Fans of time warps and fried food should make a beeline for Scotty Simpson's. The joint seems not to have aged an hour since its founding in 1950, save for a partial updating of the jukebox maybe 35 years ago.
Scotty's feels like a neighborhood place to the hilt, its small Formica tables host jovial groups, and its waitresses are of the old school never met a stranger. But in reality, the customers are mostly familiar folks, mostly white folks with one-time ties to the neighborhood near Telegraph Road and who just keep coming back. Owner Harold Barber started working there as a dishwasher on his first day at Redford High, and the man who taught him to cook, former owner Sean Gilmore, takes a shift on Fridays even now. Friday is still the big day, of course, because despite the fact American Catholics have been permitted to eat meat on Friday since 1964, Scotty Simpson's customers remain fans of tradition.
That tradition includes, according to Barber, starting with high-quality ingredients: fresh cod from Nova Scotia, hand-sliced potatoes and onions, and hand-shredded cabbage for the coleslaw. Tartar sauce and a ketchup-y shrimp sauce are made by hand. The only items purchased readymade are the rolls and the non-Friday pies. On Fridays, he bakes a dozen chocolate cream, banana cream, lemon meringue and coconut cream during Lent, when business spikes, make that two dozen.
I arrived too late. The pies were gone, and my sweet tooth had to settle for onion rings. But the waitress said that if you call ahead, they'll bake you a pie any day.
Barber declined to reveal even one ingredient of his renowned fish batter, also used on the chicken, shrimp, frog legs and onion rings. It creates a light, crunchy, flaky shell for the coatee, seeming to create a glossy air pocket around the main event rather than clinging to it. This engineering miracle enables the coating to maintain its structure and light-crunchy-flakiness even when leftovers are nuked the next day. Leftovers are likely, as portions are generous.
As we debated the menu, we heard testimonials from happy regulars who called Scotty Simpson's the best fish and chips in the world, but I cannot say what they found different about the fish inside that delectable coating. My frog legs had literally no taste at all; the best fish were the smelt, which had more fish flavor than the cod or the perch. Perhaps fish-and-chips eaters take the insides for granted and grade strictly on the batter.
An especially nice touch is that onion rings, sold at a premium elsewhere and for $1.95 here, can be substituted for fries with any dinner. Prices are designed to make it worth the trek from Livonia or Novi: $8.90 for a fish-and-chips (or rings) dinner with (missable) roll, tartar sauce and slaw; $7.10 for a smelt dinner; $12.15 for perch; $12.85 for jumbo shrimp. Carry-out orders run a buck less.
All the other sea critters are available in various combos with the flagship cod. Grilled or baked cod is also offered even a hamburger or a T-bone but to order those would flout tradition.
The coleslaw flouts tradition, in its own way, since it's not like most establishments' over-mayo'ed glopfests. There's dark green cabbage as well as white, and flecks of carrot a treat for the eyes as well as a refreshing contrast to the all-fried nature of the rest of the dinner.
A peppery clam chowder ($2.25) is also house-made, thick and satisfying but not terribly savory of clams. To wash it down, order Stewart's ginger beer, Faygo red pop or orange cream soda. You may end up creating yourself a new Friday night tradition.
Scotty Simpson's is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 2-9 p.m. Saturday, and 2-7 p.m. Sunday. Cash only.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].