Restaurant Review: Visitors and locals should soak in the vintage charm at Karl's in the Siren Hotel
The throwback, all-day eatery from chef Kate Williams excels at comfort foods and Detroit pride
When you have guests in from out of town, you want them to see the best side of your home.
This is why I'm so glad that when travelers visit Detroit and stay at the Siren Hotel, the first restaurant in the city they're likely to see is Karl's. And for those who never leave their hotel when traveling on business, if Karl's is the only Detroit restaurant you see, I'm OK with that, too.
Karl's is located on the second floor of the impossibly cute Siren Hotel, a boutique gem that is also home to the blush Candy Bar, Populace Coffee (their joe is served at Karl's, too), chef Garrett Lipar's eight-seat tasting room Albena and other super-hip destinations.
Following the sign that says "ham sandwiches" with an arrow pointing up a marble staircase, guests find themselves in chef Kate Williams' mid-century wonderland where chrome touches and a vintage pale green pour over much of the polished dining room.
This area has banquette seating, tables and chairs and super cute two-person booths that really give off a old school feeling. It almost seems like there should be tiny, black plastic ashtrays on the tables.
The bar area has rosy pink lounge seating, some tables for larger groups, and a view of downtown that puts you eye-level with the People Mover. Large potted plants give it a Florida-room vibe. This area is decked out with Detroit paraphernalia from throughout the decades, including nods to local sports teams and other institutions.
The warm, fuzzy Americana feeling continues on the menu, both art-wise and the actual bill of fare.
Think juicy patty melts, hardy white beans on toast, sizzling steak and eggs, mounds of chicken salad plus throwback drinks like milkshakes and boilermakers. If aspic (those gross-looking gelatin meat dishes from the 1950s) ever comes back into vogue I'd expect chef Williams to find a way to have the best in town.
Everything I've tasted here has been comforting and filling, even the massive wedge salad which has a unique twist at Karl's. First, the toppings are kind of layered within the iceberg wedge, ensuring that you get crisp, salty, cheesy flavors in each bite. It's also dusted with everything bagel seasoning, making me wonder why more things aren't dusted with everything bagel seasoning.
Other salads on the menu include the classic Detroit Maurice, named Barb's Maurice after the chef's mom, and the Wurlitzer salad with chickpeas, red peppers, cucumber and tahini sauce, giving it a Middle Eastern vibe.
Another interesting dish is the white beans on toast. It's a plate of large, un-mushed beans dressed with chives, olives, cilantro and other greens that smother two pieces of white toast. It's aromatic and very filling. I couldn't finish a plate for lunch, but I also had with it more than a few spoonfuls of the creamy tomato soup that is offered daily.
A fabulous lump of roasted chicken salad is served a similar way as the beans, surrounded by toast triangles instead of on bread like a sandwich. Karl's crunchy, chef-y twist on this lunchtime staple has fried onions, tiny green onions and chopped apples.
Other standouts are the patty melt served with good fries (some skin on, deeply fried, not soggy) and the ham sandwich. The latter has a generous portion of buttery, thin-sliced ham with pickles and mustard on toast.
Can I gush a little more about the decor? Diners' eyes have plenty to feast on while waiting for their food, including framed photos of Williams' family and other black-and-white photos from yesteryear.
Across the black-and-white checkered floor, near the host stand, is a shiny Wurlitzer, a working jukebox that is a different kind of nod to the past. The Siren Hotel is the once-crumbling Wurlitzer Building, which was purchased and renovated by ASH NYC, developers from the big apple.
The jukebox plays everything from "I Think We're Alone Now" by Tiffany to George Clinton's "Atomic Dog," plus a lot of older pop, rock and country jams.
Karl's is a nice, hip hotel restaurant disguised as a diner. Don't expect cheap diner prices; this is not a coney. Like Williams' other restaurant, the acclaimed and majestic Lady of the House, the food here is sourced thoughtfully and is of high quality.
Second floor of the Siren Hotel
1509 Broadway, Detroit
Rating: ★★★ (excellent)
Hours: 10 a.m.-1 a.m. Sun.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sat. Open Thanksgiving 9 a.m.-3 p.m. for buffet service.
Prices: $4-$13 breakfast items; $12-$26 mains; $5-$9 sides and soup; $4-$9 baked goods and desserts; $6.5-$14 cocktails and boilermakers; $2.50-$7 beers; $10-$26 by the pitcher; $10-$12 wine by the glass; $50-$60 by the bottle.
Reservations: Walk-ins welcome. Reservations accepted for larger parties.
Noise level: Low to medium, louder during peak lunch and dinner rush
Accessibility: No barriers. There's an elevator for those who can't manage the stairs.
Parking: Valet parking available. Availability of downtown surface lots or garages varies.
What the stars mean:
★ — routine
★★ — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — extraordinary