Downtown casual eating options open up

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

This time around, the latest cluster of new restaurant openings in and around downtown Detroit are largely casual chains.

The most auspicious opening is the official debut of Wahlburgers last week at 569 Monroe in Greektown.

There has consistently been at line of at least a few people outside the restaurant. The fact that people were willing to wait, even less than 30 minutes, with all the other options in Greektown is a testament to the star power of the Wahlberg brothers. The Wahlberg family and their restaurant business is the centerpiece of the A&E series “Wahlburgers.”

Since actor Mark Wahlberg announced in December that he would be opening one of his restaurants in Detroit, I have written about five articles mentioning chain, which has locations in Toronto, New York and throughout Massachusetts. Many readers confused my tagline — the info below my articles that explain how to reach me — as the number for the Greektown Wahlburgers. It was lovely to hear from so many of you (those that didn’t hang up on me upon hearing say “Detroit News” on the other line). At the height of Wahlburger’s frenzy, I got 30 calls in one day.

Say what you will about the questionable necessity of another burger restaurant downtown, but I’ve never received such a response from an article. By the way, here’s Wahlburger’s number: (313) 209-4499.

Currently the restaurant doesn’t accept reservations, and you can’t call your order in ahead of time.

Cass Corridor Chicken

Another notable opening last week was the first Detroit outpost of Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. Brought to town by chef and restaurateur Zack Sklar (Social Kitchen, MEX, Au Cochon, etc.), Gus’s opened softly at 4101 Third last week with limited hours while the staff gets trained.

The chain was founded in Tennessee in the 1980s with a recipe that goes back even decades earlier. The piece of chicken I tried last week had a crispy, slightly spicy outside that wasn’t over-battered. What took me by surprise was how much I enjoyed the creamy cole slaw that comes with the combo meal and can also be ordered as a side.

Other sides include baked beans, potato salad, fried okra, greens, mac and cheese and seasoned fries. Chicken can be ordered as individual pieces ($1.95-$3.45), as plates with baked beans, slaw and white bread, or as meals. They also sell fried green tomatoes and fried pickle spears.

Detroit’s Gus’s has about seating for about 50 plus 10 stools at the bar (a liquor license is on the way). To me, it’s a good addition to this neighborhood, which has a mix of new and old spots. Iconic dive bar Jumbo’s is down the street and acclaimed hot spot Selden Standard is around the corner.

The carryout-friendly spot is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thurs. and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Call (313) 818-0324.

Pizza Science

Further adding to Detroit’s growing reputation as a top destination for pizza, Pie-Sci opened in the Woodbridge neighborhood last last month at 5162 Trumbull.

This carryout spot with a small dining area is not a chain like the others mentioned here, but is the brainchild of local dudes Jeremy Damaske and AJ Manoulian. They started out making their garlic-and-cheese loaded pies in the kitchen of the nearby Woodbridge Pub, and now have their own space where they make white or red sauce pizza with toppings as varied as oven-roasted cauliflower, pulled pork, fennel or strawberries.

Simplicity can go a long way, though, and I find their margherita pie with garlic oil, cherry tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella to be all that I need in a pizza. Anything on the Pie-Sci menu can be given a gourmet flourish with the addition of a flavorful “drizzle” like herb mayo, Sriracha, balsamic glaze, buttermilk ranch or Vegenaise (vegan “mayo”).

Speaking of vegan, Pie-Sci also offers a vegan version of most of their pizzas and any large pizza can be made gluten-free for a $3 upcharge. Place your order at (313) 818-0290.

From gyros to tacos

The first Calexico chain location outside the Big Apple opened in Detroit this month where Olga’s Kitchen used to be at One Campus Martius.

The concept, which pays homage to the city bordering California and Mexico, started out as a food truck in New York City. It was named by Zagat as the No. 1-rated Mexican restaurant in the city in 2011. It’s brought to Detroit by Randy Dickow, who also owns Lunchtime Global and Freshii in downtown Detroit and Sweet Lorraine’s Mac n’ Cheez in the Renaissance Center.

It’s a fun spot, especially for tequila lovers, with a Mexican-fusion menu that makes fun of itself with items like the “gringo beef” (ancho-cumin ground beef). The tostada salad doesn’t scream “authenticity” either, but with romaine lettuce, avocado, salsa, roasted corn, black beans and a tostada decorated with a black bean spread and sour cream for $11, it does the job of a salad and then some. Add some gringo beef for an extra $3.

The interior has been redone from the Olga’s days, with modern lighting, exposed brick walls and light wood trim. The vibe is similar to Ferndale’s Imperial, which also serves a great tequila selection to pair with California-style street tacos.

Now Calexico is open for dinner and drinks only: 3-11 p.m. Mon.-Wed. and 3 p.m.-1 a.m. Thurs.-Sun. Call (313) 638-1998. Reservations not accepted.

(313) 222-2402

Twitter: @melodybaetens