Friday, January 23, 2009

Irony at the Red Coat Tavern

I love the Red Coat Tavern. Always have. There's just something so terribly precious about it ("precious" as in "gimmicky"), but it's also a damn good place to get a beer and burger.

After nearly 40 years in business and opening sister restaurant Zinc Brasserie in West Bloomfield in 2004 (which has been voted to have the "Best Brasserie Burger" by the Free Press), Red Coat is still one of the most popular casual restaurants in Oakland County, always packed with a line at the door, and still sporting the same Olde Tyme d├ęcor as it has for...well, ever. Dark and dingy and fabulous, the red lights and plaid carpet are garish but make the place what it is. This isn't a trendy lounge atmosphere (unlike sister restaurant Zinc); it's a place to get some authentic, high-quality tavern-style grub.

The beer list is one of the best in the area (in my immediate mind, second only to the Berkley Front and Cadieux Cafe), featuring labels from the UK, Scotland, Brazil, and Belgium. This is where I first discovered Delerium Nocturnum, a strong Belgian brown ale, and I've stuck with it ever since.

And while the many other offerings on the menu are noteworthy--including traditional Euro-style dishes such as English Prime Rib with Yorkshire pudding and Scottish smoked salmon, as well as two different kinds of Clam Chowder and a hearty French Onion Soup--at the end of the day, this is a burger joint. Choose from 5 different breads (like onion rolls and pumpernickel), 8 different cheeses (like Muenster and Smoked Gouda), 20 different toppings (like burnt onions and avocado), and a variety of cuts to create your own ground beef masterpiece. Red Coat is also the only restaurant in Michigan to offer the very lean Piedmontese beef, clocking in with fewer fat grams than chicken or salmon (only 2 grams of fat per serving). The leanness gives it a little less flavor, but you can make up for that as I did by adding on a thick slice of Smoked Gouda and what must have been a 1/4 lb. of crumbled Bleu Cheese.

And that's where the irony comes in: order the lowest-fat meat on the menu, then slather it in high-cholesterol, high-fat cheeses. And it was goooooooood.

Red Coat Tavern is eclectic; you know when you first walk in and see the shaky statue of the British Red Coat and are told that it will be at least a 30-minute wait for a table, then see rich old people and trendy young people scarfing down their infamous burgers in the antiquated (that's a nice way of saying old and dingy) dining room, that this isn't going to be your average dining experience. It is creative and adventurous and just plain tasty, without all the bells and whistles of other restaurants that go for image over quality.

They also serve food until almost 2:00AM, which makes it the perfect place to hit after the bar.