Dining Review: Red Smoke Barbeque in Greektown doesn't get enough credit
Celebrating 10 years this spring, the family-owned Greektown barbecue joint was passed to the next generation earlier this year
Detroit is not on the map like Kansas City or Austin when it comes to barbecue, but Motown has its moments.
We've got some no-frills, longstanding neighborhood staples such as Nunn's, Vicki's, Parks Old Style, Zukin's Rib Shack and Bert's Marketplace. Then there's Corktown's Slows Bar BQ, a local and national darling since its 2005 debut.
Red Smoke Barbeque, which opened in Greektown just shy of a decade ago, has kind of always been the Jan Brady to Slows' "Marsha Marsha Marsha" as far as Detroit's destination barbecue joints go.
But it shouldn't be. It's a great barbecue restaurant that has held its own for years in a rehabbed building on a strip of town that's getting more known for bar hopping and partying than for dining.
Putting 60-plus hours of work a week at the spot is George Teftsis, a second generation owner of Red Smoke. His father and uncle, Tasso and Michael Teftsis, decided on barbecue as a way to offer some culinary diversity to the traditionally Greek stretch of town. After years of work on the 120-year-old building, a former grocery store, the brothers debuted Red Smoke in the spring of 2010.
The two-story restaurant landed on my radar after a tip from a friend who said she doesn't order anything in restaurants that she can't cook better in her own kitchen. To her, that means getting ribs from Red Smoke.
After visiting several times myself and enjoying the dusty, Carolina-style pork back ribs in the restaurant, as a fresh carryout and reheated the next day, I have to agree these are something special.
Red Smoke also serves the shorter St. Louis style spare ribs as a half or full slab. Both are smoked over hickory wood and char grilled. The Carolina slabs come dry with a seasoned, smoky crust that holds in enough moisture that makes the meat a pleasure to eat off the bone. The St. Louis ribs, which are a bit more popular, are shorter and contain more fat.
These are served dry, but you can add the house sauce. My favorite is the Memphis Mudd, which is the sweetest and thinnest of the four offered and has a smoky, brown sugar finish.
The ribs were a high point for me, but Teftsis is mighty proud of his brisket, too, which is tender after being slow smoked for 14 hours, and is a little fatty with a nice bark that has a bit of garlic, onion and other flavors.
I ordered the brisket as my meat of choice on the Memphis Cobb salad, which is also loaded with cucumbers, an un-chopped hard-boiled egg, shredded cheddar cheese, sliced radishes, tomatoes and carrots and an assortment of roasted peppers and garlic, which I surprised me — to be honest, I made a face about it — but they complemented the meat.
The ribs, brisket and even the pulled pork that come out of the smoker fresh every day are the stars of the show here, but let's talk sides. Most entrees come with your choice of one, including pork belly beans, red rice and beans, collard greens, potato salad or crunchy coleslaw. The french fries are satisfactory: on the thick side and greasy, yet crispy.
The breadcrumb-crusted mac and cheese is worth the $1 up-charge. Teftsis has chosen to use the squat and ruffly radiatore pasta noodles, which are baked with sharp cheddar, Parmesan, breadcrumbs and a little white pepper.
The mac and cheese can also be a hearty choice for a vegetarian diner looking to make a meal out of the meatless side dishes at this meat-centric restaurant.
No one, however, should leave Red Smoke without ordering the jalapeno cheddar corn muffins.
By happenstance, my dining adventures this month had me running into cornbread at a variety of restaurants, fancy and otherwise, new and established. Red Smoke's version was far and a way the best I've had recently, and possibly ever.
The tennis ball-sized muffins are a little sticky, sweet, moist and perfectly golden. The flavors of cornmeal, fresh jalapeno and cheddar all come through. These are included with the combos but in any other instance you have to order them separately for $1.99. Get two.
I should not wrap this up without mentioning the burger. With all else they have to offer, meat-wise — and considering all the other burger joints in Greektown — Red Smoke gets extra credit for a cheeseburger this tasty and crave-able.
It's served as two char-grilled quarter-pound patties dripping with melted cheese between a fresh, golden bun. The meat has a backyard cookout char-grilled taste that instantly takes you back to the middle of July. Get the standard burger or their "Ultimate Pit Burger," which is the same but with a generous helping of pulled pork.
Red Smoke does a healthy carryout business, and has been trying out different delivery apps. A second story dining room is available for large private parties and they also have a catering menu for off-site parties.
While it's not traditional Greek-American food as we known it, Red Smoke is owned by a family that has had a presence in Greektown since the 1960s, and is of Greek descent. The Teftsis family opened the Astoria Pastry Shop in 1971. (George Teftsis points to the fact that they order Windex by the case, lest anyone doubt their Greek-ness.)
He says besides the general obstacles that restaurant owners go through, he contributes a recent dip in business to the closing of Joe Louis Arena and evolution of the Greektown district into what he calls a "more Bourbon Street type of area." He's also not going to see a boost in sales this January with the North American International Auto Show moving to June in 2020.
Teftsis, who took over the restaurant from his father earlier this year said he's keeping things going by ordering less food and stepping into the roles that need to be filled, from serving food to making drinks. He and his team work together in the kitchen — there's no executive chef, per se — and he's been fortunate to have a lot of loyal employees that have been there for years.
Red Smoke Barbeque
573 Monroe, Detroit
(313) 962-2100 or redsmoke.net
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs.; 11 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat.
Prices: Appetizers, $4-$13; salads $8 and up; barbecue platters and combos, $15-$28; sides, $2-$6; sandwiches, $10-$14; kids meal, $10; beers, $4-$8.50; specialty cocktails $9.50 and up; wine, $5-$9 per glass and $15-$29 per bottle.
Reservations: None needed. Parties of 8 or more should call ahead.
Noise level: Average, nothing distracting.
Accessibility: No barriers. There is an elevator to get to the second floor dining area, or to the basement restrooms.
Parking: Greektown Casino parking garage, surface lots or street parking.
What the stars mean
★ — routine ★★ — very good ★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — extraordinary