Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
115 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Farms
Lucy used to be on the Hill, and now she's in the sky. Both ways, her restaurant has remained a Grosse Pointe neighborhood favorite, filled with happy folks enjoying a fireplace and a pub-like atmosphere: lots of dark carved wood but plenty of light to see by (as in England), brass light fixtures, hooks to hang your coat on by the high-backed booths — and sparkly diamonds (stars) in the sky (ceiling) overhead, created by a fiber-optic setup with a color wheel.
The place isn't psychedelic in the least — in one wall photo, the first (and best) James Bond lolls against an Aston Martin; Claudette Colbert appears in lounging pajamas in another — but looking up generates a happy, twinkly feeling. Everyone I went with was struck straightaway by the convivial atmosphere.
Lucy's Tavern on the Hill occupied the spot for more than eight years and was taken over last June by Richard and Christine Allen, former regulars and friends of the owners. They retained most of the decor and menu, though I learned with regret that they plan to get rid of the images embedded in the bar of once-prominent but long-dead Detroiters, such as Truman H. Newberry and W. Howie Muir, who apparently are not great conversation-starters.
Lucy's menu is as eclectic as is normal these days, with appetizers ranging from sashimi to nachos to crab cakes to a mezze platter. The rest of the menu is more American: huge salads with lots of meat; classic sandwiches including a Reuben; meatloaf, lake perch, jambalaya, steaks. Good hot rolls are a pumpernickel-rye mix from Breadsmith.
Grosse Pointers are said to seek "value" in their restaurant meals (as if other people don't?). I've interpreted this to mean they don't mind spending money if the quality and quantity are commensurate with the tab. For my money, many of the dishes at Lucy's don't hit this mark. They sound better than they perform on the taste buds.
The chef seems to follow the rule that if one ingredient is good, nine must be nine times as good. In some restaurants, a riotous mix of flavors can be a good thing, but at Lucy's, often many of the elements seem to just drop out.
Sometimes a longish list of flavors does work, as in Lucy's salmon fillet salad: pine nuts, buffalo mozzarella, kalamata olives, cucumber, red onion, tomato and roasted peppers on mesclun, with the vinaigrette served thoughtfully on the side. A couple of east side regulars said it's what they always ask for, and the night I ran into them, both halves of the couple had ordered it.
But a pecan-crusted chicken breast salad with cranberries and Gorgonzola was too sweet, with strawberries and raspberries gilding the lily. The salsa accompaniment looked pretty with its yellow pineapple and red onion, but was strangely devoid of flavor.
The same could be said of French onion soup: lots of provolone, lots of onions, but a weak broth, where a rich and strong beef broth should be star of the show. In a portobello cap sandwich, I couldn't taste the mushroom.
We found most vegetables bland too, whether serving as a side dish or in the open-faced vegetarian sandwich. Peppers and broccoli and zucchini and squash and mushrooms and tomatoes won't be enough if none of the flavors is vibrant. We Americans may have trained too many restaurant cooks that any sin can be covered up with a thick layer of cheese, as in Lucy's veggie and portobello sandwiches, but I don't agree.
My companion liked her fried perch sandwich, moist with just the right amount of crust, but it was served on a nondescript bun. Another was disappointed with his meatloaf en croute; actually, I find that restaurants almost always pack their meatloaf too densely. It needs a looser texture, like my mom's, in order to be juicy. This one had a salty gravy, and the enfolding pastry had lost any resemblance to puff.
Here's what was good at Lucy's: a lobster shiitake pizza, a special. Though one of our party called it "ordinary with lobster," I loved the way the lobster delicately flavored all. The chef had wisely chosen fontina for the cheese, so as not to compete. The mushrooms, jalape�o and sun-dried tomato cream cheese spread were not apparent, but this time I didn't mind.
Also tasty was eggplant Napoleon, crisp around the edges, with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, good and spicy.
For dessert, a mammoth hot fudge cream puff filled with ice cream satisfied four people. We realized, though, that, in this dessert, the cream puff part (choux pastry) always sounds better than it turns out to be. The pastry is the opposite of puffy — tough and chewy; you're better off ordering a sundae without a bread-like top and bottom.
More delicious was a dense chocolate mousse pie with raspberry and vanilla bean sauces. Otherwise it's standards: carrot cake, cheesecake, a sundae.
The bar stocks a changing and eclectic selection of wines and beers, including brews from Atwater.
Lucy's is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays. The full bar is open till 2 a.m.