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New Caucus Club reimagined to fit Detroit today

Molly Abraham
The Detroit News

When it was announced that the Caucus Club would reopen, the news was greeted with enthusiasm by Detroiters who have fond memories of the restaurant that was a downtown presence for decades before it shuttered in 2012, as well as those who’ve only read about it. The upbeat climate in Detroit was the catalyst that made it possible for longtime restaurateur George Sboukis to revive the name and the prime space on the main floor of the Penobscot Building.

When its new persona debuted two weeks ago, it was clear that Sboukis hadn’t tried to reprise the look. The new Caucus Club is more attractive now than it was in its original configuration, no longer dimly lit and clubby, but brighter and more welcoming, with the front windows uncovered and an upbeat feeling that extends from the rather formal but stylish front dining room with its linen-swathed tables to the lounge in the rear where the tables are topped with white marble Sboukis discovered stored in the basement of the building and illuminated with open-filiment bulbs.

This is definitely the new Caucus Club. The proprietor says he prefers to look forward, not back. Those who might have expected some sort of revival of the place as it was in its heyday might be disappointed, but Sboukis is absolutely right. You can’t re-create an era and it’s better not to try.

For those for whom the name Sboukis doesn’t ring a bell, he is a longtime restaurateur whose father, Louis, established his first restaurant in Detroit, the Riviera Coffee Shop, soon after arriving here in the mid-’50s from the little Greek fishing village where he was born.

So the Caucus Club proprietor grew up in the restaurant business, notably at Louis’ Chop House in Chesterfield Township, still run by his older brother. Breaking away from the family business was hard, Sboukis says, but the thought of being able to bring a classic Detroit location back to life gave him the motivation.

First he had to decide whether to function as chef, as he had been at Louis,’ or to be the front of the house presence. He chose the latter, and in the early going, he is making the rounds of the tables and making sure the service is up to par, something he plans to emphasize. He entrusted the brand-new kitchen to chef Rick Hussey — the old kitchen is now a private dining room between the front room and the lounge. The new kitchen can be viewed through windows in the hallway.

The menu is being tweaked, of course, but it follows the traditional steak/seafood theme. Signature dishes include dry-rubbed baby back ribs prepared on the wood-fired grill, sauteed lake perch, prime rib in 12- to 14- and 16- to 18-inch cuts, and an array of prime steaks, culminating with the 32-ounce tomahawk rib-eye. And yes, they aren’t cheap.

After just two weeks, it would be premature to give the Caucus Club a star rating, but it certainly looks promising, under a proprietor who knows what it takes to run a successful restaurant and seems determined to do it on the bigger stage of downtown Detroit.

abraham67@comcast.net

Caucus Club

150 W. Congress, Detroit

Call: (313) 965-4970

Web:caucusclub.com

Rating: Promising

Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m Mon.-Fri., dinner 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Closed Sun.

Prices: Lunch appetizers and raw bar $15-$30, soups and salads $7-$18, sandwiches and entrees $12-$30; dinner appetizers and raw bar $15-$36, steaks and chops $30-$89, seafood $26-$64, other entrees $24-$36.

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: Full bar and extensive wine list

Noise level: Low in dining room, moderate in lounge

Parking: Nearby lots and street; valet coming soon

Wheelchair access: No barriers

What the ratings mean

★ — routine ★★ — good ★★ 1/2 — very good

★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding