With the recent spike in Lansing-area barbecue joints and microbreweries, being the hero of the summer backyard party has never been easier. Why suffer through charred burgers scraped off a grill and washed down with skunky light beer when you can treat your family and friends to fallingoff-the-bones smoked ribs doused in killer house-made sauce, paired with a charming craft brew made from locally-sourced ingredients? It’s a good time to be a beer or barbecue buff here in the capital city.
The vanguard of the recent barbecue invasion is Old Town’s Meat Southern BBQ & Carnivore Cuisine, which fired up its wood-burning rotisserie stove, nicknamed “the Beast,” four years ago.
“I had no intention of starting any kind of trend when I opened,” said Sean Johnson, owner/operator of Meat. “I was just taking a hobby that I had a passion for and trying to make it work as a business. I consider myself very lucky that it’s working.”
When Johnson opened, Metro Lansing residents had the local BackYard BarBQ restaurants and chain barbecue joint Smokey Bones in Eastwood Towne Center to choose between, with soul food staples Ida’s and Vernadine’s having recently passed into the void.
“There was already a barbecue (culture) in town, and I wanted to build on that,” Johnson said. “But no one was doing what we were doing at the level we envisioned. I think that’s what the difference was.”
Last year, Johnson expanded Meat into a neighboring storefront and added a full bar and a second smoker, just in time to keep up with newcomers Saddleback BBQ in REO Town, Capital City BBQ near the Old Oakland Neighborhood and Crossroads BBQ in downtown Grand Ledge. National chain Famous Dave’s also arrived in Holt during the boom.
“The best part (of barbecue cuisine) is that it’s so diverse,” said Matt Gillet, co-owner of Saddleback. “There are so many ways to be the best.”
Gillett and his business partner, Travis Stoliker, studied under competitive pit master Lonnie Smith. They competed under his tutelage two years ago in Georgia’s annual Big Pig Jig, aka the “Super Bowl of Smoking,” the year Smith won the grand championship. Saddleback’s smoker was designed by Smith, taking Lansing-area diners within one degree of separation from world-class brisket and ribs.
Capital City BBQ keeps the diversity going by incorporating its smoked pork into traditional Vietnamese offerings, such as the banh mi, an authentic Vietnamese pork belly sandwich. And then earlier this year, the newest addition to the scene was Craig “Gump” Garmyn, who opened Gump BBQ on the eastern fringe of REO Town.
“I’d never been in the restaurant business, but I’ve been barbecuing for 26 years, so I thought, ‘Why not?’” Garmyn said. “You can’t have too much barbecue in town, especially if it’s good.”
That no-such-thing-as-too-muchof-a-good-thing sentiment is shared by the visionaries behind a wave of new Lansing-area microbreweries. Downtown Lansing’s Midtown Brewing Co., which started as a satellite location for the now defunct Michigan Brewing Co. in Webberville, was the first out of the gate in 2009. It has since transitioned into a standalone brewery/purveyor of craft beer. Over the past seven years, it’s introduced many craft beer novices to a few new concepts — including the beer growler. You no longer have to schlep a flimsy cardboard case of cans to your backyard barbecue. Now you can roll up with a sturdy, 64-ounce glass vessel filled with a craft beer that might not available in any other format than “pint at the bar.”
In 2012, Eaglemonk Pub & Brewery and BAD Brewing Co. set up shop in west Lansing and Mason, respectively. Both took a workmanlike approach to production with their spartan décor and quickly developed passionate followings. Then last year, three more joined the fray: Ellison Brewery + Spirits, which opened in an out-ofthe-way former warehouse in Meridian Township last summer; Lansing Brewing Co., which revived a centuryold name in downtown Lansing; and Old Nation Brewing Co., which set up shop in a former police station in Williamston.
Travis Fritts, one of the owners of Old Nation Brewing Co., studied beer making in Germany during the microbrew bubble that popped in the late ‘90s.
“When I came back to Michigan in 2002, the second wave of craft beer was just happening,” Fritts said. “No one was certain if (microbreweries) would bounce back. But we’ve all been working in this industry for a long time, and by the time this (building) became available, it didn’t take long for us to settle into a groove and get our production going.”
Meanwhile, in Old Town, Ozone Brewhouse is putting the finishing touches on its production facility and tasting room, giving cerevisaphiles a hops-lined inroad into the quaint boutique district. A grand opening announcement is coming soon.
So if you’re entertaining guests this summer, it’s almost better if you don’t have time to fire up the grill. Grab a slab of ribs from one of these Metro Lansing barbecue joints and fill up your growler with something special at any of these microbreweries, and you’re good to go.