The 15-year-old Motor City Brewery Works (MCBW), the state's second oldest microbrewery, is known so well for its beer that it once was the question to an answer on "Jeopardy." Three years ago, owners John Linardos and Dan Scarsella began serving food in their taproom, located in front of the works in the Traffic Jam's parking lot on Canfield in Detroit. Over time, chef Jodi Laney expanded their offerings to make it possible for quaffers to put together a nice little meal along with their Ghettoblaster, the brewery's most famous product.
The homey taproom, into which 50 patrons can squeeze, is a colorful hodgepodge of stained glass windows, tiled walls, wooden beams, blond wood panels, skylights and even a huge steel fermenting tank in the rear. The tiny kitchen behind the bar, dominated by a huge pizza oven, precludes elaborate culinary preparations.
Much of the material that went into the making of this unique dining area was scavenged. A handful of pink Formica tables and well-worn wooden chairs are scattered around an irregularly contoured wooden bar. The informality is relieved by the thick linen napkins that complement the plain plastic plates and lightweight tableware.
During the several times I was there, the MCBW appeared to draw many regulars from the neighborhood. It is a friendly tavern like Cheers where everyone seems to know your name.
The menu of appitezers, soups, salads, pizza and sandwiches is brief. Among the five appetizers ($8-$9), the sampler plate offers a pleasing assortment of Greek olives, warm spiced pecans, sun-dried tomato tapenade, salametti sausage with a sweet mustard sauce on the side, and a choice of cheese of the day with mini baguette. Adhering when possible to a locavore approach, the brewery purchases its cheese from Hirt's.
Other firsts include three dips, artichoke, hot crab and queso, the latter of which is a zesty, complex mélange of red, green and poblano peppers, onions, garlic, black, chili and kidney beans, Ghettoblaster, sour cream, scallions and tortilla chips. Zesty as well are the three soups — a vegetarian chili and two house potpourris labeled soup No. 1 and soup No. 2. On one occasion, soup No. 1 was a mildly fiery Southwestern chili-like bean broth laden with chicken and corn. Some ingredients come from the nearby North Cass Community Garden.
The only other firsts are two salads. The Cyprus with baby spinach is a Greek variant, while the sesame-ginger is Asian-accented, with mixed greens, cucumber, spiced pecans, red cabbage and sesame seeds tweaked with a lively sesame-ginger dressing.
Two welcome recent additions to the dinner bill of fare are an old-fashioned pot of mac and cheese ($8) that is creamy in the middle and crusty around the edges, and a well-seasoned, winter-warming shepherd's pie ($9).
Each afternoon, Laney constructs a sandwich special, usually a melt, such as chicken-mushroom with habanero sauce.
But the real strength of the brewery's kitchen is a 10-inch brick-oven pizza, which is a steal at $8-$9. You can construct your own from a large variety of sauces, vegetables, meats, cheese and fruit.
However you decide to design your za, the crusts are special — nicely charred at the thick edges with an unusual flakey thinner base. Among the house-made pies are the simple classic margherita, and the cutesy "Mary did have ..." with ground lamb roasted with garlic, tomatoes, pine nuts, feta and labneh. Or if that is not exotic enough, how about roasted pears, figs and gorgonzola, or the "sopla fuego" with habanero sauce, Anejo queso, chorizo, sour cream, jalapeno and lime?
First-timers might want to wash all of this down with the generous beer-sampler tray ($7) that usually includes five-ounce tastes of pale ale, lager, Ghettoblaster, nut brown and, sometimes, a dense porter or even a glass of cider. Ghettoblaster, akin to a mild English ale, is also the title of the CDs produced by the brewery that salute local musical talent.
Wine from Michigan's Bel Lago vinyards is also available. However, at $6 a glass, it is not as economically seductive as the beer in terms of price per ounce.
When I asked to speak to the manager, I was informed they don't have one, aside from the owners who are often on site. Thus, on one occasion when they were absent, the attentive servers-bartenders-cooks constituted a community of apparent equals. But there is not much of a community of neighboring restaurateurs, as, aside from a handful of designated parking spaces in front of the taproom, the Traffic Jam charges MCBW patrons $5 to use their far more numerous spaces. The brewery has added free spots on Prentis behind the building, with a lighted passageway to the front door.
MCBW's cuisine may never be the answer to a question on "Jeopardy" but it certainly goes well with its renowned beer.
Mel Small teaches history at Wayne State University. Send comments to [email protected].