Wednesday, April 4, 2012

[Metromix] One-Eyed Betty's

All photos by VATO for Metromix.

There has been a surge of business growth in downtown Ferndale over the past year, and One-Eyed Betty’s is another new concept to add to your “fast new favorites” list. Located in the space that was once home to Cantina Diablo’s, a Tex-Mex joint-cum-sports bar that never really gelled with the Ferndale crowd, Betty’s feels like the ultimate hometown bar for the slightly more sophisticated Ferndale clientele.

Beth Hussey was the Director of Operations for Brian Kramer (owner of Rosie O’Grady’s and Cantina Diablo’s) before moving out to Grand Rapids for a year where she got “quite the beer education.” (Western Michigan is hugely into the craft beer industry, home to some of the top-rated breweries and beer bars in the country.) When business at the Ferndale location of Cantina Diablo’s began to slow after the Royal Oak location opened, Hussey called Kramer and pitched him the idea of turning into a craft beer bar. He made her a partner and stayed on as a silent partner, and work began immediately to transform the space into a comfortable neighborhood pub.

“I’ve always loved craft beer and always thought a craft beer bar would do really well in Ferndale,” she says. “Ferndale is really the place for it. I saw it can be done when I was [in Grand Rapids], so learned more about beer and said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”

The Mood

The interior design is all Hussey’s. “It’s my concept. I designed it; we had no general contractor,” she states. “We had to make do with what we had since they had just put $2.5 million into it.” She wanted the space to have a “kind of divey, edgy, neighborhood bar kind of feel,” so the space is stripped down to the bar basics of what makes a good beer bar: wooden floors, long communal tables (reminiscent of a German biergarten – which is intentional, since they do not have an outdoor patio), comfortable booths, exposed ductwork giving it that bit of industrial chic appeal, and chalkboards announcing the specials and newest beers on tap.

Hussey also connected with Richard Gage of Richard Gage Design Studios (“my design superhero”), a local artist based in Hazel Park who put her in touch with other local artists and helped her source interesting reclaimed pieces to decorate with. Some works inside Betty’s are from Clinton Snider, who (along with prominent Detroit artist Scott Hocking) was commissioned to go around the city and find “relics” to turn into art pieces which were then displayed at the Detroit Institute of Arts “Relics” exhibit. There is also an “Exit” sign located by the door which was an actual sign on I-75 that had fallen and left discarded on the side of the road; Gage then framed it in metal. Gage is also currently working on an elaborate bottle cap logo sculpture, and later on customers will be able to actively contribute to a bottle cap mural that will be designed as a sort of paint-by-numbers project on the back wall.

For entertainment, there is a small stage for live music ranging from Tony Lucca (a native Detroiter who is currently competing on The Voice) to rockabilly act Delilah DeWylde and the Lost Boys. There are also fully functioning vintage pinball machines located at the front that will continuously get switched out thanks to Hussey’s friend who is a vintage pinball machine collector. “It fits our ‘dive bar’ appeal. There’s nowhere else you can go that has these”

The total turnaround time from the Diablo’s-to-Betty’s transition was about a month and a half, but the space is entirely reborn. The end result feels like an arts-minded urban beer hall that fits in so well with Ferndale’s forward-thinking creative community that it feels like it has always been there (and, more importantly, it’s already hard to imagine a Ferndale without it).

Pork belly sandwich.

The Food

Chef Emmele Herrold along with Hussey has created a menu of beer-themed and beer-friendly food. “The food concept is simple,” Hussey says. “We just wanted a menu that’s all food that is either cooked with beer, or a classic pairing with beer, or food that fits the beer drinkers’ demographic,” she pauses, then asks rhetorically: “Would Homer Simpson like it?”

There is a huge emphasis on oysters (oysters and stout are a classic pairing), which Hussey is very proud of. They get oysters fresh six days a week and price they very aggressively to ensure they keep moving and are always fresh. “We only want to order what we use that day because we want them to be the freshest oysters possible,” she explains. During their 4 to 6 p.m. happy hour the “One-Eyed Oysters” are $1 each by the dozen or half-dozen, “half of what other places charge which helps keep them moving and keep them the freshest possible.” They use Naked Cowboy East Coast oysters, and in addition to serving them on the shell they also serve them baked (Oysters Beatrice, $7), broiled (Oyster Roast, $12) and fried (Po’Boy, $10).

Other staple beer pairings include mussels (great with Belgian beer), a rotating selection of cheese and charcuterie boards (most appropriate with German beer), and fire-roasted wings (great with any beer), plus they also make one of the best Beer Cheese Soups (“au gratin” style, $3/5) you’ll find in metro Detroit. “Bacon with a Side of Bacon” ($8) is already a huge fan favorite, comprised of braised pork belly, applewood smoked bacon strips, and a fried poached egg. They also have “Some Sorta Special” nightly, which lately has been a lot of seafood and cockles (clams) and crispy brussel sprouts. “There’s always something different and interesting to check out.”

