Grey Ghost draws crowds while finding its place

Molly Abraham
The Detroit News

When people are really determined to get to a particular destination — say a hot new restaurant — they don’t let obstacles like detours for road closures and lack of parking space get in their way.

That’s being proven nightly at Grey Ghost, the restaurant in the Midtown space that once housed Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe and now is home to twin brothers John and David Vermiglio, Joe Giacomino and Will Lee’s take on a contemporary Midwestern steakhouse. It has been packed on most nights since it opened July 28, serving dinner seven nights a week. The addition of a small patio on the side added another couple of dozen seats last week easing the crunch somewhat.

A rib eye steak covered in bordelaise sauce at the contemporary Midwestern steakhouse.

Grey Ghost faces the side street, Watson, rather than Woodward, and that’s just how the proprietors say they wanted it, because it fits into the Brush Park neighborhood in a subtler way than if it were on the main thoroughfare where the M-1 rail will soon be transporting guests.

Since it opened July 28, the restaurant is packed most nights, and the addition of the small patio has helped ease the crunch.

Grey Ghost — named for a Detroit River Prohibition-era rum runner, and I suspect it’s because it adds a little intrigue to the place — is on the first floor of a loft building that gives it a built-in clientele in addition to those who’ve followed the proprietors through a number of pop-ups prior to the opening. All have Michigan roots except Giacomino, who met the Vermiglio brothers when all were working in upscale Chicago restaurants.

Chicago may still be glimpsed on the menus tucked into little wood covers. Oysters, for instance, aren’t served with the traditional accompaniments, but with the neon relish of the Chicago hot dog, and the dish typifies the creative approach on the distinctive bill of fare that also includes such dishes as fried bologna, watermelon gazpacho and pork chops with pineapple chimichurri. Surprises, John Vermiglio calls them. Guests might well be advised to bring their copies of the “Food Lover’s Companion” to decipher some of the more esoteric menu descriptions.

Joe Giacomino, left, and John Vermiglio, co-owners of Grey Ghost restaurant in Midtown on Watson.

The slick one-room setting is all reclaimed wood, glass, brick, subway tile with industrial lighting and hard surfaces all around. An open kitchen is visible to those sitting at the bar along the back wall. The bar is topped with wood from reclaimed bowling alley lanes and lined up along its surface are literally dozens of jars of syrups, infusions and juices for the craft cocktails masterminded by Lee. Little perches at a slim counter that parallels the bar sets the action off from the tables in the front of the room.

All of the hard surfaces combined with the pulsating background music and the buzz of conversation gives Grey Ghost an aura of excitement, but the high decibel level can also be a turnoff.

Grey Ghost is off to a promising start, and there is a lot of talent there, but it is much too early to give it a definitive star rating.

Grey Ghost

47 E. Watson St., Detroit

Call: (313) 262-6534

Rating: Promising

Hours: Dinner only 4-10 p.m. week nights, 4-11 p.m. weekends, late night menu 10-midnight week nights, 11 p.m.-1 a.m. weekends

Prices: Cured meats $10-$18, entrees $13-$55, sides $4-$7, desserts $8; late night menu $4-$8

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: Full bar, with a strong emphasis on craft cocktails

Noise level: High

Parking: Street

Wheelchair access: No barriers