Waterfront Restaurant & Lounge opens in Wyandotte

, Detroit Free Press Food Writer

A new Downriver waterfront dining option is set to open Monday, just in time for boating season.

Just minutes north of downtown Wyandotte, the Waterfront Restaurant & Lounge occupies the building that formerly housed the Pier 500 Lounge and Restaurant. Jason and Amanda D’Herin bought the property in January and will run the restaurant along with business partner Frank Estrada.

“What’s cool is we have a built-in community and clientele of 200 people from the marina,” said Jason D’Herin. “We have a boat, and we are boat-friendly.”

In just more than 100 days, the building has been completely renovated and the surrounding property re-landscaped and repaved, the D’Herins said. Boat slips and seawalls have been rebuilt and stone walls erected. The couple, who also own the nearby building that houses the newly opened Whiskey’s on the River, have even gone beyond their property line, landscaping and paving property next to them. So far, the D’Herins say they have invested $1.6 million into the project.

The restaurant has been hyped as upscale waterfront dining, but the D’Herins say “upscale” refers to their menu not the restaurant vibe, which is casual, trendy and fun.

“We are less formal,” Jason D’Herin, 42, says. “Boaters want to have fun, but our food is on the higher end.”

Waterfront’s debut menu is ambitious with a selection of appetizers, soups, sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, entrées and eight varieties of brick oven pizzas. The menu offerings were designed by Waterfront’s chef Douglas Gruenwald, formerly of MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and Amanda D’Herin, 35, who says brick oven pizzas are her personal favorite.

Appetizers include baked Brie, shrimp-stuffed jalapeños and oysters Rockefeller ($9-$11). The sandwich lineup features everything from a classic burger and paninis to fish and a Cubano ($7-$9). There are 15 entrées on the menu, including an 8-ounce filet ($32), grilled salmon with lavender balsamic vinegar glaze ($17) and Michigan lake perch, sautéed or fried ($18).

“We enjoy boating and eating out, and food is important to us,” D’Herin says. “Our menu and recipes will speak to that.”

Waterfront offers plenty of outdoor seating on both the ground level and upper deck.

The main inside dining area, the majority with a waterfront view, brick walls and exposed ventilation, features wood-top tables and seating for more than 100.

A half-wall with a built-in fireplace separates the main dining area from the 14-seat subway-style tiled bar with reclaimed distressed wood accents and a  row of two-top tables.

Prints of the Belle Isle Bridge and local lighthouses adorn the walls.

“The idea was to bring outside elements unique to the area inside,” says D’Herin.

Waterfront Restaurant & Lounge will have its grand opening celebration on Cinco de Mayo. The D’Herins say they’ll employ about 30-35 and  feature weekly and monthly entertainment with jazz and local bands. They’ve already booked their first wedding and plan on other events.

David Blume, owner of Weyand’s Fisheries next door, says he’s watched how the D’Herins have transformed the building and property.

“If intentions count for everything, they are really top-shelf,” Blume said.  “They are trying to create a nice place for the community.”

While this is the D’Herins’ first foray into restaurant ownership, they are no strangers to the business. By day, the D’Herins own D&R Maintenance Management, a Taylor-based company specializing in facility management. Most of the D’Herins’ clients are restaurants, including local and national chains.

Waterfront Restaurant & Lounge is at 507 Biddle Ave. in Wyandotte; 734-286-9046 and www.thewaterfrontwyandotte.com

 

Vintage flavor at the London Chop House

Molly Abraham via The Detroit News

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

Web: thelondonchophouse.com

Rating:

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.

Phoenicia Serves Up Unexpectedly Addictive Pork Ribs

Crispy, dry-rubbed baby back ribs

Phoenicia in Birmingham is one of those places where white tablecloths are still the rule and hospitality is a lifestyle. The staff has been there for years and the food is exceptionally consistent. But among the plates of hummus and kibby neyee one dish stands as an outlier, the seeming antithesis of the Phoenicia fine-dining Lebanese cuisine ethos — dry-rubbed baby back ribs. This is not to say that they don’t live up to the standards of other items on Phoenicia’s menu. If you’re fortunate enough to order them, you’ll likely be converted by the slightly spicy and charred meat, with crispy edges. But the idea of pork ribs on a Lebanese menu is as unusual as they are addictive.

