Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ye Not-So-Olde Woodbridge Pub

Woodbridge Pub, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. My #1, hands-down, no-contest favorite guacamole in town (and “town” includes the sector of the city known as “Mexican Town”)
2. $2.00 off Irish whiskey during St. Patrick’s Day weekend AND Bell’s 2-Hearted on tap
3. Three different kinds of meat-errific burgers (plus an veggie option for good measure)
4. Four generous chunks of rich, flavorful, artery-clogging cheeses on their Sunday brunch cheese plate
5. Five different kinds of cheese in their Mac and Cheese on steroids, the Cavatappi con Queso
6. Did I mention that cheese plate is only $6.00?
7. ”Cheese to the Seventh Power,” described as “grilled cheese on steroids” (so much for my steroids pun), with seven different kinds of cheeses and lots and lots of butter

I could go on.

Due to the overtly cheese-centric nature of the above list, you can certainly tell my tastes, and this is definitely one place I won’t leave asking “More cheese, please!” Owner Jim Geary’s sister created the menu, and this is a woman truly after my own heart. She clearly loves cheese possibly as much as I do (and that’s rare), and she has no fear of including it all over the menu and in heaping helpings on your plate. Some might cry about calories and cholesterol…this is not the place for them.

However, Woodbridge Pub does cater to the vegan/vegetarian set with a number of hearty and flavorful menu items that have no meat (and only some with cheese). A quick glance over the menu reveals no fewer than 15 vegetarian items (not including sides or desserts), with five vegan-friendly options available (more if you order minus the cheese, but ohdeargodwhywouldyou). Of these *ahem* cheeseless items, I sampled the Pasta Primavera, made with a mix of fresh vegetables atop a bed of fettuccine noodles and “drizzled” with garlic-herb infused extra virgin olive oil and “a hint” of pesto—which means it was extra-oily and the pesto was hardly a hint, neither of which is bad because the oil kept the veggies moist and the pesto had a great flavor without being overpowering. Also, there were tons of veggies in this one—broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, mushrooms—which made for a healthy, hearty meal. Which would have been better with grated parmesan on top, but I digress. (It was actually quite flavorful and satisfying.)

Another cheeseless item I’m rather fond of: the guacamole. To utilize the parlance of the tommy-gun-toting gangster era, this guacamole is the tits. This homemade creamy creation is heavy on garlic (to the point that you can still smell it emanating from your pours a day later), light on onion—just how I like it! And the tortilla chips are fresh and flavorful with just the right amount of salt. As far as I’m concerned, this is the best guacamole in the city.

But that’s just to start (the Nachos also smell amazing and seem to be a favorite with regulars, though I have yet to sample them). From there, try one of their thick, hearty sandwiches, such as the B.B.L.T. on a B., with caramelized bacon, brie cheese, Michigan leaf lettuce, and marinated tomatoes on a grilled baguette. The bacon is thick and meaty, covered with peppercorn flavor and a sticky-sweet caramelized coating which balances nicely with the meat and the creamy, rich brie. Do you remember the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding when Julia Roberts made the comparison between crème brulee and Jell-O? Jello-O, meet your crème brulee. And trust me, no one wants Jell-O.

And then there’s Woodbridge’s pièce de résistance: Cheese to the Seventh Power. You had me at “Cheese.” Brie, white cheddar, Romano, two different mozzarellas, provolone and parmesan on a butter-soaked toasted baguette. There is nothing healthy about this, but if this is wrong I don’t want to be right. Oprah might have called Café Muse’s dainty honey-drizzled grilled cheese the best in America, but for foodies and cheeseheads alike this one is no contest.

Woodbridge Pub is also open at 11:00AM for Sunday brunch. Now, if there’s one thing I love almost as much as I love cheese, it’s brunch. Woodbridge Pub once again does not disappoint. On separate trips I ordered the Fruit and Cheese Plate, served with their soft, crusty baguette bread. Large portions of cheddar, provolone, brie and Manchego comprise this Sunday starter, and on the seventh day God rested, and it was good. I followed that up with that day’s special “Omnivore Omelet,” made with mushrooms, onions, walnuts, and with LOTS of crumbled goat cheese on top. It might count as “vegetarian,” but it was heavy. The over-abundance of goat cheese was a bit too tangy for even my tastes (which means a lot of others would hate it), so I’d recommend they exercise some moderation with this in the future. Not with everything, mind you, just with this, and only because it’s goat cheese. On another trip I tried the Croque Madame, grilled sourdough with Black Forest ham, fried egg, Gruyere, and tomato. This was like a party in my mouth—and here the overabundance of Gruyere Swiss was the guest of honor. The flavors balanced beautifully, and this is meal enough for a whole day. Breakfast is also served with their cubed herb-and-oil-drizzled home fries, which are themselves rich and filling, as well as fruit for that healthy balance. And if all that weren’t enough, Woodbridge Pub boasts the best bottomless mimosa deal in town: $11.00 ($1.00-$4.00 cheaper than any other Detroit brunch spot that I’ve encountered).

