Inside The Kitchen: The Garage Bar & Grill in Northport

This week we drove all the way up to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula where one restaurant is smoking up the entire town of Northport. It’s the Garage Bar and Grill and we’re going Inside The Kitchen.

This year the pork-forward restaurant is going into its 6th summer of smokey goodness. From pulled pork to smoked chicken, the northern meat mecca was a need that owner Bruce Viger saw long ago.

“We originally had a seasonal barbecue which didn’t work so we decided to put in a bar because Northport didn’t have anything in the winter. So, now it does.”

It’s an open-air space that combines sunshine, good drink and good food. And after a ten-year stunt in Texas, Chef George Twine was a shoe in for the barbecue biz.

“Once you understand that you can’t rush it, then it’s fine. It’s just taking something that is usually the humblest cuts of meat, the toughest, gnarliest cuts of meat, and with time and smoke and patience, turn it into something that falls apart in your mouth and is delicious. It’s pretty neat.”

The pork prep starts the evening before, cooking 15 hours at 200 degrees. Tender and juicy to the touch, the shoulder blades slip out like butter, giving us perfect, unadulterated smoked meat.

“Every night I’ll put 160 pounds in, by the end of the night, it’s just about gone. If not, sometimes we run out. People really really enjoy it.”

So, lesson one—come early. 

From the smoker it’s piled however you can imagine. But the sandwiches ultimately come in two sizes. There’s big, AKA “mini.” And then there’s bigger, the “proper” pulled pork, as George says.

Whatever size, they’re served with homemade slaw and slathered with a sweet Memphis-style sauce or a vinegar-based Carolina . And still there’s more sauciness to be had.

“So were going to start with mayo. A gallon, we use a gallon here.” George empties the gallon into a mixing bowl. It’s the start to his garlic aioli that has a mean sweet and spicy combination kick. From there he adds lemon juice, garlic, sriracha and honey. When all’s mixed and done, it’s served as an appetizer with homemade, crunchy sweet potato fries. And if you’re at all a sweet chip fan, this is a must-order. The chips are fresh and oblong-shaped, true to their vegetable size. And they’re the perfect side to the vegetarian black bean burger. 

“A lot of times vegetarians feel left out, you know there’s nothing dedicated, they’re eating salad. So this is something that vegetarians feel happy about eating. It’s for them.”

It starts with black beans, corn, onion, and cilantro, then mixes with garbanzo bean flour, cumin and cheese. It’s hand-combined for a texture complexity and hits the grill then sandwiched between cracked wheat with cilantro aioli, cucumbers (great crunch!!), lettuce and tomato. 

But whether you’re a meat lover, vegetarian, or somewhere in between, George says the Garage Bar and Grill is where you need to park this summer.

“What we’re trying to do is put out food that people like to eat in an atmosphere that’s fun and relaxed. And like I said before, we take our food seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.”