“It’s like that crunch and that chew. If you’re coming here thinking fall off the bone rib, you’re not going to like this.”

The story behind Birmingham eatery Phoenicia’s most unexpected menu item starts many years ago in Texas, when draper and future proprietor of Phoenicia, Sameer Eid, arrived in the U.S. from Lebanon. Living in the Lone Star state — as his son Samy Eid tells it — Sameer “got really spoiled on great barbecue.” Sameer eventually moved to Michigan and in an unexpected move traded a life of window treatments for the restaurant business, purchasing a restaurant in Highland Park. The first iteration of Phoenicia, says Samy, became extremely popular, achieving a local following and national accolades. Sameer earned enough money through the venture to invest in a restaurant space in Birmingham, which in time became the new home of Phoenicia.

Moving to Michigan had some drawbacks. The local barbecue restaurants did not live up to Sameer’s Texas-shaped expectations. Wanting to introduce his wife and young children to the exceptional barbecue he’d experienced in the south, Sameer called for a family dinner at the restaurant on a Monday night with his special homemade rib recipe on the menu. Samy recalls sitting in the “family booth” at Phoenicia more than 30 years ago with his parents and sibling, feasting on the ribs. “We wouldn’t even talk we were just so enjoying these ribs,” he says. That’s when a customer walked by. “He says, ‘Sameer, what are you feeding the kids? What did you make tonight?’ and my dad says, ‘I made them ribs.’ And the guy says, ‘I’m coming next Monday. I want to try your ribs.'”

The following Monday, the guest returned with five fellow diners to try the ribs, “and they thought they were the best ribs they’d ever had in their lives — unique to whatever they’d known,” Samy says. Week after week, they returned with more friends, until Monday night ribs became a special at Phoenicia. “We had a line out the door every single Monday trying to get to the ribs, and it boomed,” he says. “From that point it kind of took on a life of its own.”

Sameer’s ribs became a staple at the restaurant, drawing in customers on slow nights. In lean economic times, the rib special became a regular menu item. Today, Samy estimates the baby backs account for 15 percent of Phoenicia’s total entree sales. The secret is the house dry rub recipe (which Samy claims other restaurants have tried and failed to reproduce) and the restaurant’s 35-year-old salamander. The meat also matters, though Phoenicia won’t disclose where it gets its ultra-lean baby back racks. “They’re like gold,” Samy says.

For the uninitiated diner, the standard recipe will be enough to satisfy a rib craving. However, regulars with a fondness for the crispy bits and seasoning know to order them “Samy-style.” Samy says he was annoyed when he first saw a order for ribs labeled with his name, but has warmed up to it. “I like them bone-dry and I like them with extra dry rub, so I order them that way.”

Asked what makes the rib so delicious, Samy puts it this way: “It’s like that crunch and that chew. If you’re coming here thinking fall off the bone rib, you’re not going to like this.” For Barbecue Week, Eater’s photographers visited Birmingham to get a step-by-step look at the process of making Phoenicia’s house rib recipe. Get a walkthrough in the photos below.

“They’re an extremely lean baby back rib,” Samy Eid says of the rack.

The fresh ribs are broiled in a 35-year-old salamander for 25 minutes.

The partially cooked ribs are then soaked in a red colored white vinegar-based brine with a special secret mixture of spices.

Ribs soak up op flavor in the brine.

The brined ribs are then placed back into the salamander to crisp.

A house dry rub is generously sprinkled on the cooking ribs.

The finished ribs, slightly charred and crusted with dry rub are sliced for plating.

The finished ribs are stack neatly for delivery to the table.

For a juicier rib diners can order the standard recipe.

For a drier, rib with crispier bits and more of the special seasoning order them “Samy-style.”