A better bar

Woodbridge Pub fills a neighborhood gap in Detroit

Note: Since this review ran, the menu has been changed somewhat.

Detroiters tend to have lowered expectations. Woodbridge residents Pete and Carol Forsyth watched work proceed for more than two years on the building that became the Pub, but they never thought it would open. Since it did on Sept. 8, they say, it's nothing less than "huge" for the neighborhood. It's a place they can walk to (or bike to; there's a rack), lovely to look at, with affordable prices for good food and an atmosphere that's, yes, everybody-knows-your-name — or wouldn't mind knowing it.

That's because the owner, first-time restaurateur Jim Geary, lives in the Woodbridge Historic District himself and built the place partly because he wanted to liven up his own surroundings. The Pub is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day, and Geary seems to be there most of those hours.

His previous career as a home restorer shows. With a friend, he spent 200 hours restoring the ornate but rusted and rotted tin ceiling and painting it a pale copper color. He installed 30 feet of 8-foot windows along the front and one side. He constructed the now-gorgeous bar from wood salvaged from an old church. And he dismantled a 1906 hand-carved oak meat locker discovered in a Hamtramck butcher shop, trucked it to Woodbridge, and cobbled it back together. That became the men's room, and it's worth a visit even if you can only look at the outside. Craigslist is astonishing, isn't it?

The result of all those hard surfaces, including the terrazzo floor, is a shout-to-be-heard noise level, perhaps the Pub's only serious flaw. Maybe some fabric on the walls would help.

The most popular items on the menu (as on all menus) are the burgers. They're a succulent half-pound of certified Angus, dressed up with white cheddar or goat cheese or caramelized bacon or portobellos, delivered rare if you ask for rare. There are too many hamburgers in this world, but the Pub's version argues that room should be made for a few more.

Other sandwiches are equally wonderful, such as a pile of sweet caramelized bacon combined with Brie on a baguette ("BBLT on a B"), or a compilation of all-yuppie ingredients called a S.U.B.: portabella, goat cheese, roasted red peppers and caramelized onions on warm ciabatta. The menu overall inclines toward the yup, with a majority of dishes unobtrusively vegetarian. Even a sandwich called "the Meat-Locker" contains bean sprouts, and the Hipster Burger is dressed with pesto-infused mayo.

For appetizers, the Pub serves a fresh and generous cumin-enhanced guacamole for just $5 and an excellent queso fundido, melted cheese laced with spicy chorizo.

Oddly, Geary says that his ultra-thin white pizzas, beautifully composed, are not big sellers yet — perhaps because there's no pepperoni? They're loaded with fancy cheeses (goat, Brie, sometimes five cheeses altogether) and such toppings as artichoke hearts, hickory-smoked chicken, crimini and shiitake. At $7 for a 10-inch, they're a shareable bargain.

Geary serves four pastas, cavatappi and fettuccine, also with tons of cheese. I found the Susie-Q way too heavy on the rosemary, with a biting taste, but pasta primavera (no cheese) was lovely, with big chunks of those same yuppie veggies and lots of good olive oil — none of the cream sauce that often turns this light and healthy dish heavy.

Salads, the second most popular item on the menu, include the obligatory nod to northern Michigan — gotta promote cherries — a Caesar, and a "Summer in the City" with apples, strawberries and lemon poppy-seed dressing. One lunchtime, my companion and I found our two salads underdressed and overdressed, respectively, so be specific if wetness level is important to you. The "Cheery Cherry" was loaded with pecans and expertly done grilled chicken.

The Woodbridge Pub is definitely a pub, not just a restaurant. Many patrons are into Irish whisky, the biggest seller among the brown goods (Ghettoblaster is second). Only Ghettoblaster and Miller Lite (!) are available on tap, but there's a good selection of domestic and imported beers, again honoring Michigan businesses, such as Dragonmead and Bell's. Wines are from California. My companion ordered a Ciroc (grape vodka) martini and pronounced it world-class, and that was on the first sip.

If the Woodbridge has a second flaw, it's an overenthusiastic menu writer. "Lipsmackin' happy ranch sauce"? "Finger lickin' good, y'all"? A bit more "show, don't tell" would be in keeping with the pub's generally more sophisticated ambience. Re: the Caesar salad, the author wrote merely, "Pretty much what you think it is" and thereby lowered the temperature 10 degrees.

I must mention that Geary is committed to biodegradable containers for carryout, though they're more expensive. It's in keeping with his give-back-to-the-neighborhood ethos (generously defined).

Here's another way you can tell Geary wants to serve his neighbors: A brunch menu began Oct. 5, with bottomless mimosas from noon to 4 p.m. for $11. This deal is recommended for walkers only.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

About The Author

Jane Slaughter

When she's not reviewing restaurants, Jane Slaughter also writes about labor affairs, having co-founding the labor magazine Labor Notes. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, Monthly Review, and In These Times.
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