One-Eyed Betty's Beer Bar & Kitchen
175 W. Troy St., Ferndale
The kitchen is open till 1:30 a.m. every morning. Hours are 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, with breakfast and lunch menus those days.
Judging from the response, Ferndale was pining, yearning, desperate for a craft beer bar. After its Feb. 5 launch, the crowds didn't allow One-Eyed Betty's a soft opening but immediately began thronging the place. I went at geezer hour one Saturday to avoid the crush; it was full. Another Friday, the line was still long at 9 p.m.
Noise levels correspond, and are not helped by music so loud I could hardly taste my food. Don't go planning a high-level discussion of the finer points of owner Beth Hussey's impressive collection of 45 drafts and 85 bottled beers, unless you can sound sophisticated while shouting.
Ten of the drafts are IPAs, so popular right now in what Hussey calls "the craft beer community.” But she also serves a number of "transitionals” for the uninitiated. Like a Belgian witbier ("white beer,” a wheat beer), cloudy pale in flavor and color. A little zippier at the start is a kölsch called Full Circle from New Holland Brewing, a Cologne style less bitter than other German pale lagers, fermented warm. Those looking for a fruity beer will like the Soft Parade from Short's Brewing in Bellaire. I was frustrated at my inability to tell which fruit was used; no wonder: The website lists strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.
Root beer is also on draft and pulled the old-fashioned way — from a "beer engine” that sits on the bar (the beer is pulled up through muscle power rather than the gas pressure in a usual keg). Betty's comes from Kuhnhenn Brewing in Warren. Three more engines are on order, which will bring the drafts total to 48.
I asked former MT reviewer and beer maven Todd Abrams what he thought of the menu. Abrams has more beer in his little finger than I have in my whole body. He said the list was not impressive to hardcore beer geeks but had "plenty of options that will satisfy the majority of their customers.” If that sounds like damning with faint praise, consider the crowds described above.
Betty's food to soak up the beer with is luscious, filling, fattening and not expensive. I say "luscious” to imply sensual, fatty, creamy, rich. Hussey says all the items are either cooked with beer or traditionally served with beer (I might challenge her on the breakfast menu — that's the time for her $12 bottomless mimosa). Bacon is one of the most frequent ingredients, and cheddar and sour cream are sometimes gratuitously added.
So a gargantuan burger is gilded with garlic aioli, melting cheddar and lots of applewood-smoked bacon, gently charred without, tender and yielding within. Someone has taken the trouble to procure real tomato slices, red, not pink. It's a come-home-to-America production that'll stand up to any Belgian on the drinks menu. The plump onion rings taste like doughnuts; see below.
Equally fine is a pork belly sandwich, its commitment to pig fat ostensibly leavened by a few carrots strewn around. The chewy pork is crisp and soft in layers, and its juices soak into the bread (which is not a baguette, by the way).
A po' boy can be had with fried oysters or shrimp or both; my companion declared hers fine but nothing to text home about; deep-frying can obscure a lot.
Other sandwiches are brats, grilled cheese with tomato jam and, of course, a BLT. This is a restaurant that serves "Bacon with a Side of Bacon.”
One of the more interesting deep-fried items is a poached egg. I'd never seen an egg with a thick crust of panko; it comes with the two-bacon appetizer or it sits atop the hot spinach salad, hot because of the bacon-grease dressing. Lots of greens, lots of bacon, kinda sweet.
The most-ordered appetizer is a fresh-baked pretzel with three cheesy sauces. Hussey also sells cheese and charcuterie boards, mussels, three kinds of oysters and fire-roasted wings — three big meaty ones with a shiny red-black sambal-sriracha glaze, for $7.
I loved the spinach salad but raved longer about the Flanders Roast Salad on arugula — carrots, zucchini, squash, red onion, garlic cloves, all perfectly roasted and dolloped with goat cheese. Sounds simple, as my companion pointed out, but why does no one else make it this good?
The two soups are beer cheese au gratin and gumbo, the latter thick enough to stand your spoon up in, tomatoey and smoky with sausage.
House-made doughnuts are a clever idea on several fronts: everyone likes them and the ingredients don't cost much. They're hand-cut from yeast dough and deep-fried, then served with milk chocolate and raspberry sauces.
Even better in my book was "Apple Brown Betty,” an old-fashioned dessert for which the description "sweetened apples and buttered bread crumbs” does not do justice. Baked and served hot, topped with a huge glob of vanilla ice cream — there are few beers I'd drink with it, but I doubt that the community would agree.
Many will wonder where "One-eyed Betty” comes from — it's just Beth Hussey herself, whose Facebook picture has one eye shut.