18680 W. Eight Mile Rd., Southfield; 248-423-0988; $: A little neighborhood place with all the virtues and vices of down-home cooking. Entrées include chicken (fried, smothered or barbecued), pork chops (ditto), country-fried steak, catfish, perch, wing-dings, shrimp, meat loaf and ribs. All the usual soul food side dishes can be found here. If you don't want gravy, be sure to say so.
Lazybones Smokehouse 27475 Groesbeck Hwy., Roseville; 586-775-7427; $$: This east side joint has sandwiches starting around $7 and $17.99 for a slab of ribs. But the prices get nicer at lunch every Wednesday; for $7.99, you get to stuff a three-compartment polystyrene container with choices that can range from smoked chicken to chopped pork. Lazybones boasts Black Angus beef, Grade-A fresh pork, and Amish country chickens, done broasted, pit-smoked or grill-ready for pick-up. And for those who want to throw a home party without running the grill, Lazybones can cater to your wishes, with party pans big enough to hold 100 ribs or the equivalent in pulled pork.
Lenny's Ribs and Chicken 15405 Gratiot Ave., Suite 100, Detroit; 313-527-0000; $$: Years ago, it was Kenny's Ribs and Chicken; only the first letter in the name has changed. Located at Eight Mile Road, it's a big building with one level serving up hot ribs, chicken, fish and non-alcoholic beverages. (Hey, have a lemonade for once!) Most popular barbecue order: Rib tips!
Memphis Smoke 100 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-543-4300; $$: Memphis Smoke offers more than juicy ribs and pulled pork po' boys — it also plays a gracious host to many of the area's best blues and rock acts every night but Monday. If you're not feeling the live music spot, grab a stool or picnic table on the roof and enjoy the view and the breeze as you sip shots of Patron and draft beer. Happy hour is Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m., but if that's not enough to keep you satisfied, come down on Sundays for all-you-can-eat crab legs!
Milt's Gourmet Bar-B-Que 19143 Kelly Rd., Detroit; 313-521-5959; $: Just because it's gourmet doesn't mean you're not gonna get it on your shirt. The family-style restaurant seats 45, but it's more or less there for the carryout connoisseurs. Barbecued ribs with homemade sauce and desserts offer patrons finger-lickin' good ‘cue for cheap.
Rib City Grill 1686 John R Rd., Troy; 248-740-9944; $$: With their motto — ‘If you have to pick up a knife to eat our baby back ribs, then we'll pick up your meal!' — Rib City promises the most tender ribs around, and they're picky about their cooking methods — the Bar-B-Q Beef is smoked over "blackjack oak," and the recommended baby back is also done over wood. They've recently added delicious, homemade mac 'n' cheese to their menu as well as a little entertainment on the side — Tuesday nights are Car Cruise nights, with classic cars on view from 5 to 8:30 p.m. It may be a chain, but with only 25 locations in the country and a family restaurant feel, plenty of folks claim Rib City has got the best they've ever had.
Slows Bar-BQ 2138 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-962-9828; $$: A few blocks west of Tiger Stadium, in a meticulously revamped 1880s building, Slows caters to a mix of hipsters, folks from area businesses, and suburban brewheads. Slows has excellent barbecue, a mac and cheese that's a satisfying combination of sharp and creamy, and potato salad that could have come straight out of an Alabama picnic basket. There's also a generous list of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and soups, including chili, and gumbo with andouille and shellfish. On busy weeknights after work, the joint fills up quickly, but the bar, fortunately, is a beer-lover's paradise, with more than 20 beers on tap, usually featuring at least a dozen brewed in Michigan (including Bell's, Arcadia, Founder's and Dragonmead), and a pages-long beer menu, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 bottles depending on the season.
Smoke & Spice Southern Barbecue 1515 Ottawa St., Windsor; 519-977-0112; $$: French-cuisine-trained Ryan Odette moved from one concept of cool to another when he closed his tiny Bistro and opened a crowd-pleasing barbecue joint. No more roasted apricots and fig jus: Now it's ribs, wings and pulled pork, playing to a full, and much bigger, house. These ribs appear rather dry-looking, but in the mouth they are multifaceted chunks of meat, a combination of smoke, tenderness and earthy animal goodness. As for sauces, there's the slightly sweet, mostly tangy tomato-based barbecue sauce, the chipotle, and the runny mustard that's the most unusual and complex of the three. What's more, the wings are not an afterthought, luscious and meaty, smokier than most wings. Pulled pork and beef brisket round it out, though there's also a mild and tender catfish with remoulade and spicy breading, and an apple wood-smoked half chicken worth checking out.
Smoke House Blues 4855 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-434-5554; $$: For 10 years Smoke House Blues has had customers tear themselves apart when it comes time to order — choosing between ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket or gumbo — and their revamped menu still has all the old favorites. A separate dining room for nonsmokers keeps everybody happy, and Smoke House Blues also offers full catering and throws a helluva tailgate party. They have daily specials and a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. nightly. Cool your smoky palate with sweet potato pie and some of Aunt Gina's homemade rice pudding.
Tunnel Bar-B-Q 58 Park St., Windsor; 519-258-3663; $: Visible pretty much the second you leave the tunnel, the TBQ has a full line of sauces and spices to light the fire in your food-life. If all those original recipes aren't enough, get a load of the bakery ‘ strawberry romanoff, deep dish pecan pie, any number of home-made desserts. Ten varieties of bottled beer will wet your whistle, enjoyed at the restaurant's new bar (a former smoking room). Just remember your passport.
Special thanks to editorial intern Amy Al-Katib for her assistance with this column.