Slow and Smoky

. June 30, 2014.

Old Carolina Barbeque Company

Cranbrook Village Shopping Center
980 West Eisenhower Parkway
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Phone: 734-389-7100
Daily: 10:30am-9:30pm

To avoid wait: Go early for dinner on weekends
Noise level: Moderate to high depending on the size of the crowd
Bathroom amenities: Changing tables in men’s and women’s
High chairs? Yes
Got milk?  Yes, plus iced tea and soda
Kids’ menu? Yes
Anything healthy for kids?  They offer veggie sides, salads and smoked chicken. Check their nutritional guide for more information.

“What’s the most happiest drink?” my seven-year-old daughter asked me.
“Cheerwine. Get it? Cheer wine!”
She smiled and so did I. We had just finished discussing Cheerwine, the cola with a cherry taste that originated in the Carolinas. It was on the menu at Old Carolina Barbeque Company, a new restaurant that opened this spring in the Cranbrook Village Shopping Center.
Old Carolina, according to its website, is a Midwest chain based in Ohio. The Ann Arbor location is the first in Michigan. Two high school friends with a passion for barbecue founded Old Carolina and the company puts forth an effort to serve extraordinary, slow-smoked barbecue with genuine hospitality.
Besides Cheerwine, there are other nods to the Carolinas on the menu like hush puppies, sweet tea, and Tar Heel dogs. A vinegar-based sauce typical of the Carolinas infuses many items, too, as opposed to a sweet, tomato-based Kansas City sauce or a spicy, tomato-based Memphis sauce.

A taste of the Carolinas 
At Old Carolina, you order at the counter and then your food is brought to you. My ten-year-old son asked about the turkey sandwich ($6.49). Upon learning there was nothing on it except thick cut turkey he happily ordered it, adding fries and a Cheerwine. My daughter chose chicken tenders from the kids’ menu. Other choices included a hot dog or pulled pork sandwich. For $5.99, kids’ meals include a drink and one side. She chose milk and Mac and cheese.
My husband was out of town, yet  I wanted to taste a little bit of everything that Old Carolina offered. I perused the ribs, chicken, salads, and sandwiches before choosing The Carolina combo ($14.99). It included 4 ribs, pulled pork, and 2 sides;  I picked country green beans and garlic mashed potatoes.
I got sweet tea to drink. I used to live in North Carolina so I know sweet tea. I don’t like fountain tea or unsweetened tea you sweeten yourself. So did Old Carolina’s measure up? It tasted fresh brewed and sweet enough to put a smile on a curmudgeon’s face. Heavenly.
We picked a table in the wide-open dining room. With exposed ceilings, polished concrete floors, and pine rails on the walls, the restaurant’s overall ambiance was casual and comfortable. Patio seating was available too.
Ten minutes later, our food was brought out. The turkey sandwich was huge and my son loved it. “It has a little taste of honey in it,” he commented. Must be the hickory smoked flavor.

Hitting the sweet spot
My daughter liked her chicken tenders and loved the surprise cup of vanilla cookies that came with her meal. However, the Mac and cheese had cracker crumbs on it. She was devastated by this aberration and refused to eat it even after I scraped them off.
Meanwhile, I was mostly pleased with my combo. The country green beans, cooked with hunks of brisket, had a nice flavor. The garlic-mashed potatoes had a strong, pleasing garlic taste. My pulled pork was yummy. I ended up liking it with the Original sauce the best. You choose your quantity and type of sauce from the sauce bar. Besides Original, there’s Piedmont 05 (sweet and savory), Original Gold (honey mustard), and Screaming Beaver (sweet and hot). My ribs were disappointing, though. I found them dry, even after trying them with different sauces.
For dessert, we shared six pieces of Carolina Beach Boardwalk Bites ($1.99). The bites were akin to donut holes rolled in cinnamon sugar. Like anything fried and dipped in sugar, they hit the spot, much like most of our meal at Old Carolina.

Katy M. Clark is a freelance writer from Saline.