If fat grams were no object, I would eat here daily. But what makes the food at Woodbridge Pub so good is that it is so bad. Geary likes to call his food “healthy, home-cooked food;” to which I must ask when has “home-cooked” ever been healthy? I’m thinking, of course, of the days when mom stayed at home and made pot roasts with mashed potatoes and vegetables with lots and lots of real butter. THIS is the kind of home cooking you get at Woodbridge Pub. And ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that.

Surprisingly, for a restaurant that has been so on-point with so many other things, their one failure is in—and God I really hate having to say this—their pizza. Pizzas are made with a 10-inch extra thin crust, which as the consistency of old cardboard and doesn’t taste much better, and are topped with items that sound good but don’t ultimately end up doing too great together. First I tried the Artichoke, Spinach and Brie pizza, drizzled with garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil. Sounds great, right? Except for not really. The toppings were fine, but the crust was just so damn dry…so I gave it a few months. I figured hey, they just opened, they’re still toying with the menu, maybe this was a fluke. And I tried again, this time with the “You Got Smoked” Chicken pizza, made with hickory-smoked chicken breast, onions (and I HATE onions, but I was willing to overlook this), crispy bits of bacon, mushrooms, Alfredo sauce and a five-cheese blend. Triple-bypass heaven! Except…not so much. Again, the crust was so dry that the rest was negligible. The Alfredo sauce was just too rich and overpowering for the rest of the pizza. Also, I HATE onions. Which is not really the restaurant’s fault; I just thought I’d get that out there.

Woodbridge Pub has a limited number of beers on tap (two at any given time, and one is always Motor City Brewing Works’ “Ghetto Blaster”; currently the other is Bell’s Two-Hearted, though it has been Miller Light in the past), but they do carry over 40 different labels, and many of them local. Drinks are cheap and strong, two things I like, and they also offer great daily drink specials. The food is also cheap (or perhaps I should call it college-friendly, what with its proximity to Wayne State), with very few items topping $7.00, a more than fantastic deal for such great food.

Service is consistently friendly, with hipster-ish bartenders and waiters serving their hipster friends. This place is a hipster haven, BTW; they even have a burger named after them (“Detroit Hipster Burger, Dude”). At any given time you’re bound to run into members of one of Detroit’s indie bands (they even work there) as well as various artists and photographers, some of whom have even shown their work on the walls. My last trip there I ran into Megan Owens, a very talented local photographer whose work I first saw the first time I went to Woodbridge. I almost always spot a band member or four, but the vibe isn’t so much hipster-exclusive as it is all-inclusive and welcoming. As soon as it opened Woodbridge Pub became the new favorite hangout for young Detroiters, and despite its off-the-beaten-path location on Trumbull just north of Warren, the crowd is always full of familiar faces. You’ll always have a friend at Woodbridge; if not, you’re sure to meet one. And taking its cue from a number of other local dining establishments that also display local art, Woodbridge (much like the Majestic or Motor City Brewing Works) has an new art exhibit on display every two weeks. Sometimes the service is slow (specifically for Sunday brunch, when the kitchen and staff seem to be easily overwhelmed, at least both times I went), but the food makes the wait worthwhile. They also have a great jukebox, but you’re likely to never know it because, sadly, the acoustics inside are atrocious and even at top volume you can’t really hear the music. However, the completely renovated interior made with refurbished materials (items salvaged from a shuttered church in Saginaw include pews which comprise seating and steps which went into construction of the large, high polished bar; wrought iron came from a salvage yard) is nothing short of beautiful, maintaining both an old-world pub vibe (with lots of glossy wood covering the walls and surfaces) as well as an old Detroit vibe (with the presumably original plaster and moulding ceiling).

Woodbridge Pub is, at its heart, a classic neighborhood pub. Word got out on it fast and there is always a good crowd regardless of the time of day. This is the kind of place you can come to just to have a beer with friends and hang out as much as you can sit down for a great lunch or dinner before going out for the evening. They also offer free Wi-Fi Internet access, which is great for the students of nearby Wayne State University. But despite its convenient location in a neighborhood that was desperately in need of its own local hangout, as well as its appeal to the local youngsters and cheap prices, the bottom line is that the food is great, and that is ultimately what makes this place work so well. Welcome to the neighborhood, Woodbridge. We’ve been waiting.

Woodbridge Pub is located at 5169 Trumbull. They are open 11:00AM-2:00AM daily and serve food until 10:00PM Sundays-Thursdays, midnight on Fridays & Saturdays.