A smokehouse may seem like an unlikely choice for a fine-dining chef, but owner Mike Johnson’s passion for barbecue shines through in dishes like the Big Muddy. The smoky-sweet sandwich comes piled with smoked brisket, jalapeno cheddar sausage and housemade sauces that make for “great layers of flavor,” Michael Symon says.
You can stock up on lotto tickets at this old-school diner, but for a sure win, order the double cheeseburger. Fans include Paul Kahan, who told Michael Symon he’s struck by “the balance of bun to meat to griddled onions” achieved in this simple yet satisfying dish. Michael opted for the Slinger: an over-the-top spin on a double cheeseburger. Two cheese-covered patties are nestled on a thatch of hash browns, then topped with a pair of sunnyside up eggs and completely smothered in spicy chili.
Judging by the name Brown Butter alone, Michael Symon had high expectations for this spot that offers creative spins on Southern staples. The Brown Butter Brunch Burger did not disappoint. A short rib and brisket patty comes blanketed in Brie cheese and topped with bacon onion jam, which adds “smokiness, sweetness and acidity” to the dish, Michael says. A sunny-side-up egg completes the creation.
Cajun classics are punched up with fresh twists at this New Orleans restaurant. Michael Symon headed here to try an updated take on a traditional grits dish. Cheesy, tomato-studded grits form the base of this indulgent dish, which comes loaded with succulent crawfish and a creamy yet spicy sauce that Michael says will “wake you up in the morning and put you to bed at night.”
This brick-walled spot may have a minimalist appearance, but the Korean-inspired dishes are all about comfort. A standout is the house burger: A hefty Black Angus beef patty is blanketed with cheddar cheese and crowned with housemade kimchi for a bit of crunch and acidity. The kimchi also adds some zing to another stellar dish, the pork belly buns. Slow-roasted pork belly is topped with the pickled cabbage, then doused with spicy and sweet sauces before being nestled in a steamed bun.
At this barbecue spot, fine-dining-chef-turned-pitmaster Tom Schmidt elevates his hometown’s comfort food classics by adding innovative tweaks to traditional recipes. Michael Symon feasts on Schmidt’s addictive toasted ravioli, which come stuffed with a mixture of burnt ends, mirepoix and cheddar cheese. This combo proves to be irresistible to Michael, who describes the filling as “smoky and rich.”
A trove of family recipes has inspired the meaty creations here, like the Big Fat Greek Burger that Michael Symon says speaks to his “very soul.” A beef patty comes loaded with Greek flavors, thanks to additions like a bright olive tapenade, a creamy red pepper hummus and crunchy pickled cucumbers.
It’s fitting that Speedy Romeo houses a wood-fired oven painted like rocker Eddie Van Halen’s guitar. After all, Chef-Owner Justin Bazdarich is known for his riffs — of the culinary kind. One killer dish is the Paul’s Boutique Pizza. The dough is made from a mix of double-zero and high-gluten flours, resulting in an airy, textured crust. It’s slathered with a Dijon bechamel sauce, then heaped with pastrami, smoked red cabbage kraut and fontina (as well as a flurry of everything-bagel spice) before a quick turn in the oven. Then there’s the KC Royale, a white, clam-studded pizza that Brad Farmerie describes as “almost like taking a bite of clam chowder.”
This fifth-generation-owned fishery is nestled among dozens of fishing shanties in the quaint village of Fishtown. “This is beautiful simplicity and 100 years of history,” Michael Symon says of the spot. Though many of the shanties now house shops, Carlson’s still operates as a fishery capable of processing 1,000 pounds of fish per hour. Customers stop by for specialties such as smoked lake trout. The mild, buttery fish is filleted, then soaked in a saltwater brine and smoked over dry maple wood.
Next Iron Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn turns out perfect patties and impeccable shakes at this spot. With so many tasty eats coming out of the kitchen, Jenni Farley said it smelled “like heaven” when she visited with Michael Symon. The pair slurped down toasted-marshmallow milkshakes made with a fresh custard base and crowned with a quenelle of whipped cream. Michael raved about the Coletti’s Smokehouse burger, whose cheese-slicked patty comes stacked with applewood-smoked bacon and onion rings.
This classic tavern has been serving brews to Traverse City locals since Prohibition ended in 1933. In addition to the beer, crowds head here for the live music and mouthwatering menu items that include the popular Olive Burger. This creation starts with an 80/20 blend of ground chuck that’s handcrafted, then charbroiled sans seasoning. Next, the patty is smothered with sliced green olives, mayo and melted Swiss cheese before being placed in a toasted bun.
Duff's plate of barbecue could have been served in a galvanized bucket. As he says, The Salt Lick BBQ has it all, including pork ribs and sausage. The giant pit in the middle of the restaurant is what makes them special — it's also what makes the best beef ribs Bobby has ever had. As for Michael, he couldn’t get enough of the tender brisket and its “crispy, caramelized bark.”
Calling them "porkapalooza," pork-obsessed Iron Chef Michael Symon loves the pork rinds at The Publican, aka its version of spicy Cheetos. But diners know them better as a great appetizer before feasting on the equally enticing porky entree, Edwards Country Ham.
This quaint shop is housed in a former fishing shanty in the historic village of Fishtown. In addition to its stellar cheese selection (60-plus varieties), this cozy spot is brimming with local specialty items (cherry products and more). It’s also a great place to pop into for sandwiches bursting with fresh ingredients. Opt for the pretzel bread and your sandwich will be built on a fluffy roll that actually does taste like a pretzel, as Michael Symon found out when he stopped by with Mario Batali.
At this artsy beer bar, the brews are paired with some of the freshest burgers around (the grass-fed meat is sourced from the owner’s nearby ranch). A highlight is the Hawaii Consolidated: Its cheese-smothered patty is finished with Canadian bacon, housemade teriyaki sauce and sweet pineapple jam.