The Kid and I were out on a mission the other day for some tasty treats. The only problem with this is that we currently reside in Westland, MI which has been named the worst food city in America five years running. This means we have to venture out to find good food and that usually means I end up taking her to some crazy place where half the meal involves me describing in great detail what she’s going to eat and why it tastes good. She’s four, so while I have been training her to become the greatest chef that has ever lived since her birth, she is still picky about her food. I decided to take her someplace where she could have a real kid experience and eat, as she calls it, a cheese booger. Keep working on those hard Rs, Eleanor.
I had actually heard a good amount of hype about Ford’s Garage. From time to time, I’ll throw it out on Facebook asking for new places to eat. Each time I have done this someone has mentioned it. Each time I looked a the menu I dismissed it as a Applebee’s level joint specializing in way too many types of burgers. I decided to finally do some research on what this place exactly was — And yes, if you’re new to reading my stuff, I research everywhere I eat before I go. I believe every person, place and thing should have a Wikipedia page explaining their story.
Ford’s Garage is actually a small franchise that currently operates four locations in Florida. There is no actual connection between Ford Motor Company, aside from a licensing agreement. Dearborn is their fifth location and is owned/operated by Billy Downs, who just happens to be the BD in BD’s Mongolian Grill. Yes, Ford’s Garage is owned by the same guy who owns Mongolian Grill. That’s quite the diverse restaurant portfolio. Two owners of the Florida locations have apparently been charged with DUIs and cocaine possession on separate occasions, see here and here, and also have claimed that they have the mayor of Ford Myers, FL on their payroll. #interesting.
I now know the story of Ford’s Garage, which makes it an interesting enough place to eat. The mayor on the payroll part really put this place over the top. Ford’s Garage specializes in exactly what they have advertised on their sign — Burgers and Beer. CRAFT beer, to be exact. I’m always so appreciative of places continuing to specify that they only will serve the finest in craft beers. They have over two hundred different varieties of craft beer, but if you’re in the mood to be a true American that drinks an American beer sold to a foreign holder they always have Budweiser. Nothing is more American than Budweiser. They also have an extensive liquor menu that lists Buffalo Trace as top shelf Bourbon, which is a rant I will save for a different post.
The food menu is a pretty impressive collection of higher end dishes that could all be specials on a Ruby Tuesdays menu. Appetizers include a giant funnel with onion rings wrapped around it like someone was playing horseshoes with them, hot pretzels with dipping sauces, Ahi Tuna, buffalo chicken dip and BBQ pork nachos. Seriously, the starters have roots in Ireland, American, German and Japanese. I’m all for a hodgepodge of different foods from different cultures, but black angus chili cheese fries have no business being next to “sushi grade ahi tuna”.
The main menu has twelve different burgers that have different toppings and are named for various figures in Detroit’s history. There is a Bob Probert, an Ernie Harwell and somehow Jay Towers got a burger. You can customize your burger by subbing the standard beef patty for portobello, ahi tuna steak, bison or American Kobe beef. Here’s where I need to go on a rant. If you wish to continue reading about the actual restaurant, skip the next paragraph.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AMERICAN KOBE BEEF. In the late 1990s, the popularity of Kobe beef erupted in the United States. True Kobe beef comes from a certain strain of cattle, called Wagyu, in a certain region of Japan and is under heavy regulation on what can be called Kobe beef and how it can be served. The cattle is served beer, massaged with Sake and even played soothing music before they sleep. The meat is marbled with fat because the cow literally has the best life a cow could possibly have. They are respected and the meat that results from this treatment is celebrated by the butcher, the chef and the consumer. “American” Kobe beef means a farmer either put cows on a flight from Japan in the early 1990s, which is illegal according to the regulations of Kobe beef and led to an import ban in the mid 200s, or they cross-bred Waygu cattle with Angus cattle. American farmers do not participate in Kobe-style treatment, insisting that genetics and grain will give them the same result. It doesn’t. So let me summarize all of this for you. Kobe beef is special. You do not grind up Kobe beef, mold it into a patty and up sell it for an extra $2.50. It goes against everything the name “Kobe beef” stands for. Kobe beef regulations in Japan state that it may be served raw or as a steak. Advertising “American Kobe Beef” tells me that whoever designed this menu is completely full of shit.
If you’re not in the mood for a burger, