New to the neighborhood? Turn your ear toward the local murmurings about food. Go where the neighbors go. Often, on the Mack corridor, you'll hear "Bogart'z." It's a squat brick building with a long history, once known as "Captain's Too," that's been a watering hole for Grosse Pointers and Detroiters alike for a long while. Under new ownership, Bogart'z is in the midst of change: A new sign hangs on the front of the building, joined by a new awning advertising the food. The interior was recently modified slightly when old latticework above the bar booths was removed, transporting the interior ahead 20 years with one afternoon's work. The lampshades and more are next to go, updating and improving the interior; branded mirrors and frames scatter the walls, mixed in with a good number of pictures and paintings of the eponymous man and his associated memories.
Make no mistake: It's a neighborhood bar. On a weekday afternoon around dinnertime, you're likely to catch older men eating at the bar, after a phone call home to the wife to let her know that was the plan. There's a family or two sitting by the windows up front, and a couple on a date in a booth. There's also a jukebox and a few modestly sized televisions, as sports fans are known to pack the bar to catch a game.
Listen closely, and the name "Jason" gets dropped. He's the man to talk to, the new owner (son of the former owner). Living the dream and coming home to run the family business, he's taking it in a better direction: making it more than just a neighborhood bar. A wander through photos online will show a variety of specials, bar food done well, and better beer than your average offering. His plans for the restaurant are at once grandiose and simple: He's doing the Detroit thing, slowly changing things for the better, working hard and honestly, and trying constantly to improve.
One place where the changes are complete is the menu. It's been a little while since the menu was streamlined, reduced, and focused: It's bar food of the "American cuisine" style, not overthought nor overwrought. Pizzas, burgers, entrées, and pastas; it's a little Italian mixed with a little Southwest, garnished with a few down-and-dirty bar snacks.
Those bar snacks turn out really good, for a few reasons:
For one: Who cuts and breads their own mozzarella sticks? It turns out, people who desire a far superior cheese experience. There's house-made marinara sauce, and it's the proper condiment: Crisp, herbed breadcrumbs, melted cheese, and that sweet tomato flavor are perfect together. Also: Any place with pizza that doesn't also serve garlic knots is doing themselves and their guests a disservice. Bogart'z serves them tossed in garlic and Parmesan, with a pesto aioli for dipping. Chewy and garlicky, they're heavenly. Share if you must, but an order of these and a beer makes for a good lunch if you're not too worried about carbs.
The aforementioned pizza is perhaps the best-executed part of the menu. It reliably has a perfectly cooked crust, the signature of a stone-decked pizza oven — the dough develops a tan, crisp exterior, while the edges stay wonderfully chewy on the inside. There's a decent selection of toppings available — and if you ask nicely, the kitchen may be able to add something else from the menu too — so most tastes should be met ably. The small pizza is a meal in and of itself for one.
Bogart'z being a Detroit bar, the burgers must be judged. You could order your usual burger and they'd probably make it for you, but it's more fun to let the menu guide you to the chef's preferred combinations. Bogart'z has a few, including a tasty buffalo burger, the "Karloff." The buffalo patty is topped with caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, and barbecue sauce. Cooked to a medium-rare, it's juicy, sloppy, and delightful, in only the way something at a bar like Bogart'z can be. Enjoy it, or any of the burgers, because a properly made burger is a beautiful thing.
Beyond the burgers proper, there are also sliders, $3-$4 apiece, including a classic burger with pickles, a popular crab cake slider, a corned beef slider, and even a portobello slider for the vegetarians. They're all good, but the classic slider (especially if you add onion) is a great little suckerpunch from childhood.
There's the expected selection of salads, and they're very generous: heaping portions of greens with a heavy hand on the garnishes (and the dressing on the side.) Soups include a tomato-heavy chili reminiscent of "up north" eateries, French onion, and a soup of the day — often a clam chowder, especially during Lent, though other clever soups are produced by the kitchen as well. There's talent back there behind the swinging doors, to be sure.
As Jason guides his restaurant toward its future, there are sure to be more changes. We might suggest leaving the iceberg lettuce garnishes in the past, along with the wood exterior and that latticework. The casual nature of the service is welcome in such a relaxed environment, but care must be taken that it stays casual and not lax.
In a town where fine dining and high concept are getting so much attention, it's rewarding to see that there are plenty of people coming back to run a place that we all need. After all, the point of a restaurant is to have somewhere to eat and drink that isn't your home — what better than someone else's home cooking to satisfy? Bogart'z is a great bar on a strange stretch of Mack Avenue where you look out at Grosse Pointe from Detroit. It's a meeting place for friends and families, for bar trivia and casual lunches, for a beer after work or before a night out. Over pizza, salads and burgers, friendships deepen, and married couples joke about the college basketball game. It's a good, honest place, and it's worth a visit, especially if you're on the east side.