Red Rock Downtown Barbecue
207 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti, MI 48197 Phone: 734-340-2381
Kitchen hours: Sun-Thurs 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11am – 12am
It felt like Ann Arbor’s Main Street. I stood amidst historic buildings outside a hip, casual restaurant where folks dined on the patio. Yet, this was Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti. Red Rock Downtown Barbecue, a new restaurant, is breathing fresh life into Ypsilanti’s dining scene.
Red Rock opened in April, after lengthy renovations in the spot formerly occupied by T.C.’s Speakeasy Bar & Grill. Inside, two seating areas surround a beautiful wraparound wood bar. High bar tables, regular tables, and a few booths sit in front of exposed brick, hardwood, and leather-clad walls.
High on the hog
Owner Shawn Cool and his parents John and Nancy serve pulled pork, beef brisket, St. Louis-style ribs, chicken and bacon all smoked in-house. They also offer salads, southern-inspired sides like sweet potato mash, plus a kid’s menu. And for brew lovers, Red Rock boasts plenty of beers on tap.
It was a Sunday night during a holiday weekend when my family visited Red Rock. The restaurant was crowded. Unfortunately, they were out of stock of the first two beers my husband chose. Despite the diminished selection, he found something he liked.
We skipped the appealing appetizers such as burnt ends (the bits of brisket that are cut off then flash fried) and ordered our main course. My husband chose the beef brisket, smoked overnight in a 500 pound capacity rotisserie smoker, served with sides of "cowboy beans" and collard greens ($14). I picked the pulled pork sandwich on Texas toast with coleslaw ($8). My 8-year-old selected a burger slider with waffle fries, while my 5-year-old chose mac 'n cheese with green beans. Other kids’ menu items, all $6, included a pulled pork or brisket slider with any side.
Low and slow
We learned they were out of brisket and collard greens. My husband moved on to St. Louis Spare Ribs and country potato salad. Moments later the server said, “We’ve run out of ribs. I’m so very, very sorry. All we have is pulled pork.” My husband looked dejected while I pointed to the menu’s fine print, “Smoked meats are cooked low and slow. We apologize if a shortage may occur.” The crowd had beaten us to the brisket, ribs, and collard greens.
In fact, the manager explained that the smoker holds a certain capacity and when it’s gone, it’s gone. They work to balance what will sell with what to cook, focusing on slow, fresh cooking.
We waited for our food and passed the time sampling the barbeque sauces. Memphis Bliss had hints of pineapple, garlic and tomato. Red Rock BBQ Original tasted smoky sweet while the mustard-based South was tangy. I sensed vinegar and red pepper in the North sauce.
“It finally came!” my daughter pronounced when our food arrived, throwing her arms open. Her mac 'n cheese was “swirly!” with real cheese; her green beans bright and crisp. My 8-year-old’s slider was petite, appropriate for a preschooler. “I could eat 5 of these,” he commented before inhaling it (along with his fries).
My husband and I found our pulled pork tender and smoky. I doused mine in the Red Rock BBQ sauce, which the Texas toast absorbed in a yummy, messy way. My coleslaw was crunchy and sweet, with apple slices mixed in. My husband’s entrée-size serving of pork was generous. His potato salad was pleasing, but his favorite was the "cowboy beans," smoky pinto beans mixed with huge chunks of pulled pork.
“Do you have desserts?” I asked.
“We’re out,” replied our server. When available, desserts include spice cake, carrot cake, and eventually a southern staple like peach, pecan, or sweet potato pie.
I would try Red Rock again, chalking up the roadblocks we encountered to new restaurant growing pains. The ambiance was fun and the pulled pork tasty enough that I’ll be back to sample other items.
Katy M. Clark is a freelance writer from Saline.