Campus Chowdown Ep. 4: Tios Mexican Cafe (University of Michigan)

We wanted to spice our new episode of Campus Chowdown up, so we invited Guy Fieri to come host the episode.  In the fourth installment of Campus Chowdown, the boys attempt to conquer Mt. Nacheesmo, a five-pound nacho platter, at Tios Mexican Cafe in Ann Arbor.

This was the first challenge that we have featured that was also showcased by Adam Richman on Man v. Food.  He was able to put it down, but will we?

Thai Hard: A Burger Experiment

Them's some fresh greens.

Them’s some fresh greens.

Anybody who’s been around a kitchen enough knows it’s never wrong to cook with wine. Pour some in the pan, and some in the glass (then repeat as needed). As important as wine is to the process of cooking, I think it’s imperative to cook with good herbs. Now, hold on—don’t go there. Spices, I’m talking spice, girls. What’s a fish taco without cilantro? Bruschetta without basil? Nothing that tickles my fancy, that’s for sure. Herbs provide food with that extra refreshing kick, taking any dish to the next level. It also helps the food taste authentic, giving it the taste of the region. Down in Mexico they love their cilantro, so adding it to tacos creates the nostalgia of cuisine they may have had while vacationing south of the border. Same goes with the cayenne and flavor of Texas barbeque rub, with the right combination of spices, you can create that signature bite.

There’s no denying, I’m totally hooked on food shows like Triple D, Man v Food, and the many adventures of Anthony Bourdain. I credit these shows for getting me passionate, not only about eating unique foods, but preparing them myself. The episodes are like video cookbooks—they literally show you how to create amazing dishes step by step. The other day I saw an episode where Guy Fieri was showcasing a Thai food truck and the chef put together a mouth-watering lamb burger—and put mint and cilantro in with the meat. She then topped the sandwich with some traditional slaw that you often see on Vietnamese and Thai sandwiches. I needed it. The crunch of the slaw, coupled with a refreshing minty burger, set against hot Thai peppers—yes, please. Before I could begin creating an Asian burger of my own, I was judo-chopped with more inspiration after a visit to Detroit’s Green Dot Stables and sampling their Korean slider. It’s a one of a kind burger, the likes of which I have never seen: topped with mild kim chi and peanut butter on the bottom. Somehow this combination of complete opposite flavors comes together perfectly. The hot(ish) kim chi cooled by the peanut butter to create what can only be described as harmony. There was no need to wait; I was ready to get started on my Thai Burger experiment.

Green Dot Stables' Korean Slider (Detroit)

Green Dot Stables’ Korean Slider (Detroit)

When I think of Thai flavors, peanut comes to mind first. Maybe that’s just because Pad Thai comes with peanuts? But I feel like it’s common there, so I was for sure going to follow the Green Dot’s lead and incorporate it into the burger. After doing some research, I had a list of ingredients put together and went out to the market. For the slaw topping, I gathered red peppers, broccoli slaw, garlic, cucumbers, basil, cilantro, ginger (great taste, but a lot of work to peel/grate), and a sweet red chili Thai sauce to marinate it all in for that extra hi-ya. You mix all of that together, add some salt and olive oil then set aside to cool.

Thai Slaw. Red pepper, ginger, cilantro, basil, broccoli slaw, garlic, and cucumber.

Thai Slaw. Red pepper, ginger, cilantro, basil, broccoli slaw, garlic, and cucumber.

Ordinary mayo wasn’t going to cut it with this theme, so something funky had to be created. That’s where the magic of cilantro comes into play. I’m a big supporter of cilantro. If cilantro cologne were a thing, I’d probably buy it. For this mayo concoction, there wasn’t a lot of creativity needed. Just add some cilantro and basil to the mayo, a squeeze of limejuice, light olive oil and throw that bad lad in the fridge—don’t serve warm mayo, homie (cc: Michael Scott).

Ooo white death.

Ooo white death.

The meat is where things start to really get interesting. Following the recipe of the food truck lady, you start by adding some mint to the ground meat. Not much is needed; mint can be pretty strong (although recommended on dates). Green onions then get added to the party, along with some crumbled Sriracha kettle chips for flavor and to use as a binding agent within the meat. Finish by adding some additional sweet red chili sauce to the equation, mix it all together, and get the grill a-going. When ready, apply peanut butter to the bottom bun, grill the top bun and add your cilantro mayo, then place the burger and top with the slaw mix. If you listen closely, you can hear your taste buds thanking you after each bite.

Finished product.

Finished product.

As Guy would say, these burgers were bomb-dot-com, on point, and approved by the Mayor of Flavortown. You almost forget that you’re eating a burger, because the unique flavors combine to create an entirely different eating experience. You now have all the ingredients needed to make it happen, or I encourage you to watch an episode to get inspired to re-create something on your own.

Union Woodshop: A BBQ Smoke Session

Woodshop

When you tell somebody that you’re from Clarkston (Michigan), you’ll likely receive one of two responses: something about Pine Knob (or as the suits would call it ,“DTE Energy Music Theatre”) or something about The Union’s mac and cheese. It may be a small town, but it’s got spotlight eats. The Union’s mac and cheese is so good that you can’t take your eyes off of it to notice Kid Rock at the table next to you. (he’s a regular, the dude’s got good taste for…good taste). It’s so good that the competition is desperate to get their hands on the recipe—having been caught literally trying to get their hands on the recipe. The Union’s grub, interesting ambience (being built inside an old church) and friendly staff led to such great success that the team was able to open a second restaurant (and later a third, and a fourth) next door, the Union Woodshop. The Woodshop offers a different menu than its sister restaurant, focusing on my favorite of all the foods; and since Valentine’s Day is meant to be spent surrounded by what you love, I got some BBQ.

