August 7, 2008 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham

Woodward eateries whip up good times for the cruise

Duggan's offers dishes from the drive-in era. (Wayne E. Smith / The Detroit News)

While florists and resale shop owners have to grin and bear it during the Dream Cruise, when their regular customers are among the missing, restaurateurs with strategic locations along the Woodward Avenue route are rejoicing.

Dream Cruise is the biggest time of the year for them.

"It's even better than all the Christmas holidays," says Mike Papa, who opens his Vinsetta Grill on Woodward Avenue south of 12 Mile at an uncharacteristic 9 a.m. on cruise day. "It's a very good day," he says. "Definitely good for us."

His sentiments are echoed by his up-the-street neighbor, Larry Payne, who also opens his Duggan's Irish Pub at 9 a.m. on this one Saturday.

Duggan's is right at the epicenter of the cruise on Woodward Avenue between 13 Mile and 14 Mile. It has a little something extra going for it, because its menu offers some of the fondly remembered dishes from the drive-in era that spawned the Dream Cruise, the days when Woodward looked like a scene from "American Graffiti" every weekend in summer.

Duggan's serves the "Famous Big Chief Double Decker" burger that originated at the iconic drive-in the Totem Pole, as well as the Ted's Drive-in 5 X 5 burger and Susie Q fish and chips, all harking back to those days.

While one Big Chief is just $7.50, the restaurant will also dish up two of them, with a little extra -- a bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne -- for $144.44. So far over the 15 years of the offer, some 110 patrons have taken advantage of it.

On the day of the cruise, Duggan's cooks outdoors on a chuck wagon with an 8-foot grill and two fryers in the tented parking lot next to the eye-popping green two-story building.

Vinsetta Grill's Papa will be serving a lot of his house specialty, baby back ribs, along with beef spareribs, St. Louis-style sweet and Mexican red-hot ribs with sauce made with five different peppers.

Obviously, fancy dining is not a part of Dream Cruise. It's pretty much a day for burgers, pizza, deli sandwiches and Tex-Mex fare, and the restaurants along Woodward are ready to dish them up.

Margarita's Mexican Restaurant charges just $1 for tacos and burritos on cruise day, dispensing them from a window so that people don't even have to come in to the small Berkley restaurant.

Another Mexican spot along the route, Chipotle Mexican Grill, will be experiencing its first Dream Cruise. The small patio is sure to be packed with people who love the made-to-order burritos and tacos.

The signature burgers at the Redcoat Tavern, popular pretty much every day of the year, should be even more so on Aug. 16.

And across the street at Pasquale's, the menu will be old-fashioned Italian-American pasta and pizza as usual.

Big sandwiches are the premise at Al's Famous Deli, where they are made on the sturdy double-baked rye bread that deli patrons insist on. The sandwiches, in fact, are big enough to make the soup and half-sandwich combo especially appealing.

The early bird crowd gets well taken care of at the Original Pancake House in Birmingham, which starts serving its freshly squeezed orange juice, omelets and blueberry pancakes at 6:30 a.m.

Despite high gas prices and an unsteady economy, the Dream Cruise rolls on.

"It's recession-proof," says Duggan's proprietor Larry Payne. "People love their cars."

You can reach Molly Abraham at (313) 222-1475 or 67@comcast.net">abraham67@comcast.net.

Redcoat Tavern, above, will serve its signature burgers.
Vinsetta Grill, left, will serve its house specialty ribs.
More Molly Abraham