While the M-1 Concourse is probably the best known new resident of Pontiac, another new neighbor has moved in, adding to the ranks of the city, which is experiencing a quiet renaissance — Slow’s Bar BQ of Corktown fame.
I sat down with General Manager Rob Stone and Head Chef Ryan Esker to discuss the newest Slow’s Bar BQ location in Pontiac. Both Rob and Ryan have a culinary background and support each other in collaborating on the menu creations. Notably, Chef Ryan’s resume includes cooking for the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham.
Rob grew up in West Bloomfield and attended Michigan State University, graduating with a degree in hospitality business. He moved to Miami to go to culinary school and then to Denver. While home for Passover one year, he linked up with Slow’s Bar BQ owners and secured the job in Pontiac.
The aroma as I walk in the front door is intoxicating and very familiar. “We are using all the same recipes, rubs, sauces and smokers that you find in Detroit,” Rob says. “Ryan creates a lot of specials, which makes us unique, different from the Slow’s in Detroit.”
Nestled in next to the newly renovated Flagstar Strand Theatre for the Performing Arts on Saginaw Street in the very heart of downtown Pontiac, Slow’s Bar BQ has been enjoying a steady increase in hungry guests since opening in April. Indeed, at 1 p.m., many of the tables were filled with lunch guests and the bar was loaded with patrons, too.
The venue is a mash-up of repurposed historical items from among other places, the old Sears and Roebuck and Pontiac Central High School. Lab tables, bleacher seats and other artifacts have been integrated into the fabric of Slow’s. In fact, the Pontiac Central High School score board is a centerpiece at the bar.
I asked what makes Slow’s Bar BQ different or better than other barbecue places. “I have eaten at many barbecue restaurants, and one of the biggest differences I notice is the quality of the meat,” Ryan says. “All of our meat is hormone- and antibiotic-free and grass-fed. I can tell right away from the taste that it is different.”
“Grass-fed meat tastes better; the consistency of the meat is better,” Rob adds. “Happy animals make happy food.”
Creating barbecue has become a high art that many are not familiar with. “Pulled pork comes from the pork shoulder or butt,” Ryan says. “And we have some of the best beef brisket around.”
Rob smiles and adds, “Some Jewish friends of mine came in yesterday and ordered the brisket. One looked at the other and said, ‘Don’t tell Mom, but this is better than hers.’”
Pork shoulder and brisket are tough pieces of meat that spend 12 hours in the smoker at 210 degrees to tenderize. Slow’s uses all dry rubs on its meats, and provides patrons with five different traditional and regional Barbecue sauces that range in flavor from sweet and smoky to more vinegary.
“Sometimes we create a seasonal or special sauce. Ryan just made a special Asian barbecue sauce,” Rob says. “That is where the foody/fun part of this comes in.”
Ryan adds, “Yes, and we use a lot of beer in our seasonal sauces because our beer program is such a big part of the restaurant.”
Andy Wainio is in charge of Slow’s beverage program and is extremely knowledgeable about all things beer-related. “He does about 25 percent Michigan beers, and he has this awesome knack for finding things that other people can’t,” Rob says. “He can find that one barrel of beer that is very special.
“In Detroit, you kind of have to have that cowboy attitude,” Rob adds. “That’s how Slow’s Bar BQ started in Corktown. It’s that cowboy attitude that is bringing Detroit back and now Pontiac, too.”
Slow’s is starting to get a good lunch crowd from the growing business sector in Pontiac. Friday and Saturday nights are bustling in downtown Pontiac; the breweries are full, people are walking around, and they have patio seating on the streets.
Rob points out, “West Bloomfield is only 11 minutes away, and with all that construction on Orchard Lake Road, it’s really convenient to turn around and go the other direction. Come down this way.”
Pontiac is a mere 10-minute drive up Woodward from many of the Woodward corridor cities.
“The Oakland County Sheriff Department has been really, really helpful in terms of helping to bring Pontiac back,” Rob says. “They have a big presence down here, and it is a big deal for them to make sure this is a safe place for people to come. They want to see people down here.”
Pontiac residents and business owners alike are hoping that Pontiac soon becomes a destination. The first wave of the resurgence of the downtown area is happening as more and more businesses are attracted by low rent and the great office space available.
“It is safe to come down here. There is plenty of parking, and visitors can use the Park Mobile App to keep track of meter time. And come to Slow’s for our macaroni and cheese, our catfish or our amazing brisket,” Rob says.
Slow’s Bar BQ Pontiac
8 N. Saginaw St., Pontiac