Several years ago the upscale barbecue trend was heating up all throughout metro Detroit. You can certainly call everyone’s favorite Corktown ‘cue restaurant Slows a catalyst for all of this, and the first wave of imitations (or: flatteries!) included Union Woodshop in Clarkston and Lockhart’s BBQ in Royal Oak – large restaurants with large dining rooms serving large numbers of customers from large menus all day and all night.
Since then the smoke has cleared a bit, making way for more of a boutique barbecue business, with smaller, fully-mobile operations rising to the top of the woodpile, as it were.
And now there is Woodpile BBQ Shack in Clawson, a beautifully designed carry-out and catering barbecue “shack” – though the word “shack” is a bit of an injustice to the intricate rustic woodwork and custom metalwork that cover the exterior and interior walls of the former (and now unrecognizable) A&W building on Main St. just south of 14 Mile Rd.
Woodpile is a partnership between Zac Idzikowski and Scott Moloney, owner of the eclectic Treat Dreams ice cream and dessert shop with locations in Ferndale and Midtown. And in a coming full circle, they brought Steve “Bubba” Coddington on board to man the meat, formerly the pitmaster of Lockhart’s.
Coddington, who was named BBQ Person of the Year by the National Barbecue Association in 2013, oversees Woodpile as general manager and pitmaster. The significantly smaller space is certainly a change of pace for Coddington, who has been cooking for massive Royal Oak crowds serving hundreds of covers a day for years. Numbers like that are great for business, but not necessarily for barbecue.
“Great barbecue can’t be rushed,” Woodpile’s marketing reads, and that’s not just empty advertising. Cooking barbecue is a commitment, and doing it right takes time – several hours overnight, usually, making it impossible to just “throw more on” in the event of a dinner rush.
At the best barbecue spots in the country, you won’t be able to get any product past lunchtime. That’s because they cook a specific amount overnight, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Barbecue purists and aficionados will wait hours in line in the hopes of getting some brisket at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, because they know exactly what it is they’re waiting for, the quality of the product, and the considerable amount of time spent on each preparation.
But here in metro Detroit, where barbecue isn’t quite so much in our blood…well, you trying telling a table of six that walked in at 9:00 p.m. on a Sunday expecting full slabs of ribs that all of the meat is sold out and see how well that plays out in your Yelp reviews. And Coddington, a professional pitmaster, was tired of it.
“It’s impossible to serve fresh product at 9:00 p.m.,” he says. “The product they’re getting that late has been reheated; it’s been sitting. It’s not the quality we want it to be. What sets Woodpile apart is that all of the meat is cooked fresh every single day. Nothing is reheated. Once we’re out, we’re out for the day. Anything leftover at the end of the day gets used in one of the side dishes.”
And let’s talk about those side dishes for a minute. Chef Scott Parkhurst, also previously of Lockhart’s, now works independently out of a commissary kitchen in Madison Heights. He makes all of the sides and sauces served at Woodpile from scratch, and that includes items like the meaty roadside pit beans, three different kinds of macaroni and cheese – regular, pepper jack, and BBQ (topped with pulled pork, and everything your mac & cheese has been missing; bacon is so 2012), cornbread with honey butter, hearty soups, homestyle slaw, pickled veggies, and rotating seasonal sides and specials like barbecue “chowder” (just eat it) and the best sweet potato mash you will ever have in your life.
Which is of course not to show up Coddington’s ‘cue: dry-rubbed meats are cooked “low and slow” over wood smoke overnight. Meats are available by the half pound and include Texas-style beef brisket, Carolina pulled pork, pulled chicken, jalapeno cheddar sausage, St. Louis spare ribs (half or full rack), and smoked half chickens. They also serve half-pound sandwiches on Crispelli’s Bakery buns with pulled pork, pulled chicken, and brisket. And if you’re really lucky, they might also be serving candied bacon and burnt ends.
We mentioned earlier that Scott Moloney of Treat Dreams is one of the partners. You can’t have the guy from Treat Dreams as a partner and NOT serve Treat Dreams ice cream. So of course, Woodpile serves several, including the Woodpile exclusive bourbon pecan pie, peach bourbon, and the best-selling salted caramel. There is also homemade bread pudding – which you can top with any of their ice creams and cover in bourbon caramel sauce – and occasionally some homemade banana pudding, which should really just be a staple because good ‘nana puddin’ is hard to come by.
For those fretting over the lack of indoor seating – it really is a “shack” in that regard – just wait until summer when picnic tables cover the spacious patio and maybe – just maybe! – you’ll be able to enjoy a beer with your barbecue. (They’re working on it.)
Woodpile is open for carry-out and is also available for catering gigs large and small. Contact catering and events manager Kelly Idzikowski for details and pricing.