In its heyday during the 1960s and ’70s, the London Chop House was the only game in town in terms of its ambitions. Visiting celebrities always made a point of dining there, along with Detroit’s movers and shakers who especially loved the big cushy booth at the entrance. It was Booth No. 1, and if you were seated there, you knew you had made your mark.
It’s a different Detroit today, with many ambitious restaurants vying for attention. Lester Gruber would be happy to see that the place he established in 1938 can still take its place among the best in town. And Booth No. 1 is still the best seat in the house.
The current regime has been in place since February 2012, when Nico Gatzaros took over and shook off the cobwebs. He put Robert (RJ) Scherer, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, in the rebuilt kitchen, removed the dust-catchers in the dining room, simplified the décor while essentially preserving its vintage flavor, and inched the venerable spot into the 21st century.
The young chef is still there, and he turns out a menu that includes such classics as oysters Rockefeller, French onion soup, Dover sole, sauteed perch — no longer called “mess o’ perch” as it was in the old days — now ornamented with trimmings of plump shrimp and crabmeat.
Steak has always been emphasized, as befits an establishment with chop house in its name, and the current offerings range from the relatively dainty filet mignon to a hefty 24-ounce Black Angus bone-in ribeye and 32-ounce prime porterhouse. Nightly specials often include beautifully marbled cuts of Wagyu beef, with, it must be noted, eye-popping prices to match.
Three steak sauces are offered, the classic Bearnaise, peppercorn and chimichurri, the Argentinian blend of chopped parsley, oregano, onion and garlic, but those who order Wagyu steaks will not need them.
Among lighter and simpler choices in the chef’s repertoire are roasted chicken breast served with creamed corn and baby carrots, grilled fish of the day and a number of fresh salads, including one that could qualify as an entrée with its chopped baby greens, ham, hard-cooked egg, topped with shaved Gruyere and Dijon and rosemary dressing.
You may still get a sense of the Chop House style at lunch, when the menu includes some of the dinner options, as well as sandwiches and the house burger. You may also expect crisp and courteous service. As befits a restaurant with a hefty price structure, guests are well taken care of by the staff.
It’s interesting that this venerable spot and another with a similar history, Joe Muer Seafood, have become part of what is a remarkable downtown dining scene.
London Chop House
155 W. Congress, Detroit
Call: (313) 962-0277
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri., dinner 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Bar later. Closed Sun.
Prices: Lunch appetizers $7-$16, salads $10-$22, sandwiches and entrees $11-$30, dinner appetizers $12-$24, steaks $32-$88, entrees $28-$50 (market priced items higher), desserts $7-$8
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Valet, street or nearby lots
Wheelchair access: Yes; a chairlift is used to navigate the staircase.