When I visit my friend Craig in Detroit, going to Bert's is our thing. We always shop for produce at Eastern Market, and then the overwhelming smell of smoke inevitably pulls us across the street to the old-school barbecue joint. There's a line of five massive drums outside—a sea of black pits and so much smoke it's hard to see the crisp-golden, slightly charred chickens and thick racks of pork ribs glistening as they cook. Tony is always there, in a straw cowboy hat and wraparound glasses, tending to the pits and cutting board all day. I order the ribs, my favorite. Tony grabs an enormous rack from the grill and cuts through it with a big knife. I swear he cuts a million a day. He douses them with sauce and hands me a plate with a wide smile and a nod. Craig and I take seats by the windowsill so we can hear the jazz drifting from inside. We talk about the future of Eastern Market. There's so much gentrification now; will a chain take over? Will Bert's still be here? I take a forkful of smoky, perfectly sweet baked beans and then a sip of lemonade. It's a little sugary, but I love my lemonade a little sugary. It's a sweet scene at Bert's—every time I go, it's always the same.
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