In a month when ghosts and Halloween revelers rule, October was the perfect time to visit one of Detroit’s newest restaurants, Grey Ghost.
It was a late Saturday night, the moonless sky was ghost grey and a slight, light, misty fog rose from the wet streets in the late evening air. Just add an old graveyard and a Vincent Price voiceover, and you’d have yourself a pretty nice scary movie.
Now, some people think that Detroit is already scary enough, but I assure you that Grey Ghost isn’t. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s already become, since its debut in late July of this year, a movie many are flocking to enjoy over and over again.
Before moving into its permanent home on the ground floor of the Crystal Loft Building located on 47 E. Watson, just a block off of Woodward in the up-and-coming Brush Park neighborhood, Grey Ghost, named after a legendary prohibition-era rum running “pirate” of these parts, was only an apparition occasionally appearing in local pop-up restaurants. This was all designed to sharpen their menu-to-be and to create a local buzz.
What emerged is now self-billed as a steakhouse and cocktail bar, full of mid-western hospitality.
But, in truth, it’s much, much more.
This is no steakhouse in the traditional sense. Don’t expect a steak on a large platter with an enormous baked potato; you won’t find it here. You don’t WANT to find that here; it would be a waste of talent and real estate.
The chef team of John Vermiglio and Joe Giacomino, both late of many Chicago eateries—most notably A10, Billy Sunday, Table 52 and Jam, have teamed up with Beverage Director Will Lee, a former veteran campaigner at four of Detroit’s most talked about new restaurants, to create a new brand of meat menu with their collective expertise.
Ironically, Grey Ghost’s 80-seat, 2,500 sq. ft. space is within the footprint of the former Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe on Woodward, which closed in February of 2014. As a bonus, in that they now occupy the eastern-most portion of that space, it also allowed them to carve out an additional small outdoor patio space.
As mentioned, my first visit came on a dreary late evening. My second visit was just days later on a warm, sunny, late-October afternoon, which gave me the opportunity to settle in and explore its confines before the crowd scene arrived. And it did arrive.
The exterior of Grey Ghost is a rather simple brick façade with large picture windows and simple signage facing Watson Street.
The interior design cues are sort of urban industrial loft inspired, with brick columns, exposed rafters and duct work, and blackened, perforated metal screening around the kitchen’s outline. Wall surfaces elsewhere include polished grey and white ceramic subway tile, interior exposed brick, decorative wall coverings and distressed plank wood paneling behind the bar.
The bar is topped with repurposed and refinished bowling lane wood while behind the bar, mixology expert and beverage director Will Lee keeps many of his libations displayed on wall-mounted shelves made from (once again) blackened-steel framing.
Other bar-side accents include wire security glass dividers, which separate the bar from the dining area, and simple but surprisingly comfortable black metal bar stools.
The dining area is outfitted with traditional-height dining tables of black-lacquered wood topped with simple table settings, white napkins, ribbed water glasses and two styles of chairs. One fabric covered, one of wood.
All in all, it’s a very comfortable urban setting, one befitting of Brush Park’s ongoing transition from hapless to hip. In fact, this whole neighborhood is in the midst of a building boom, which includes The District (the new home of the Detroit Red Wings) and many businesses, lofts and residences.
It’s also only a short walk from Ford Field, Comerica Park and the Fox Theater. It’s not a bad place to live or to set up shop if you’re an urban dweller.
As usual, my dining experiences were in the bar area, which actually has almost as many seats as does the dining room itself. Having said that, like everyone else in the restaurant, both in the dining room and at the bar, my food was delivered to me by the expeditors, who assist the servers. As such, while I can’t speak specifically to the level of the dining room service, I did pay quite a bit of attention to the service that was being given to them, and it appeared to be quite good throughout both evenings I was there.
On to the food.
I had the opportunity to sample MANY different dishes, 8 in all. Among the highlights were:
Korean Short Ribs, which were unlike most every short rib you’ll ever try and were thin sliced and grilled not braised. Served with crushed peanuts and collard greens, it became a wonderful dish, with its Korean-inspired sauce accented with lemon grass and cilantro. Delish!
I love Pork Belly, and Grey Ghost’s is not the smoky, bacony version but a very pork-like, flavored one that had the unusual accompaniment of a crisp spring roll filled with a liquid center of thousand island dressing, all resting on what the chefs called an Apple Kraut. They suggest you enjoy it all together. I did, and it turned out to be a very interesting and well-thought-out dish.
Sweet Potato Agnolotti are pockets of stuffed pasta with Chipotle and Grilled Broccoli. I almost made a meal of this dish, but I had other things to try. They were excellent.
