It’s a big week in restaurant news here at G3. Just the other day, Maria declared us Ready for The Redding. Now I’m saying, All Aboard the Blue Tractor.
The Blue Tractor is a new BBQ & brewery restaurant that just opened Monday on Washington St., next door to Cafe Habana. Had I not known it was the restaurant’s first night, I never would have guessed; everything seemed to be running quite smoothly. Don’t let the rusty truck parts fool you: the Blue Tractor is ready to roll.
Ok, enough with the motor metaphors. Let’s get down to business: the BT is serving up some tasty BBQ fare, bar food favorites, and house-brewed beers at prices that are blessedly reasonable (main dishes between $11-$20 or so; sandwiches in the $8-$12 range), in a lovely space and with experienced staff. Folks, I’m excited about this one. While purists and those who have been lucky enough to live in Texas or North Carolina might not deem the Blue Tractor’s take on barbecue “the real deal,” I’d venture that it will more than suffice for those of us in Ann Arbor with an appetite for brisket, ribs, and beer-can chicken.
We ordered an array a plates to share, starting out with the Basket of Fried Goodness — fried green tomatoes, fried okra, and cornmeal batter-fried pickles. Yum, yum, and yummmm. These were served with a tangy buttermilk dressing for dipping — such a lovely improvement over plain ranch. I washed this down with a house-made cream ale, and liked how mild, smooth, and lightly carbonated it was.
In addition to the beers brewed in-house, beer by the can is also on offer for about $2.50 a pop. I thought this was a nice feature in a few ways. First, choice is good. Not everyone loves a microbrew. Some of us really love our Blatz or our Pabst, and if you find yourself in that camp, you’d be in luck at the BT. Second, the aesthetics of a beer can + barbecue are not to be underestimated. It’s an iconic pairing, like Gatorade and a winning football coach. And there’s a practical side of this pairing: barbecue is food you eat with your hands, and it’s a lot easier, I’d venture, to grasp a can with saucy fingers than a pint glass. But I digress.
We shared the following dishes for dinner: the Carolina Pulled Pork with grits and greens; a cornmeal waffle with creamed mushrooms (a nice vegetarian spin on chicken and waffles); some sliders with cheese and “special sauce” served in a basket with fries; and a side of uncommonly good mac & cheese. Despite the food not being quite as hot as we’d like, everything tasted fresh and homemade–delicious, even. This is not elegant fare, to be sure, and I like that the restaurant is not trying to be too fancy, retro, or cute. It’s laid back without being lazy.
If we could make a few recommendations to the BT: while we generally are ok with a dark bar, the tables in the front room where we sat were oddly lit. (I offer the pictures above as evidence.) Two people were sitting in very dark seats, and the other two had a spotlight shining down on them; it was a little distracting. And we also thought it bizarre that there is nowhere to hang coats. Winter is coming to the SeMi (southeast Michigan, natch); we need hooks for our Patagonia and our Northface. We might be enjoying the Carolina fare, but we are regrettably not in a Carolina climate.
These minor things aside, we were in agreement that the Blue Tractor scored high marks on its opening night. Our server struck the right note between friendly and efficient; our wallets weren’t too much lighter when we left; and our bellies were very full. But don’t take my word for it: the buzz seems to be growing. Videos of the place have been posted on Flickr. (Check them out for a quick tour of the space and better shots of the food than my pics above.) The hoisting of the Blue Tractor sign was covered recently by The Ann Arbor Chronicle. And just this morning I noticed that someone already posted a missed connection on Craigslist. The Blue Tractor has arrived.