The Butcher's Inn is an everybody-knows-your-name sort of place. I say that despite the fact that in the off hours that I visited, my companions and I were virtually the only ones there.
You can tell because of the winning ways of owner and host Don Bailey, a guy who never met a stranger. The old-time Detroit and Michigan memorabilia helps: framed ads for cars and for Faygo, Sanders and Vernor's, '60s memorabilia ranging from Motown to psychedelic, a soundtrack that includes both "Cool Jerk" and Grace Slick. "It's not phony," said a friend.
The two-story brick building is no fake; it opened under its current name in 1890, with the first floor a restaurant-saloon and the upstairs a rooming house for farmers coming to market. It was closed for more than five years, till Bailey reopened it last fall. Now it serves not only Eastern Market workers but people from downtown and, of course, the Saturday morning hordes.
The menu centers on soups and sandwiches thus far, though within a few weeks Bailey plans to add some steak and pork chop specials at dinnertime. Perhaps it's the lack of transportation costs that keeps prices down shopping is done on foot within the market, and virtually everything on the menu is bought within a two-block radius. A half-pound burger goes for $4.65, a bleu burger for just $5.25, and a bowl of soup for $3. Best buy: a cup of soup and half a deli sandwich for $5.
Soups are made fresh daily and are not served more than once every 30 days (except for a New England-style clam chowder every Friday). The list therefore includes some reaches, such as cream of onion, apple soup and spinach tofu. The four soups I tried, including chili and chowder, were all worth coming back for, but I'll single out the chicken succotash for special mention. The hunks of chicken were clearly sliced by hand; the corn was as sweet as could be. A Reuben soup was just as meaty with a mild sauerkraut taste to the broth.
Reuben sandwiches are made with corned beef from Wigley's, another Detroit institution. This pink marvel is both lean and rich and of course piled high, creating, with the grilled rye and melted Swiss, a thick, juicy meal. I would have liked more sauerkraut, though, to make a contrast.
One burger is proudly named for John Sinclair, who will be at the inn from 2 to 4 p.m. on May 3. Sinclair is touring to promote the 35th anniversary reissue of his classic book Guitar Army, written while he was in jail after an Ann Arbor pot bust.
The burger, reportedly Sinclair's favorite, made me think of New Orleans, as it's topped with a thick spread of chopped olives and mayo luscious and salty. Both it and the bleu burger are juicy and charred just right; like all the other meat, the beef is picked up daily. A fine and flaky chicken pot pie, Bailey informed me, was very recently a local chicken, some flour and some lard.
On Fridays, fresh perch from the market becomes fish and chips for lunch and dinner. Vegetarians can make do with grilled portobello, roasted red pepper, sweet red onions and provolone, or a combo of tomato pesto and goat cheese. Both of these, and many of the other non-burger sandwiches are served on Avalon bread, which makes me inquire: Why doesn't Avalon create some buns? Should a bun be solely a way to keep your hands clean while eating a burger?
Breakfasts start at $3 and top out at $6.50 for a groaning-board repast like those farmers would have demanded back in 1890. Omelets, including seasonal fresh vegetables or feta, are available, as are Pop Tarts, but the house specialty is Grand Marnier French toast.
Four beers are on tap, including Guinness; the list of bottled beers is mostly nondescript. The bartender is proud of his Bloody Mary, a spicy concoction served with a pickled green bean and pickle juice, pepper juice, Worcestershire, celery salt and horseradish. If you want to show off, you get a basket of hot sauces to play with and add on your own.
On March 30, the Butcher's Inn began weekly live entertainment with the Don't Look Now Jug Band, followed by the Syreens playing acoustic bluegrass. That's the Friday night plan from here on out: jug band at 7:30, bluegrass at 8:15.
The Butcher's Inn is open from 7 a.m. till 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday but often stays open later if anyone wants to linger. Like I said, it's that kind of place. Read more at butchersinn.com.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.