If the Woodshop was a dude, he’d be bearded, sporting a button-up plaid shirt, half-rim glasses, a beanie, but also, like, really good at fixing cars. If that imagery doesn’t work for you, it’s a hipster’s log cabin, with great craft brews, wood-fire pizzas, and mouth-watering, Guy Fieri endorsed smoked ‘que. Like Guy demonstrates on Triple D, my go-to order is the Porker—because what goes better with pork, than more pork? Ground pork patty, house-made hot link, and maple smoked bacon combined with explosive pickled chilies, smoked cheddar, and some South Carolina mayo spread. With all that pig no wonder Porky had a stutter. Poor guy was scared s***less.

A poor phone photo of the Porker.

A poor phone photo of the Porker.

If all of that pork makes you feel like a pig, the wood-fire pizzas are always on point. I’d recommend the Woodshop pizza, their version of the BBQ chicken pizza. In addition to the smoked chicken, you get pulled pork, brisket, onions, and a tangy Memphis sauce. The other pizzas are good, too; but I have a hard time going to a BBQ joint and not getting BBQ. It’s a sin, certainly a regret (for the secular).

tea jar

Food isn’t the only highlight of the place, however. Upstairs is also, in my opinion, the “hottest” bar in town. Now, that’s not saying much because there are only, like, three or four bars in town—but it’s still really cool! The music is hip, the feng shui is peaceful, and I fall in love with every server, but that’s just me. There are so many reasons to go to the Woodshop, make it happen.

Coney 2014: Detroit’s Top Dog

Two Big Chiefs from Bob E.'s Super Chief in Pontiac.

Two Big Chiefs from Bob E.’s Super Chief in Pontiac.

Texas has it’s brisket, Chicago is known for deep dish, and in Detroit we have our Coney Dogs. Brought to Michigan in the early 1900’s by Greek immigrants—you know what, forget the history lesson. Hot dog, onions, mustard, and a meaty (typically beanless) chili sauce—experienced veterans go “heavy, heavy.” They’re cheap, never keep you waiting, and a traditional classic—making it the ideal food for the blue-collar Detroiter. Just like any city you may find yourself in, the food is a reflection of its people—and people in Detroit aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves. Like the city, Coney Dogs are simple, disheveled, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Downtown, there are two famous Coney powerhouses, Lafayette and American Coney Island. Next-door neighbors creating a debate among Detroiters that has stretched several generations: who makes the best Coney Dog? It’s a pretty big deal here. The wrong loyalty has been known to end relationships and divide the happiest of homes. Personally, I come from a family with a strong allegiance to Lafayette. If you ever visit, make sure to check out their bathroom—it’s worth the trip. Lafayette and American Coney Island get all the national attention when it comes to Detroit Coney Dogs, but they face a lot of competition. Chains like National Coney Island and Leo’s Coney Island can be found in just about every strip mall in the state. Then, there are the small unheard of Coney joints. The hole in the walls, and well-kept secrets; the types of places even Guy Fieri hasn’t heard of—and it was inside a place like this, about twenty-five minutes outside of the city, that I found Detroit’s best Coney.

Pontiac’s ‘Bob E.’s Super Chief’ holds a special place in my heart. It’s like that indie song you found a year before it started getting plays on the radio. I’m torn between wanting to tell the world about it, and wanting it all for myself. But enough is enough; people have to know about this place. It’s small, fitting maybe fifty people at its maximum capacity. The ambiance is rustic and old fashion—a very nostalgic feel, how it would look if your Grandma were to open her own diner. It feels a lot like home, and the staff always goes out of their way to make you feel like family. However, it’s not the outstanding service or feng shui that makes Super Chief the Top Dog—it’s their Coney. That Coney and its delicious, grilled, buttery bun. Food Porn is an appropriate name. Hold photographs of their buns next to Nikki’s and see which set really make you salivate. The grilled bun adds a satisfying crunch to start and end each bite in ecstasy.

What else separates Super Chief from its competitors? About six inches. Super Chief specializes in footlongs—the perfect solution to their problem of people devouring their product so quickly. I went today and ordered two. After I finished, another pair didn’t sound too bad. They’re so good they always leave you wanting more. Well, except for that time, inspired by Adam Richman, I boldly proclaimed that I could eat six footlongs in a sitting—so my dad took me up on it. Turns out once you get around four, they lose a lot of appeal.

You can never have just one...

You can never have just one…

If you’re in Detroit and looking for a quick and easy fix, it won’t be hard to find somewhere to chowdown. But if you’re looking for the best Coney around, take the trip to Bob E.’s Super Chief on Walton Road in Pontiac. Make a day of it; turn it into a Harold and Kumar type road trip—a journey to get Super Chief’d.

Bob E.'s Super Chief on Walton Rd. in Pontiac

Bob E.’s Super Chief on Walton Rd. in Pontiac

Campus Chowdown: Conrad’s East Lansing

For the first episode of our new food porn web series “Campus Chowdown“, my good friend Al Karsten and I head to our favorite East Lansing grub spot—Conrad’s Collegetown Grill—where we attempt to throw back 3 gigantic wraps each.  Check it out!