Northern Oakland County may soon become the Memphis of Metro Detroit, with two top-ranked barbecue joints known for their “slow cooking,” opening locations in Lake Orion over the next several months — both within a few miles of Clarkston’s renowned Union Woodshop.
Lockhart’s BBQ is set to open its second location in the remodeled historic village offices in Lake Orion this October; Bad Brad’s BBQ will open its fourth location on Baldwin Road in Orion Township in February. Earlier this summer, Detroit A-List voters (Detroit.cityvoter.com) ranked the three restaurants among the top five barbecue places around.
“Great barbecue is rooted in tradition, born in the South but open for interpretation in the North,” said Curt Catallo, co-owner of the Union Woodshop, which opened in 2009 and still enjoys packed nights with long waits for a table. “Any way you cut it, people are drawn to barbecue as a comfort food.”
People also are drawn to quality dining which Lake Orion needs more of these days, according to Alaina Campbell, executive director of the Orion Area Chamber of Commerce. She is excited about Lockhart’s and Bad Brad’s coming to the township.
“If you like barbecue, this will be a great place to find it,” Campbell said. “Instead of people leaving our community to eat, they will now be spending their dollars here.”
Lockhart’s owner Drew Ciora, a native Texan and fan of smoked meat, opened his first eatery in Royal Oak five years ago. Within two years, he and his business partner decided they wanted to open a second Lockhart’s location.
A resident of Lake Orion and a fan of its downtown, Ciora knew where he wanted to put the second Lockhart’s. He worked with the Downtown Development Authority for two years before the historic 120-year-old village offices became available. The sale of the building was completed and extensive remodeling began earlier this year on the 5,700-square-foot space.
“We think the village is the best place for us to be and you just can’t duplicate the character of the building,” Ciora said. “It has been a challenge remodeling it — we’re keeping the block and brick, but remodeling everything inside — but it will be worth it. I love the village.”
Village DDA Executive Director Suzanne Perreault is especially excited about Ciora’s plan to open the second floor of the building for dining, as well as rooftop seating. “This restaurant will be unique in our downtown area,” she said.
Ciora said Lockhart’s barbecue offerings are unique, too, being the only restaurant in Oakland County that cooks its meat entirely with wood. “Nice and slow authentic Texas-style barbecue,” he explained. “In my opinion, that’s the right way meat should be cooked.”
Like Lockhart’s, the Union Woodshop has a dedicated pit master in charge of the meat. Catallo says that patience is a must when preparing barbecue, noting it typically takes 10-12 hours to cook the meats served at his restaurant.
Catallo and his wife, Ann Stevenson, opened the Clarkston Union restaurant in 1995 in a remodeled Baptist church built in the 1800s. They then transformed the nearby Clarkston Cafe into the Union Woodshop in 2009, bringing along many side dishes, such as their famous mac and cheese, to complement the barbecue meats.
“The Woodshop was born from the ashes of fine dining,” Catallo said. “Today, I would call our grub fine dining in disguise.”
Bad Brad’s also was founded in 2009 in New Baltimore, with other locations in Macomb County. Regional Kitchen Manager Tony Grenat said the restaurants are usually located off the beaten path, with the newest location in Orion Township no exception.
Construction on the new restaurant, a couple miles north of I-75 and the Great Lakes Crossing mall, began this summer. The 7,100-square-foot restaurant will feature an expansive outdoor dining patio with waterfalls that can be seen from the road.
“This is our first restaurant built from the ground up, so we can really do what we want,” he said. “It will be larger than our other locations and have a bigger kitchen.”
Grenat moved to the Detroit area from Denver and has brought a southwest twist to barbecue during his six-plus years with the restaurant. Bad Brad’s uses 10 different chilies to flavor its meats and dishes, as well as cilantro, lime juice and other distinct spices. Hour Detroit magazine rated Bad Brad’s the best barbecue food in the region earlier this year.
People will be able to walk to Bad Brad’s from several nearby neighborhoods. Lockhart’s and the Union Woodshop are located in downtown areas, as well, easily accessible by foot. This lends to the small-town feel the barbecue restaurants are trying to capture, Catallo said.
“Communities like Clarkston and Lake Orion have a certain authenticity to them, reflected in their main streets and buildings, that draws people,” he said. “It’s found in the food we serve, too.”
Joe St. Henry is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.