If you like seafood, you’ll love their “Obligatory Fish and Chips” ($14), a massive piece of haddock that doesn’t even fit on the plate served with their hand-cut fries, homemade coleslaw and lemon-caper aioli. The haddock is fried in their secret-recipe house beer batter, which is not the crispy-crunchy batter you might expect but thick, doughy, pillowy batter. The haddock is snow white and juicy.

Another “handwich” that has already gained a cult following is the “Pork Belly Sandwich” ($9) with pickled veggies and Asian mayo served on a French baguette. The pork is so tender and succulent it drips all over your plate – have plenty of napkins handy.

No proper beer bar is complete without a signature burger. The “Betty Burger” has bacon, sharp cheddar and garlic aioli ($10) on a hearty bun, served with hand-cut fries or substitute their giant, pillowy onion rings – more like onion doughnuts – for a buck.

On Saturdays and Sundays they serve one of Ferndale’s most infamous breakfasts – a giant grilled homemade Cinnamon Roll French Toast with gooey caramel sauce ($8). They also serve a “German Breakfast” ($9), an assortment of meats and cheeses served with a huge piece of baguette and whole grain mustard.

Save room for dessert: their Homemade Donuts ($5) are served fresh and piping hot right out of the fryer with chocolate and raspberry dipping sauces, and the Chocolate-Covered Raspberry Float ($5) is definitely an adult’s dessert with Atwater Brewery’s Vanilla Java Porter and Framboise in ice cream.

The Drinks

This is a beer lover’s beer bar. They have 44 handles and up to three hand pulls at a time. Can’t decide? Build your own flight, 3 for $7 or 6 for $14. Right now they’ve got about 100 additional beers by the bottle and are slowly building their inventory over time. It’s all American and European craft beer, though they do have PBR on tap and a selection of “yellow fizzy beers” like Black Label and High Life. “[For macro beers] we stuck to semi-local or retro-fabulous,” Hussey explains. “There’s no Bud Light or Miller Light or Coors Light and we’ll stay true to that forever.”

Instead the beer list is a best-of of Michigan and American craft beers and interesting imports. There are a lot of seasonal brews on the list as well as special releases, like the highly sought-after Kentucky Breakfast Stout from Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids (named the number 2 beer of 2011 by Wine Enthusiast). Just make sure you check the ABV because a lot of those Belgian, Belgian-style and American strong beers tend to have double to triple the alcohol content of an average beer. Know your limitations!

Another good friend of beer is whiskey. One-Eyed Betty’s has over 56 whiskeys and the list is still growing. “We’re really putting a lot of focus on whiskey,” Hussey says. “Beer and whiskey go really well together, and whiskey is big right now.” They’re hoping to put Hudson Baby Bourbon – a new whiskey that just launched in Michigan from a boutique distillery on New York – on tap, and being the first to do it. They’ve got bourbon, single malt scotch, Irish whiskey, American whisky (note the difference in spelling; Irish whiskey is with an “e”), and soon they’ll even have a Japanese whisky called Suntory Yamazaki.

On weekends, enjoy your brunch with tableside Bloody Marys ($5). “I’m a Bloody Mary connoisseur,” Hussey says. “I’ve always like the idea of a Bloody Mary bar but they creep me out and I’ve never enjoyed it or seen it done right.” So instead, they bring the Bloody Mary bar right to your table! If that’s not your thing, they also have bottomless mimosas for $12 and BEERmosas made with Wittekerke and orange juice.

The Service

Hussey works hard at making sure her staff is knowledgeable about the different styles of beer and proper pouring, and is also working on a beer school for her employees. “We’re focused on educating people,” she says, “but we don’t want to be intimidating [or snobby]. The staff will take people by the hand [and guide them through the beer list]. We also have a lot of great ‘segway’ beers … baby steps!”

Even if you’re not a self-identified beer nerd, this is still a totally comfortable and friendly neighborhood bar that also happens to have an amazing beer list. Really this is a place for everyone where everyone is made to feel welcome. Service is consistently casual and unobtrusive; you’ll get as much or as little assistance as you want, and servers are always friendly and attentive.

Insider’s Tip

Since they only just opened in February they’re still getting their bearings, and Hussey is finding out that they’re going through so much beer that the beer list is changing faster than they can print it. Be patient when things listed on the menu have run out. They’ve got a lot of fun things planned for the future, including beer to go, a beer club, a women’s beer group (called Friends of Betty’s), beer dinners (Kuhnhenn Brewing Company will be their first), and an app that will allow you to keep track of the beers you’ve tried with tasting notes and prizes at certain benchmarks. Happy hour is every day from 4 to 6 p.m., though drink specials change monthly.

The Verdict

They were popular from the minute they opened their doors and that popularity is only growing. “I knew it would do well but I did not know it was going to do this well,” Hussey says. Basically, everyone loves the place, and with great bar food, a fantastic beer selection, friendly people and a relaxed beer-drinkin’ environment … well, that’s exactly WHY everyone loves the place!