Restaurant review: Classic Boodles is essential to Madison Heights dining scene
I never ate in a trendy Manhattan restaurant in the 1980s, but I imagine it would have been a lot like Boodles is today.
The lights are dim, and the air is filled with the sound of a live piano player and the clapping of utensils as a server mixes a Caesar salad tableside.
The tables are covered with maroon cloth to match the banquet chairs. Just below the low, textured ceiling on the walls are lighted and framed whiteboards listing wine deals and specials such as scallops, spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant Parmesan, barbecue ribs, mushroom port rib-eye and steak bites.
On the daily menu, the list of a dozen entrees is all standards: filet mignon, lake perch, chicken piccata, lobster tail, etc. This is one of the only menus I’ve seen in my adult life that offers “steak Diane,” a thin beef steak smothered in flavorful juices that was popular in the mid-20th century.
Boodles is self-aware, though. The staff knows that the 1980s are enough in the rearview that these details aren’t simply outdated. This place is vintage.
The chefs could use more on-trend garnishes, but why? Chopped parsley just seems right scattered over broiled lamb chops with garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus. Part of the charm at Boodles is that it doesn't bend over backward to be cool or in vogue.
"It's got an old-school feel, it's not like all the lame gastropubs with their loaded tater tots. You're not going to get that kind of food here," said general manager Joe Day.
The perch tower is my go-to dish, a pile of lightly breaded fillets that are flaky and crunchy served with a lemon sauce and hiding a pile of mashed potatoes, bright green beans and colorful pepper slices.
Bread for the table is a basket of warm, golden brown rolls with a little Parmesan sprinkled on top and a few breadsticks in cellophane. The appetizers, mostly seafood, are portioned to be a starter for one person, not the table, so order accordingly or skip them.
If you get anything else beyond an entree, I suggest the tableside salad for two. The art of a Caesar salad is in the dressing, and Boodles makes some of the best there is. You can’t get a fresher-tasting salad than one made right at your table. The vinegar, lemon, mustard and garlic all shine through beautifully.
Dessert is also served tableside. Choose from retro dishes like cherries jubilee, bananas Foster or crepes Suzette.
Servers are attentive, and thorough. The cocktail specialty at Boodles is yours however you take it. Up, on the rocks, with top shelf or well liquor, fruit or not — they aim to please. The wine selection should satisfy most, but the easy-to-please will go for one of the house wines sold by the glass, half carafe or full.
Boodles, opened by current owners Bruno and Charlotte Ferguson nearly 40 years ago, has had a rough few years, with the pandemic putting a damper on dining in. There's also been a lot of construction at this intersection. Eleven Mile was closed for many months right outside the restaurant's door, and currently Boodles' exit on I-75 North is closed.
Madison Heights — where east meets west, as the mirror behind the bar at Boodles reads — is known for having a wonderfully diverse culinary scene that includes noodle houses, neighborhood diners, Italian, Mexican, sushi, chain restaurants, pubs and more. Boodles, which has served the area since 1985, is a venerable veteran of this scene.
935 W. 11 Mile, Madison Heights
Rating: ★★ (very good)
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs. and 4-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Prices: Appetizers, $11.95-$16.95; entrees, $23.95-$69.95; tableside Caesar for two, $21.95; wines by the glass start at $8.
Reservations: Yes, via phone
Carryout: Yes, but it's about the dine-in experience
Outdoor dining: None
Noise level: Medium
Accessibility: No barriers
Parking: Free parking lot
What the stars mean:
★ — good
★★ — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — extraordinary
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