Early on the evening of the auto show’s charity preview, a lone man in a tux walked purposefully into Louie’s, on the outskirts of Eastern Market. A block-long limo waited as he downed a steak sandwich. Were the hors d’oeuvres at the $400 per ticket bash insufficient? Or had Louie’s reputation spread so widely that auto execs were seeking it out?
As it turned out, the tuxedoed Jim Moseley was driving the limo, not renting it. He’d come for the food, yes, but also out of affection for Eastern Market, where he worked his first job in the meatpacking business.
You, too, should visit Louie’s for the cured meats, and for the breakfast served anytime, preferably after a strenuous day’s shopping; portion sizes aren’t for the dainty. Louie’s is the first freestanding restaurant constructed in the market since just about forever, according to co-owner and produce king Sam Maceri.
The best seller at Louie’s comes from Wigley’s Cornbeef, next door. The secret to good corned beef, says Mark Gojcaj, Maceri’s partner, is first to order the best “extra-trim” quality, and then to cook it at low temperatures with the right spices (which he declines to reveal). Tom Wigley likewise is mum about the family recipe brought from England when his grandfather opened in the market in 1924.
The formula appears to have changed since then, however, because what Louie’s serves looks and tastes like a new-fashioned corned beef — less salty, pink rather than gray.
In any case, Gojcaj, who’s on site dawn to dusk cooking and overseeing, stacks his slices high. His beef is rich, tangy and lean, and even better paired with pastrami in a combo sandwich on rye, grilled in butter. Corned beef gets its salt from soaking in brine; pastrami’s taste is more complex, because it’s dry-cured — rubbed with salt and spices — and smoked. You may think it’s gilding the lily to combine these two intense flavors, or you could call it synergy.
Corned beef reaches its apotheosis at Louie’s when made into hash, moist with plentiful onions. The hash is obviously freshly made in-house, as some pink bits of beef are crisp — those that rested on the griddle longest before flipping — and others are tender. A $3.75 side of this masterpiece is enough for three.
I found Gojcaj’s ham, which comes from Dearborn Ham, both salty and sweet, as ham should be, but less interesting than either of the beefs, though my taste buds were jaded by the time I sampled it. Gojcaj follows the tradition of adding an extra slice of ham to the plate, next to your sandwich.
Stevedores and lumberjacks will appreciate the choice of 18 omelets. Made with three eggs and covering most of a platter, they stretch the more-is-more principle to its limits. The “Piggy” packs ham, bacon, sausage links and patties, peppers, onions, Swiss and American cheese inside the omelet.
“Louie’s Mistake” feels spartan in comparison, with just ham, corned beef, peppers, onions and cheese. American is the default cheese and overpowers the other flavors, as you can imagine. Ask for Swiss or feta, or leave it out.
If you like your eggs separate from the other goodies, you can order them with the pork, steak or marinated chicken on the side. Gojcaj will throw in an extra egg free on request, i.e. “two eggs” can equal three.
That other essential breakfast course, hash browns, is disappointing at Louie’s, if you want a crust and evidence of frying. Though freshly cooked in big flakes, the potatoes are too dry and plain.
Stick to Louie’s specialties to avoid further disillusion. The sign says “Ham and Corned Beef Restaurant,” after all. Potato pancakes are tasteless preformed oblongs. Greek salads are no better than Big Boy’s, with a dressing that tastes commercial, and the Caesar includes iceberg, tomatoes and purple cabbage. Chili is mild and homogenized, and I wouldn’t go near the stir-fry. The pea and bean soups, though, taste as if made with ham stock — rich and satisfying.
The Eastern Market store is Gojcaj’s fourth and largest Louie’s, with other locations at Cadieux and Harper, and in Warren and Mt. Clemens. It’s open 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.