Few cities can boast a restaurant with a setting like Detroit’s Midtown gem, The Whitney. Finished in 1894, after four years of construction, as the residence of lumber baron David Whitney Jr., it is a mansion that could only have been built in the days when there were craftsmen working in stone, glass and wood.
Throughout the 52 rooms of the house are elaborate carved wood and decorative plasterwork, beveled and stained glass windows, and dozens of chandeliers and wall sconces, some of which were converted from the gaslights that shone on the Whitney family during the Gilded Age.
And what a treat to be able to dine in this rarefied atmosphere. While The Whitney is romantic in the evening, seeing it in daylight has its own advantages, and yes, one of them is the affordability factor. It’s been just a few weeks since the owners, the father-son duo Bud and Patrick Liebler, restored the schedule to include lunch and brunch, after suspending the early hours in 2015 because of street construction. Now, the restaurant is open almost all day every day and it has become accessible to more people.
The daytime menus are gently priced, and completely unintimidating, offering contemporary American fare from the shrimp cocktail on the appetizer list to the Gold Brick sundae on the dessert card. Executive chef Paul Jackman has written a menu that is just the right length, a single page listing the dishes from a burger, to more elaborate selections including a lobster tail and filet mignon, served in a series of rooms on the first floor at tables double-covered in white over black linens. Service is courteous and efficient by the well-dressed staff.
The bulk of the midday menu, which increases on weekends to include such brunch favorites as the classic eggs Benedict and seasonal omelets, offers salads and sandwiches as well as entrees. Highlighted on the lunch menu is what is called “the mansion two course luncheon.” It starts with a choice of green salad, or soup of the day — it was a very good chicken and wild rice last week — or an eggplant bruschetta, and main courses including shrimp scampi, sliced tenderloin and sauteed Michigan whitefish in a sauce of mushrooms, dried cherries and wine, the latter a just-about-perfect lunch dish that is filling yet light.
Those who crave dessert — and the desserts here are all housemade — may add miniature pastries, carrot cake or a Gold Brick sundae at an extra $5 to finish off the meal. The Gold Brick is a vintage dessert made with ice cream, in this case pine nut studded vanilla with dark chocolate topping that becomes a shell when poured over the cold ice cream. The concoction is topped with a sprig of rosemary, and it is a treat.
After lunch, diners are invited to feel free to walk around the mansion to get a better look at such details as the Tiffany stained glass panels on the staircase leading to the second floor and the built-in bookshelves and blue tile fireplace in the library.
The Lieblers certainly deserve credit for preserving this piece of Detroit history and making it accessible to more people with the increased hours.
4421 Woodward, Detroit
Call: (313) 832-5700
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; brunch 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun., tea (by reservation) 2 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 1 p.m. Sat.-Sun., dinner 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 4-8 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Lunch: appetizers $9-$15, soups, sandwiches and salads $5-$18, two-course complete luncheons $19-$26, entrees $14-$24. Dinner: appetizers $12-$18, entrees $27-$79, desserts $8-$12. Early evening dinner (5-6:30 p.m.) $29.05.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Low to moderate
Wheelchair access: Side entrance
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good ★★1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding