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Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Legendary deli hangout

Posted By on Wed, Jan 19, 2000 at 12:00 AM

"Gotta go to Lou’s," said a visiting expatriate who had fled Detroit after graduating high school. Lou’s? I hadn’t been there for years. Maybe it deserved another look-see.

As I walked in the door, I could see immediately what would appeal to a young person: It’s open until 2 a.m. on weekdays, 4 a.m. on weekends.

I studied the menu on the wall, which includes 41 sandwiches with names such as Sherry’s Schtick (triple-decker of salami, coleslaw, Russian dressing – $5.85), Felicia’s Chutzpa (triple-decker of ham, pineapple, cream cheese, lettuce, mayo – $6.30), and Leo’s Yolk (two fried eggs, beef bacon, mayo – $5.05).

As I read the menu, I listened to the friendly banter of the counter staff. A young woman was saying, "I’m too old for him."

I couldn’t help asking, "How old are you?"

"Twenty-one," she said. "He’s only twenty."

I nodded and ordered Cheryl’s Dream, a four-decker of corned beef and pastrami for $7.80. I brought along a certified deli expert, born and bred in the Bronx. He ordered David’s Drip, corned beef and pastrami on an onion roll served with melted Swiss cheese and Russian dressing ($7.85).

As we sat down, he eyed his sandwich, which was packed about 3 inches thick with meat. "I wonder how they would have fit it in if I upgraded to ‘super meat,’" he mused.

"Super Meat" adds an extra two-and-a-half ounces for 99 cents, and "Super Duper" adds five ounces for $1.76.

Lou’s has always been a hangout that mixed cultures. When the restaurant, originally on 12th Street, moved to McNichols more than 50 years ago, the neighborhood was Jewish. Catholic girls from the stately Marygrove campus across the street came to Lou’s after classes. They learned about chopped liver and knishes.

Students and professors still fill the booths at lunchtime, mixing with the current African-American neighbors. It is a friendly atmosphere where everyone seems comfortable.

Lou’s menu has evolved to serve its clientele. There is no chopped liver on the menu anymore, no bagels, no lox. Most of the sandwiches are served with Russian dressing, not the pungent mustards you’d find in the Bronx. Lou’s may be the only deli in America serving sweet potato pie, but when we asked for the apple strudel (which is on the menu), we got a blank stare.

Marty Goodman started as a busboy in the ‘60s, and purchased the restaurant from its original owner, Lou Loewy, who died in 1970. In 1995 Goodman was confronted with the decision to move or remodel. He threw caution to the wind and expanded the space to almost three times its original size. Two satellite locations with scaled-down menus are on Seven Mile and Evergreen in Detroit, and Greenfield south of Nine Mile in Southfield.

The menu features homemade soups and chili. The bean soup was good, with chunks of ham in a tomato base heaped with white beans. The potato salad is another standout.

Desserts are thick slabs of cake with sugary frosting, big enough to serve three, but dry and not especially flavorful. There wasn’t a speck of orange in the carrot cake. Go with the sweet potato pie.

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