Hey! Want to know a secret? Far from the interstate, chain restaurants, low-carb menus, or wi-fi service sits Detroit Beach Restaurant & Pizzeria.
It's the kind of place you could drive past without noticing; the kind of place that usually only exists in gritty movies; with well-worn seats, vinyl tablecloths, crooked pictures of the Italian coast, and golden light that makes everything somehow more authentic. The waitresses ditched the pleasantries a long time ago, they're bossy and direct. They're not at all unfriendly, just lacking pretense. That could be said about the whole place. Painfully tiny, the tables are parked close together and packed with patrons amid a cacophony of loud diners and louder servers. What would be a disaster anywhere else makes this little dive a diamond.
The ambience sets a perfect stage for the big steaming bowls of pasta and tin plates of fresh pizza. The menu is classic and brief. What it does, it does well. When we ask about dessert, the waitress says no one would order it. The portions are big, filling, and delicious. "Who would have room?"
At lunch, a big basket of fresh-baked bread with butter quickly arrives at the table, soon followed by bread sticks, homemade minestrone soup, and a salad featuring a homemade Italian dressing. The bread is spectacular, with a golden crust and a slightly chewy texture. There's no separate lunch menu, and the dinner-sized portions can be gargantuan.
The homemade lasagna ($9) is a feast of thick noodles and rich meat sauce, baked with mozzarella cheese. A layer of sliced hard-boiled egg adds a fresh counterpoint to the rich strata of ingredients. Spaghetti and ravioli ($9) are smothered in sauce and cheese and baked. The ravioli is big and thick like pasta enveloping a meatball.
We return for dinner to find Detroit Beach Restaurant & Pizzeria mobbed. That exquisite fresh bread along with soup accompany our entrees. The pasta fagule and minestrone soups are virtually identical except the minestrone has big vegetables and the pasta fagule has orzo and beef. Neither is exceptional. But all of this is really just a distraction from the main course.
The waitress swoops in with our entrees, each more glorious than the last. Plates fly around the table and we dig in. The pizza ($10.50 for two toppings) was a study in balance. Nothing is superfluous, everything in concert. The fresh crust is thin, light, and flaky. The red sauce is heavy with garlic and herbs, and the toppings fresh and traditional. A comparatively light cap of cheese allows the fresh ingredients to shine; more like traditional Italian pizza, less like the "everything but the kitchen sink" Chicago pizza.
In contrast, the pastas are all about excess. The homemade gnocci ($9) is impossibly light, swimming in copious amounts of the rich meat sauce. Gnocci, a potato dumpling, easily turns from loose blob to chewy pellet; keeping it firm but feathery is an art. The sauce is very unlike classic marinara. It's thick and creamy, with a heavy kick of garlic. I have mine served "casserole" style with a thick layer of toasted mozzarella cheese on top. The spaghetti with butter sauce ($7.75) is straightforward with tons of fresh garlic.
You may hear a collective gasp from locals north of the border now that their secret is out. Hidden in a tiny, aging building far from the view of Monroe's big city neighbors to the north and south is some of the best "stick to your ribs" Italian-American food this side of The Sopranos.
Don't change a thing.
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org.