Fried Bologna. When is that last time you saw this item on an up-and-coming restaurant’s menu, huh? Theirs is house-made, thin-sliced then somewhat crispy-fried, and served on a Waffle with Sharp Cheddar and Jalapeno. Wha-, you say? Trust me. It works.
Brussels Sprouts. While you see this vegetable on many hip menus nowadays, I’m not sure anyone’s done it better. Tossed in a honey/vinegar gastric sauce and topped with crispy chicken skin cracklin’s, it’s amazingly addictive.
I also sampled a wonderful chilled salad of shaved Butternut Squash and Apple with Green Mole, Pomegranate and Apple; a Steak Tar Tar with BBQ Chips, Horseradish and Egg Yolk; and Sea Scallops with Celery Chowder and Hot Sauce.
These choices still left un-tasted Lamb, Quail, Pork, Trout and Yellow Fin Tuna on the menu of my last visit. As mentioned, they bill themselves as a steakhouse, and as such, they DO have two signature steaks, one a Rib Eye with Peppercorn Butter and the other a N.Y. Strip with Hollandaise. They also have a few simple but fun desserts, which include their Chocolate Donut, Peaches and Cream Pie and a P.B. & J. Sundae.
As for the rest, here’s my box score. *(5 being highest/best where numbers are listed)
Menu Intimidation Factor MIF 1.0
Unless you’re spending all of your discretionary dining dollars at Applebee’s, you’ve probably by now learned what Charcuterie is. That said, for any of you first timers venturing into the world of modern American cuisine on your own, Grey Ghost has made it almost silly easy for you to understand what you’re ordering and what you’ll be served. And if you take Uber to get there, you won’t even have to worry about where it’s located.
If it’s street legal, you’re in. Having said that, I don’t know if it’s hip or sacrilegious to eat a $55 Steak dressed in faded jeans and a t-shirt that says “I love my cat.” That’s something you’ll have to decide.
The Crowd 3.5,
A mixture of the usual suspects with perhaps a bent toward a slightly younger, urban professional crowd. Sure, there are the foodies and the newbies, but my guess is that Grey Ghost will eventually become a pre- and post-Tiger, Lions and Red Wings game dining destination mixed with the Brush Park residents and out-of-towners looking for a high-quality, authentic, Detroit urban-dining experience.
Unlike many restaurants of this size that DO NOT take reservations (which can be completely annoying) Grey Ghost does, which can hurt their bottom line if you don’t show up, thus leaving people waiting in the bar for a table, completely incensed as they stare at empty seats Grey Ghost trusted you’d be sitting in. If you don’t like being told you have to wait an hour + for a table because the restaurant you chose to go to doesn’t accept reservations, then honor the reservations you make at places that DO accept them. Don’t make me get angry!
At the moment, it’s not the best. There’s limited street parking up and down the block because construction traffic and private residential currently take up some of that street space. The situation is improving, however. Hang in there. The neighborhood is safe enough for you to walk a block or so. Either don’t sweat it, or make an early reservation.
Bang for the Buck 3.5
I love the straightforward, contemporary, steakhouse menu, and you’re likely to find the friendly, neighborhood-like atmosphere with simple, comfortable décor right up your ally. However, make no mistake, with menu prices of $10 to $15 for appetizers and $13 to $55 for entrees, it’s in line with many high-end steak houses (with tons more imagination and no stuffy, country club trappings). Grey Ghost’s imaginative appetizers and most of its entrees are a good bang, but a great steak costs $$$ anywhere, and that’s hard to buck.
Food Stuff 4.5
Does it have a ghost of a chance? You betcha. Grey Ghost’s cuisine is imaginative and well executed. I thoroughly enjoyed the dishes I ordered and anticipate that even as the menu goes though the progression of seasons, the quality should (with their talent) remain consistently high quality and relevant. Energy, Vibe, & the Cool-Wow Factor 3 Nothing here seems “tricked up.” It’s not here just for the esoteric foodies. It’s all honest and straightforward, which makes it hip in a no-nonsense, casual way. People, great food and great drinks make this space work and give it its atmosphere.
About: Do you believe in ghosts? To find out, start here. • Location: 47 Watson Street, Detroit, MI 48201 • Reservations: o By Phone: (313) 262-6534 o Contact:firstname.lastname@example.org o On the Web at www.greyghostdetroit.com • Hours (Dinner Only) o Sunday Brunch: Noon to 2 p.m. o Dinner: Sunday– Thursday 4 p.m. to Midnight o Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Miscellaneous Stuff: They accept all the usual plastic cards and are wheelchair accessible right off the sidewalk.