May 21, 2014 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham

Gritty setting and good food keep Vinsetta Garage cruising smoothly

Burgers are served with fresh, house-made potato chips. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

It’s ironic that one of the biggest issues at Vinsetta Garage is the lack of adequate parking. It’s been a problem since the restaurant in the vintage car repair shop opened in June of 2012.

Valet parking in the evening eases the problem, but during the day it’s a rarity to simply pull in and find a spot. People jockey for the handful of spaces in the small lot, and risk the ire of nearby businesses if they dare usurp their spots.

Beyond that, the re-purposed auto shop is humming along nicely as it goes into its third summer in the well-preserved 1919 structure, a popular destination on the Woodward strip. It’s a restaurant that takes full advantage of its purposely gritty setting and teams it with well above average fare. The proprietors were smart enough not to push the theme too far. They’ve stopped short of kitsch, letting the airy, skylit space speak for itself with its vintage details from the scarred floor to the industrial lighting. Menu verbiage plays off the theme, of course, but avoids groan-inducing puns while still having fun.

Take the wine list, for instance. The cheap stuff is listed under the heading “Yugo,” up a notch is “Oldsmobile,” and the better stuff “Packard.” Cute, but not too cute. And one of the offerings is M. Lawrence Detroit sparkling wine on tap, one of many local touches that include Michigan beers and producers such as McClure’s Pickles.

The menu hits the all the right notes, with massive burgers, sturdy pizzas from the coal-fired oven in one corner of the room and comfort food (even tuna casserole) from the kitchen and its wood–burning grill tucked behind the zinc-topped bar with its retro cream leather seats.

The same chef, Aaron Cozadd, who was there on day one, is still directing the kitchen, where the house mac & cheese, a blend of sharp Vermont cheddar, mild Pinconning cheese, a dash of Parmesan and Bechamel sauce, has become a classic. It’s also served at Clarkston Union, Union Woodshop and Fenton Fire Hall, the other restaurants in the Union Family of Joints which operates Vinsetta for the building’s owner, KC Crain.

In keeping with the setting, many dishes, including the burgers on pretzel buns and other sandwiches, are served to the butcher paper-covered tables on metal trays, and napkins are big, soft dish towels, another welcome touch. The house burger is a double beef patty with cheese, bacon and pickles, and it’s served with hot, freshly made potato chips that are as irresistible as the mac & cheese. A nice option is the lamb burger with pickled beets, yogurt, garlic and cucumber sauce (tzatziki), onion, feta and pickled chilies. It’s definitely a two dish-towel burger.

Salads include the obligatory Caesar and the Chop Shop, really a main dish with its romaine lettuce backed up with grilled chicken, tasso ham, Amish blue cheese and a sprinkling of crisp fried onions. Those who want to go beyond burgers and pizzas might choose the salmon glazed with brown sugar or the chili-rubbed flank steak.

Service by the crew in the T-shirts of their choice, most with local logos, is friendly and energetic if not polished, in keeping with the gritty setting.

Vinsetta Garage

27799 Woodward, Berkley

Call: (248) 548-7711


Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)

Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Sat.,

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. (Bar later).

Prices: Appetizers $3.95-$7.50,

soups and salads $4.50-$13.75,

burgers $11.50-$14.50, pizzas $9.45,

entrees $15.95-$36, desserts $3.50-$4.95

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: Full bar with an emphasis on beer

Noise level: High

Parking: Limited during the day;

valet in the evening

Wheelchair access: No barriers
(313) 222-2475

Vinsetta Garage's Disco Fries are cut in-house and served with Ellsworth ... (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
The Woodward Avenue eatery's decor and menu honor the building's history ... (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)