First look: Axle Brewing's Livernois Tap

Dawn Riffenburg
The Detroit News

Axle Brewing Co.'s Livernois Tap is not your typical brewpub.

First of all, it has stroller parking. And a bold menu that goes beyond pretzels and pizza and dips into the adventurous (crispy animal parts, anyone?)

The new brewpub on Livernois, between Eight and Nine Mile roads and set in a former diamond cutting factory, aims to be a neighborhood pub, but with aspirations. 

The brewpub threw open its wide doors for a friends-and-family soft opening Thursday night to give the staff a little experience in advance of its full opening on Saturday. Lucky folks getting a sneak peek were offered two courses from an edited menu and a full beer list.

The indoor space features communal tables with benches and bar seating. Outdoors, there's a patio with picnic tables and firepits. Along with the stroller parking, there are 24 bike parking spots.

The decor, by Patrick Thompson Design in Detroit, carried out a lot of the owners' ideas, said principal designer Mandi Parker. She was there Thursday with her husband, Larry, to see the results unveiled. The Bloomfield Township couple liked all of the food they tried, but in particular, a trout dish, which "killed it," said Larry Parker. 

Mandi Parker pointed out massive leaf doors that open, melding the indoors and outdoors in a light and airy space, as well as the "stroller parking" that gives the brewpub a family-friendly vibe. Mandi Parker said the area "desperately needs something like this where you can feel comfortable and also have a beer."

"You also need that as a parent," said the mom of a 13-month-old.

Axle Brewing President Dan Riley surveyed the crowd Thursday with tired satisfaction. He's happy about the way things are coming together two days before the opening.

The idea was to capture a European beer hall feeling with something uniquely Michigan, clean and modern. 

His attention to detail extends to the benches at the tables: "They had to be wide enough for my butt and have a good lean to them."
It's that mix of old and new, not constraining themselves to what a tap room traditionally feels like, that he sought. It's a mix of tradition and being aspirational with the food and beer.

They're going for a real neighborhood feel, between the stroller parking and 24 bike parking spaces. Livernois has more available parking than other areas of Ferndale, but Axle has partnered with some area businesses to offer additional spaces.

The food:

Fueling a lot of buzz about Livernois Tap is the fact that the menu was created by Grey Ghost chefs John Vermiglio and Josef Giacomino, along with chef Reid Shipman, formerly of Gold Cash Gold. 

 Vermiglio says the goal is to have fun and offer "good drinking food." He pointed to the crispy animal parts snack: beef tendon, salmon, chicken and pig skin, with different seasonings and served with cheese fondue. It was spicy and meaty.

"We wanted to push the boundaries, and get new things into people's palates," Vermiglio said. "We borrowed Grey Ghost's most popular dish (the fried bologna corn dog).
"This gives the menu a playfulness and whimsy we exhibit at Grey Ghost, maybe a little more so here."

Buffalo fried green tomato, $9, lightly battered and pleasantly spicy, joins pickled tomatoes, pickled celery and smoked blue cheese. This was a hit, as was a riff on a lobster roll made with shrimp ($15) and a lamb burger with Havarti cheese, caramelized onions and pesto mayo ($13).

The priciest item on the menu, at $20, is the locally sourced half-chicken.

The soft opening menu also included chicken shawarma wings, a taco wedge and taquitos, quinoa patty melt, mussels and frites made with the Axle Dual Citizen, and the fried bologna corn dog, which appeared to be on one out of every two tables Thursday night.

Dishes feature fresh herbs and as many housemade products as possible, a goal which will increase as time goes on, said server Russell Kirchner. The emphasis is also on local sourcing.

The regular menu is divided into snacks, ranging from a chips and dip flight to everything trout (a riff on an everything bagel); vegetables including a taco wedge; stuff on bread (the aforementioned lamb burger and shrimp roll, plus a quinoa patty melt; from the cast iron; and sides. Prices are reasonable: Snacks range from $6-$14, sandwiches from $11-15, plates $16-$20. It's a fine line between a restaurant with great beer or a brewpub with great food, so don't bother thinking about it, just eat and drink.

If the dessert offerings include a snickerdoodle cookie topped with creme fraiche gelato and butterscotch sauce, definitely order it. Perhaps with a stout.

The beer:

Among my Thursday samples:

Noble Ghost, their "grindgeist" blonde, featuring the Noble German hop they source through a Michigan grower. "We are giddy about this beer," Riley said. It's a nicely balanced 5.2% ABV blonde with fruity notes. 

Redheads Rye Pale Ale: There are a lot of redheads at Livernois Tap. "We like to say we're saving the redheads," Riley said, and they pay homage to them on the menu with the rye beer, which blends two row and black malts with Aurora and Comet hops.

There are two IPAs: the flasgship Long Cut, 6.2% ABV, and Mother Handsome, a double IPA, 8.5%, that blends South African and American hops. It's nicely bitter with a hoppy bite but not too much. 

The Long Cut was named in part by Riley's son Eamon, 5 (6 on June 21, Eamon points out), who once when driving with his dad asked why Dad always takes the "long cut," not the short cut. The name also references the process Axle took to opening Livernois Tap, Riley said, because they bought a production brewing first and then added the tap room, a little contrary to a conventional path. "The Long Cut" is also a song by Riley favorite Uncle Tupelo, so the name works on many levels. As for the beer, it's a solid, well-balanced, easy-drinking IPA.

It's going to take a few trips to get through the diverse, well-curated beer menu of 13 taps, which includes a wheat, a kolsch (interestingly named the 14th Amendment, Axle's "salute to the due process and equal protection for the thirsty"), a cream ale, City Pale Ale, brown ale, lager, porter, stout and a London strong porter.

Prices range from $2 for a 5-ounce pour to $5-$6.50 for a pint; takeout also available.

Note: If you're using that stroller parking, there's pop for the kiddos.

Livernois Tap

567 Livernois, Ferndale

(248) 268-3496

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 4-11 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat. and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.