Portobello caps stuffed with roasted peppers and bleu cheese are a staple at the new restaurant. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
The sleek limestone exterior of the two-story building on Clifford Street in the heart of downtown Detroit can’t help but catch the eye.
It’s the result of a two-year overhaul of a structure that was so ramshackle, movie companies used it for gritty urban scenes, from “Eight Mile” and “Red Dawn” to “Transformers 3.” A framed photo of an explosion scene in “Transformers” hangs just inside the entrance as a reminder.
It’s a new day at 33 Clifford, however. It’s now the home of Downtown Louie’s Lounge. Open since late April, it might lure glances with its spiffy look, but once inside, patrons discover that it’s not just a pretty face. The solid American fare on an all-day menu in the hands of chef Anton (Tony) Sinishtaj can stand on its own. And yes, the wood-lavished interior is smashing, too.
The two-story space offers seating at the well-stocked bar, where the backdrop is a handsome temperature-controlled wine cabinet, as well as at tables tucked into booths on the side. More tables are on a balcony that overlooks the main floor for those who want to be away from the bar action. And interestingly, the tables on the balcony are linen-covered while those below are not. Two distinct settings, making Louie’s attractive to two groups, those who like the conviviality of the bar and those who want quiet conversation.
The kitchen doesn’t try to be trendy — about as trendy as it gets is the arugula on the house burger and the quinoa served with the salmon. Instead, it concentrates on doing a very good job with familiar dishes from fresh ingredients, starting with appetizers of meaty chicken wings with a choice of subtly applied sauces (try the jalapeno barbecue) and the steak bites, made with tenderloin tips with zip sauce. Both dishes are sharable, as are other dishes given the generous portions.
Salads include not just the usual suspects (Caesar, Greek) but also an Albanian salad (a nod to proprietor Mark Gojcaj’s heritage) that includes tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and feta in a red wine vinaigrette, and ahi tuna salad with soy vinaigrette.
Any self-respecting bar & grill has to have a good burger, and Louie’s serves its on brioche buns in versions that include the Reuben burger with corned beef, Swiss cheese and 1000 Island dressing. That, along with the pastrami and ham sandwiches on the menu, harks to the other Louie’s — Louie’s Ham & Corned Beef at Eastern Market, the sibling of the new spot.
Main dishes on the menu include two impressive steaks, each 12 ounces, a ribeye and a New York strip, served with garlic mashed potatoes and nicely garnished. Service is friendly, yet professional.
Action movie productions aren’t going to be attracted to the block between Woodward and Washington Boulevard anymore, but their casts and crews just might for the appealing menu and atmosphere at Downtown Louie’s.
Restaurants don’t roll credits, but if they did, Louie’s cast and crew would certainly earn a round of applause.
What the ratings mean: 1 star equals good, but routine; 2 good-plus; 2 and a half, very good; 3 excellent; and 4 outstanding, taking into account all of the elements of dining: food, atmosphere and service. 4 is the top rating.
Downtown Louie’s Lounge
Downtown Louie's Lounge
30 Clifford, Detroit
Call: (313) 961-1600
Rating: 2˝ (out of 4)
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-midnight Fri., 4 p.m.-midnight Sat. Closed Sun. except on downtown event days
Prices: Appetizers: $7.50-$12, burgers and sandwiches $9-$10.50, entrees $12-$22, desserts $6
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Street or nearby lots and structures
Wheelchair access: No barriers