Chef Greg Beard keeps Detroit's Boogaloo sandwich alive at Soul-in-the-Wall

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Motown may be known for coney dogs, but another saucy sandwich is also part of the city's history. 

Detroit's Boogaloo sandwich, which dates back to the 1960s, can be found today at Chef Greg's Soul-in-the-Wall. The carryout-only restaurant is just what it sounds like: a small operation serving smothered pork chops, wings, burgers, triple-butter-crust peach cobbler and more, including four versions of the Boogaloo made by chef Gregory Beard. 

The classic Boogaloo sandwich is seasoned ground beef, caramelized onions, melted cheese and the "famous" Boogaloo sauce, all on a toasted 8-inch bun. Chef Greg calls his the Boogaloo Wonderland and makes it with your choice of ground beef, grilled chicken, steak or vegetables, all with the flavorful barbecue sauce. 

The Boogaloo Wonderland sandwich from Chef Greg's Soul-in-the-Wall, a carryout-only restaurant in Detroit.

"This is actually Detroit's sandwich," said Beard. The story is that the Boogaloo sandwich started at a barbecue restaurant called Brother's Bar-B-Que, which had a few locations around Detroit, including where Chef Greg's Soul-in-the-Wall is now. Brother's Bar-B-Que owners named it after the 1960s funk dance. 

Beard, who opened his spot in 2006, said after two customers came in asking about the Boogaloo he knew he had to try to re-create it, even though no one had eaten it for years. The culinary school-trained chef was up to the challenge. 

"I listened to everything that people had to say what they thought the sauce was. I listened to people who have eaten the sandwich. So I did all that and I started creating and creating and creating until I got it to what the sauce is today," he said. "People say your sauce actually tastes better than the original."

The classic ground beef Boogaloo is as sloppy to eat as it looks, but the silky sauce is so good you won't mind licking it off your fingers and your face. It's got tang, a sweetness and some serious flavor. It always was about the sauce, even at Brother's, and it's still about the sauce today at Soul-in-the-Wall. 

"I went at it hard. I'm like, let me create this Boogaloo sauce, and I did," he said. "So it's 14 herbs, seasonings and spices, it's a two-part recipe, a wet side and a dry side." 

Beard said Brother's Bar-B-Que owner Barney Johnson originally made the Boogaloo with a blend of pork and beef, and his wife, Jean, developed the sauce — Beard said they called it "Jean sauce" back then. The sandwich and the sauce took off and in the '70s it was common for Brothers to go through gallons of it on a weekend night. 

Chef Greg Beard outside his Soul-in-the-Wall restaurant in Detroit with his friend, the late songwriter Allee Willis.

Soul-in-the-Wall, like Brother's before it, is a neighborhood restaurant, serving hot meals made from scratch at an affordable price. It's not too far from Mumford High School and Marygrove College. In fact, late songwriter Allee Willis, a Mumford alum, was a regular at Soul-in-the-Wall and a friend of Chef Greg's. Willis encouraged Beard to name his restaurant Soul-in-the-Wall. 

"I went out to L.A. with her a few times and we did the Boogaloo sandwich at two of her shows," said Beard, adding that Willis once brought the cast of "The Color Purple" to the restaurant (Willis co-wrote the lyrics for the musical). "She brought so much spirit here and we did so many things." 

Grammy Award-winner Willis co-wrote many hit songs including Earth, Wind & Fire's "Boogie Wonderland," so Beard named his version of the classic sandwich Boogaloo Wonderland in her honor. 

Now that Chef Greg's Soul-in-the-Wall is home to this Motown classic, he wants to expand on it. In the near future he hopes to bottle the sauce and sell it at retail, and he'd also like to grow to a sit-down restaurant and a food truck. 

"It's going to take time, but bottom line it's going to take money," he said. "I know that I'm presenting a damn good sandwich. As old school people would tell me, keep it simple. You can't reinvent the wheel so I keep it simple and keep it good."

Greg's Soul-in-the-Wall, 10009 Curtis at Wyoming in Detroit, is open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and 2-6 p.m. Sun. Call your order in at (313) 861-0331 or order online

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Twitter: @melodybaetens

Chef Greg's Soul-n-the-Wall carryout restaurant is on Curtis off Wyoming in Detroit.