By Sarah Shurge – When the word ‘barbecue’ is mentioned, many people’s minds go directly to Texas-style or Southern-style barbecue. You can already picture it in your head.
The City of Wayne is excited to welcome its first barbecue restaurant, Taste the Smoke, but this is a different style of barbecue.
“There isn’t just one way barbecue should be served. This is Michigan barbecue. This is different. We smoke low and slow,” said Curtis Huffman, owner/chef of Taste the Smoke. “We rely on our smoking process as well as blends of seasoning. Sauce is an option, it’s not a go-to.”
Taste the Smoke soft-opened for the weekends on Friday, January 13th, and Saturday, January 14th. There was a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday, April 18th, and grand opening on Friday, April 21st, and Saturday, April 22nd.
Taste the Smoke officially opened for regular hours on Wednesday, April 26th.
“It’s been good. There’s a lot of firsts here – this is my first barbecue place and this is the city’s first barbecue place. It’s like we were chosen for each other. It’s great to be the first,” said Huffman.
However, Taste the Smoke almost didn’t open in Wayne.
“It happened by pure opportunity and chance,” said Huffman. “Originally my idea for a restaurant was for another state and another location. I decided to start here and give it a try so I don’t have to relocate everything right away.”
Huffman’s original idea was for a casual dining restaurant in south Florida. He drew up the idea for the process but then an opportunity appeared.
The building Pizza Hut was located in was up for lease. Huffman attended a meeting there and one thing led to another.
“I was looking for a new location for my catering business, but then I came up with the idea for barbecue,” said Huffman.
Huffman has been working with food since he was a kid. He comes from a family of cooking but his mom was the first official chef in the family. She owned a Coney Island and Huffman’s dad owned a jazz club.
“I would always stay in the kitchen, not knowing I would grow up to be a chef,” said Huffman.
Huffman was a chef at Comerica Park in Detroit for the Tigers for 10 years.
“I played baseball, my kids played baseball. I come from a baseball world. But I stepped away to do my own thing,” said Huffman.
Huffman opened Thunderbowl Grill inside Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park. After that, he started his catering business, A Special Taste, in 2011 at a banquet hall in Livonia. Now he opened his first restaurant, Taste the Smoke, in Wayne.
“The City of Wayne is such a community. It’s been a heck of an experience,” said Huffman. “It’s cool to see the community supporting the community. This is the next thing for me to do and to see the community behind me without even knowing me – I’m new and I’m being embraced – that’s the best.”
I personally visited Taste the Smoke on Saturday, April 30th. I ordered the ribs, which come with two sides, so I chose the fries and macaroni and cheese. Sauce is not a go-to, but there is a condiments station, so I picked up some sweet barbecue and pit barbecue sauce.
“A lot of people expect it to be fire and fast. We’re not a pit where it’s fire and fast,” said Huffman. “I’ve created literature that explains what smoking means as opposed to pit-style barbecue, which is what you’re doing in your backyard.”
That literature is posted on a large sign to the left of the door when you walk inside the restaurant.
“Once you find out what it means to smoke, I hope that changes your thoughts,” said Huffman. “Don’t be judgemental. Accept our process and try it without expectation.”
You should come read about the smoke process yourself and then order something to eat. Huffman stated that the best sellers at Taste the Smoke are the ribs, pulled pork, and the brisket.
“Watching people sit at the tables that I put together myself, is rewarding to see. The atmosphere that is being created, to watch it go from a thought through the process, is really rewarding. Especially when people say they like something that I wasn’t sure would work,” said Huffman.
Huffman is focused on making himself available for constructive criticism and being available to listen to customers.
“The community has welcomed me with open arms and I appreciate it. It makes me feel like I chose the right place,” said Huffman. “Keep supporting us so we can make it and we can survive. I didn’t start here to leave. I started here for this to be the first Taste the Smoke for many more to come. Wayne is our home, where we started, and hopefully we never have to leave.”
Taste the Smoke is located at the corner of W. Michigan Ave and Elizabeth St. where the old Pizza Hut used to be.
Taste the Smoke is open Wednesday through Sunday, 3 p.m. – 10 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, 3 p.m. – 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday (will soon have entertainment or game nights), and 12 p.m. – 7 p.m. on Sunday.
You can contact them at (734)725-5990. You can find them on Instagram by searching “Taste the Smoke” or “A Special Taste.” A website and Facebook are coming soon.