Mark Slayton, left, of Holland and Ron Fry of Southfield enjoy the outdoor patio seating with painted murals at Mercury Burger & Bar in Detroit. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)
There's life again under the vintage Mercury Bar sign on the corner of Michigan Avenue and 14th. It's the latest step in the revival of the Corktown neighborhood overlooking the ghost of the Michigan Central Station.
Diners at the new Mercury Burger & Bar get a view of the classic derelict through a row of windows in a bright room that seats 70 in booths, at uncovered tables and at comfortably backed stools at the zinc-covered bar set with Liberty dimes and engraved with the names of everyone who helped get this project off the ground. A downstairs room seats another 50 or so.
There's also seating on the rear patio paved with reclaimed bricks, known as the biergarten, and little did proprietors Dave Steinke and Dennis Fulton imagine they'd be using the outdoor space in March. That was something of a mixed blessing, since the extra seats at picnic-style tables have stretched the staff a little thin.
But it happens to be a cheerful crew in black T-shirts emblazoned in red with the Mercury logo, and with enthusiasm they serve the burgers, beers, sandwiches and shakes from the open kitchen behind the bar.
The menu is completely focused, with no extraneous items. Burgers, of course, are the stars of the show, and they may be had in several varieties served atop sheets of waxed paper on round metal trays.
The basic burger, made with hand-patted freshly ground beef, nicely textured and moist, is augmented by such variations on the theme as turkey burgers with avocado and salsa, salmon burgers seasoned with ginger and scallions, black bean burgers, and the southwest Detroit burger with its chorizo slider, jalapeno peppers, Munster cheese and a side of salsa.
A welcome touch is that a lot of burger toppings, such as olives, lettuce, tomato, relish, jalapenos, hot mustard and even Slows barbecue sauce, may be added without charge. No surprise, since the entire price structure here is remarkably gentle, especially given the quality ingredients.
The excellent, thin french fries also come in variations, with such additions as sea salt and black pepper, garlic, French Canadian-style poutine (cheese and gravy) and with cheese and some of the beanless chili that packs just the right touch of heat. Sweet potato fries are an alternative.
Those who want a little greenery with their burger are especially going to like the rocket salad, a fresh mix of arugula, thin slices of red onion, cubes of avocado and a sprinkling of Parmesan in a subtle lemon vinaigrette; it's one of four salads.
The sandwich list shows some creativity, without departing from the basic thrust of the menu. An interesting variation of the BLT is one made with fried green tomatoes, smoked bacon and lettuce. It's much heartier than the classic BLT with the breaded tomato slices adding heft. There's a simple fried egg sandwich at $4 and grilled bologna with grilled onion and Swiss at $6.
A lot of locals are going to love the fact that Mercury serves old-fashioned Boston coolers, made with Vernor's and vanilla ice cream, as well as vanilla, chocolate or strawberry milkshakes.
The proprietors, "food guy" Steinke and retired Detroit Police Officer Fulton, aren't finished livening up the neighborhood. They plan to open a rustic Italian restaurant in a former pawn shop nearby on Michigan Avenue once they get Mercury up and running.
In the early going, it certainly looks promising.