Friday, June 28, 2013

Bone Heads BBQ Food & Spirits

You may not think a restaurant with a flaming skull and crossbones as its logo would be capable of a little double entendre, but in the case of Bone Heads BBQ in Willis, MI, you'd be incorrect in that assessment. They make no secret that "spirits" does not only refer to the bottles behind the bar. More on that later.

My former roommate Kimmy and I were often curious about the flaming skull and crossbones billboards we passed on I-94 advertising barbecue. It's a rather eye-catching symbol, after all. When we found out that it was supposed to be haunted, though, we really became curious! It was not until Kimmy had moved back to California that my boyfriend Greg and I finally ventured out to Willis in search of Bone Heads.
The stairs are supposed to be supernaturally active.
The owners believe their building dates back to 1865 and has served many purposes in 100+ years since; "coach stop, grainery, butcher shop, ice house, post office and general store." This offers the building more than charm. It's one of those places that, when you walk in, makes you think, "I didn't know places like this actually existed." Like when Kimmy saw lightening bugs for the first time, which don't live in California.

Bone Heads' dining room is absolutely charming. It was restored in the 1980s to resemble its general store days, so maybe that is why this shop girl felt so at home. (It also reminded me of places I've been with my grandparents out around Allegan county. I think my grandfather would really like this place.) It's easy to believe, sitting there surrounded at every angle by antiques, that Bone Heads is haunted.

Don't let the ghosts deter you, though. The food is  truly fantastic! Greg ordered a sandwich called, I'm pretty sure, Death By Pork that he continues to talk about weeks after our visit. It, indeed, would have been the death of me. There are three different pig products on it! Bacon, pulled pork, and I forget the third. (The menu won't load all the way for me, so I can't double-check on their website.) Greg was in hog heaven. And it was served with homemade potato chips, the perfect companion. We were supposed to go again last night with his family, but plans fell through. I bet he dreamed of that sandwich all night. (We ended up at Twisted Rooster instead, just the two of us, and ordered their amazing Southwest Nachos, so dinner was not a total loss.)

As for me, I chose the country fried chicken smothered in gravy, served with onion straws and some ridiculously delicious cornbread muffins. My mouth is absolutely watering at the memory. I want to eat the picture I took. The cornbread muffins were probably the best I've ever had in my life. And I have eaten a lot of cornbread in my day! The gravy was creamy and so full of flavor. Greg and I were both so absorbed in our food, I think the Ghostbusters could have come in and we wouldn't have noticed.

Speaking of ghosts, the woman in white that is often seen on the stairs has been named Nellie by the staff. Neither Greg nor I saw her, nor any of the other activity, such as swinging lights, that is said to go on here. I was, however, overcome by a creepy feeling in the bathroom. I can't tell if it was a supernatural atmosphere  - there is at least one report of seeing more than one's own reflection in the mirror - or the giant welcome sign inside the bathroom stall, or the fake ivy and flowers wrapped around and draped over everything, or the cherubs and prayers decorating the walls. I very much felt that I had walked into a church's gazebo. 

The men's room was a very different story. No, I did not go inside, so this is second hand information courtesy of Greg. Those walls were decorated with vintage advertisements for prostitution licenses and cures for syphilis, so quite the opposite end of the spectrum from the ladies'. 

If you are anywhere within an hour of tiny Willis, MI (or Ypsilanti Township if that's easier for you to picture), don't let the ghosts or bathrooms scare you away from a truly phenomenal meal. Bone Heads BBQ is country home cooking at its best. I can't wait to go back!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Chicken Legs in Fig Butter and Pasta Salad

I've had this fig butter from Trader Joe's in my fridge for quite a while now. Since it still seemed good, I decided to use it as a glaze on some fresh chicken legs. Some may recall when I used this same fig butter with balsamic vinegar on chicken breasts, and also how delicious it was! 

I decided to repeat the same first couple of steps, mix a few tablespoons of fig butter with some splashes of balsamic vinegar in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring often. This melted the fig butter and blended it with the vinegar. 

Meanwhile, I filled a glass baking dish with 4 chicken legs (the package had 5, so there is one lone chicken leg hanging out in my fridge that I'm not sure what to do with yet) and poked them a few times with a sharp knife because I've noticed this helps them cook through more quickly. 

When the sauce was sufficiently saucy, I drizzled it over the chicken legs, using a rubber scraper to be sure to get all of it out of the pan, and better spread it across the legs. I baked the chicken legs in the oven at 350F for about 45 minutes.

After that was put into the oven, I started boiling a big pot for bow-tie pasta, or farfalle, as Trader Joe's prefers to call it. Fun fact: "Farfalle" is Italian for "butterflies," a reference to the pasta's shape.
Also going on the stove was my large frying pan with Trader Joe's Healthy 8 Chopped Veggie Mix, which I stir-fried/steamed for just a few minutes. Once the pasta was al dente, I drained it and tossed it in the Veggie Mix, mixing thoroughly. To this was added about half a bottle of another Trader Joe's product (can you tell where I went shopping this week?), the Tuscan Italian Dressing. Any balsamic vinaigrette would probably do, I just happen to like this one a lot because it has wonderful herbs and a sweet flavor.

