Royal Oak’s O.W.L. serves diner food with Latino style
The unexplained initials – O.W.L – are just one of the intriguing things about Royal Oak’s new 24-hour diner. In the completely redesigned and rebuilt space once filled by the Onion Roll Deli, O.W.L. began dishing up diner fare with an Hispanic flavor just a couple of weeks ago.
It is already drawing a crowd eager to see the redo and to sample what restaurateurs Joe, Kristin and Larry Bongiovanni have to offer. And, of course, to try to decipher what the initials stand for.
The proprietors of Market North End in Birmingham have created a buzz with the new spot. Because a number of the employees at the Birmingham restaurant are Hispanic, the Bongiovannis decided to capitalize on their colorful heritage by giving them a say on the menu at O.W.L. That fits right in with what is very much an ensemble approach. All of the workers at O.W.L. share the tips, not just those out front.
Although in a sense, everyone here is out front. The kitchen where Pedro Nunez and Manuel Pedraza are often manning the burners is open to view behind the counter where patrons grab a seat. There are also a few stools along the front window overlooking Woodward. In all, there are just 14 perches, plus a couple of small stand-up spots. There are no extraneous details in Ron Rea’s sleek and functional design that takes advantage of every inch of space in the single room. The one décor accent is a black-and-white mural by New York artist Tim Goodman that lists old and new Woodward locations road map fashion, and it is precisely right.
The menu of sturdy dishes will especially please those who have grown weary of tiny portions. Take cilantro potatoes and Texas toast for example. The plate is piled high with the flash-fried potatoes tossed with a cilantro mix and topped with Parmesan, eggs prepared in any fashion, and all served atop the toasted bread. With the addition of some habanero bacon, it becomes an even sturdier dish. The bacon, from Colorado, is dry rubbed and smoked and adds a smoky flavor to this dish and others.
Another winner is avocado toast, grilled sesame bread topped with mashed avocado and hard-cooked egg, accented with thinly sliced radishes and carrot strips and a frill or two of cilantro. Yes, cilantro is definitely the house herb.
The delicious habanero bacon also teams well with one of the egg sandwiches served on cemita rolls, the traditional sesame rolls of Mexico. Sandwiches range from fried or grilled chicken to chorizo sausage and cheese, cheeseburgers and bacon burgers, with grilled onions, jalapeno peppers, and lettuce and tomatoes offered as a la carte additions. There’s a taco of the day served in multiples of three at $6 and a massive plate of nachos at $9.
As this indicates, prices are gentle across the board. Nothing on the menu is higher than $12 – that for a heaping plate of chicken and gravy with cilantro potatoes, poblano cheese sauce and green peas. At this point, there are no coffee cups and the rich Commonwealth brew is served in carry-out cups, but that will be remedied as time goes on.
The 24-hour schedule is daunting, but if the proprietors can make it work, it will be a real asset to the Woodward corridor.
About that enigmatic name: The image of a friendly owl on the building’s black façade is enough for me. I’m just going to call the place Owl. But guests may feel free to give their own interpretation of what the initials stand for.
27302 Woodward, Royal Oak
Call: (248) 808-6244
Hours: 24 hours daily except Sun., when it closes at 10 p.m.
Prices: Soup and chili $4, sandwiches $6-$9, plates $6-$11
Credit cards: All major
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Small parking area in front
Wheelchair access: No barriers
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good
★★1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — outstanding