Food truck quick bite: Mama's TJM BBQ...pulled pork Michigan style
The SO is having a family reunion! Great, where is it? South Haven, MI! Where's that? I don't know, somewhere off Lake Michigan or something, what does it matter? And that is how one ends up on the shores of Lake Michigan in the middle of summer with almost the entire side of the SO's fam. But hey, summer lake life brings summer thunder and lightning storms , something we don't get in SF! (And didn't really get there even though it was promised by the weather man. But it did rain relentlessly for two full days!) Evidently, South Haven seems to be the "Catskills of the Midwest" and if you are interested, feel free to get your history lesson here.
I figured I could make the most of it by searching out some of the food options in the area while there as a change of pace from SF. I was told there was a farmer's market in town and was totally up for checking it out to see what the local farmers were pushing in the Midwest. Turns out it was pretty much a store run by a local big farm selling their goods and stuff. I think I had visions of something else when it was being described to me but I was just a tad underwhelmed when I saw it was right off the interstate and down the street from Walmart. Not a bad thing per se, but not what I had built up in my mind.
However, to my surprise, sitting in the parking lot of the "farmer's market" was a food trailer, an Airstream type thing to be exact, and they were serving up barbecue of all things. Of course I could not resist checking them out to see what was on offer and see how prices might be different from bay area food trucks. Called Mama's TJM BBQ, the TJM stands for tender, juicy meat, they had the smoker right there beside the trailer and the smell of cooking meat was more than enough to entice me. Sadly, it was the in-between time, not too long after lunch and not long before dinner, thus I didn't think I could chow down on a full rack or something, which they do offer along with chicken and brisket.
I thus turned my attention to the sandwiches as it seemed the best way to go for a quick bite of something and needless to say, I veered toward the pulled pork. Though I had a few questions for them first. Was the pork sauced? And if so, how much? What did it taste like? And was there slaw on the sandwich? Fortunately, the woman serving it up was more than happy to offer samples of the stuff and I decided to just give the full on pulled pork sandwich a try.
Okay, first off, it was $8, which creeps close to what they charge here in town. But I figured the serving portion would probably be larger, cause you know, Midwest, and it was. She really piled on the pork plus a full layer of cole slaw underneath. Initially when I got it, the fact it was on a pretzel bun kind of threw me a bit. Usually you just see these on regular hamburger or brioche buns. Pretzel seemed an odd choice but okay. The bun is toasted and a bit heartier than those other types and I guess when you get this much wet meat, you need a bun that will stand up and last with it through every bite. Not sure I was completely sold on it as an option, but it did its job.
I did think there was a tad too much sauce mixed in the pork. Normally I'm old school NC bbq with just the vinegar and seasonings, this sauce at least was not sweet and they definitely used vinegar in the mix along with tomatoes, black pepper, etc so it was not of the sweet variety at least. First bite impressions were not overwhelming to me, but as I had more of it, I liked it better. While there was a lot of sauce, you could still taste the smokiness in the meat through it which was a nice touch without being overwhelming. The slaw was a mix of both vinegar, mayo and a dash of sugar to add more of a compliment to the tangy sauce and smoky meat. This was definitely a messy two handed sandwich which I eventually ended up using a fork to eat.
Since I can't stop myself sometimes from trying other things, I noticed their sides were all priced at $1. I mean seriously, how could I pass up trying at least one of them for that cost. Since I was kind of on vacation and not really worrying about "eating right" I zeroed in on mac and cheese.
It was a shells mac and cheese with a thick coating of cheese that had a sticky texture somewhere between nacho cheese from Taco Bell and the cheese that comes in a can in Kraft's mac and cheese. It also seemed to have some kind of smoky flavor to it you could sort of taste on the back end. It was just okay for me, but the SO really seemed to enjoy. Ultimately, it isn't exactly the biggest size, and is akin to those small sides you get at KFC, but for $1, I'd say it was still totally worth the four or five bites you get out of it.
I can't say I was wowed taste wise with the pulled pork or the mac and cheese, but they had enough things going for them they were worth trying. Plus, I was intrigued enough to wanna go back sometime and give the ribs and collards greens a whirl. That is if I ever find myself in the wilds of South Haven by the shores of Lake Michigan, because you know, sun sand, beach and water are my favorite things! Right up there with the heat, humidity and mosquitos which were also quite prevalent. The sacrifices I go through just to eat some smoked meats!