The veggies are supposed to still be a little crisp. I think mine sat too long while I was assembling everything, because they ended up a little mushy. The salad was still quite tasty I thought - strangely a bit buttery - and there was plenty left over to pack for lunches later in the week.

As for the chicken legs, they turned out more or less like barbecued chicken legs, so pretty messy! I really liked the one I had. Greg must have liked them, too, since he ate the other three. This actually made me very sad. I was looking forward to having my second one for lunch later in the week. Chicken legs are one of my favorite foods. I am happy he liked them, though. I guess. Can't help noticing that I am the only one eating the pasta salad. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bacon Street Fair and Taste of Ann Arbor 2013

While cleaning up at work one day, I picked up a flyer for Camp Bacon, a weekend event that, apparently, Zingerman's (Ann Arbor's own food aristocracy) has put on every year since I moved to Ann Arbor and that I had never heard of before. Probably because the focus is pig bacon, which I rarely eat.

That actually disappointed me a little. A bacon festival should be about bacon in all its forms! I've eaten bacon from three different animals in my life - pigs, turkeys, and cows - and the only samples offered were from the pig. At the nearby Sparrow Meat Market, located inside the Kerrytown Shops building, I found something labeled as duck bacon. This I need to try!

Anyway, back to Camp Bacon. A number of my friends are apart of this current bacon craze (it ranks up there with the weird mustache craze), so I took the flyer and spread the word. Miraculously, my boyfriend Greg and I both had that Sunday off, so we decided to head down to the Ann Arbor Farmers Market and check it out. Also on Sundays, the Market plays host to the Ann Arbor Artisans Market, and the Kerrytown Shops are always fun.

The Bacon Street Fair took up maybe a third of the market space, the rest being the artisan market, so there was a variety of things to look at. San Street, a regular at Mark's Carts, was also there serving lunch. Of course, the main attraction, though, was the bacon. Almost every table offered some kind of bacon sample. I was a trooper and tried a few different samples, but only one and a tiny bit made it into my stomach (the others I spit back out). The chocolate fudge made from pork fat was possibly the worst, though I have to concede the woman at the table's suggestion that it could be melted down and used as a glaze, or, if you're into that kind of thing, melting it over an ice cream sundae. Salty-sweet and so on. Greg bought a pound for a few dollars and we took it to Game Night where it received mixed reviews.

After getting some coffee from Sweetwaters, Greg and I headed back toward Main Street to investigate why it was closed off and what all the tents were. It turned out to be an event that I have attended before (Taste of Ann Arbor 2011) and one I feel I should have known about: Taste of Ann Arbor. "Taste of" anything is probably my favorite event in any city ever. Taste of Ann Arbor is especially helpful to me because it lets me inexpensively try all the mostly fancy restaurants located around me every day at work, and note which ones would be worth investigating later. After Taste of Ann Arbor 2011, Conor O'Neill's became one of my favorite downtown destinations.

Greg and I agreed that our first try, the Jamaican Jerk Pit, is definitely worth going to later for a full meal. The jerk chicken was so tender and delicious, I could have eaten a whole chicken's worth. Looking over the menu, the prices are more than reasonable, and you can order online. AND they deliver for free, which is exciting for me because I tend to order out at least once a week at one of my two jobs.

We also eagerly tried samples from Lena, which replaced Parthenon on the corner of Liberty and Main. Since most of their offerings were pork-based, we got a yapingacho and split it. Yapingacho is described on the Lena menu as "cheese-stuffed griddled potato cakes with annatto oil, avocado, peanut sauce and chorizo." It was all right. A little bland. I'd still like to have a meal there sometime, preferably without pork.

Partway through our perusal of the booths, I realized that the last time I was at Taste of Ann Arbor with my then roommate Kimmy, we'd made a terrific discovery! A tall, thin guy sporting a full werewolf's mask and playing the violin. Yes, that was our first encounter with the Violin Monster, and, I believe, one of his first appearances. (Kimmy actually ended up becoming friends with him for a while.) And I found him again, this time in much fancier attire as befitting a monster of his fine community standing. (Last time he was wearing cut-offs. This time he had on a vest.)

I wish I had been aware of this year's Taste of Ann Arbor in advance, but I am glad that I was still able to attend and try out some new restaurants. This reminds me of Ann Arbor's Restaurant Week, which occurs twice a year, and, after a quick Bing search to verify, is happening next week! I'll have to keep an eye out for posters downtown since the website seems a bit out of date. This means more culinary adventures for me. Yay!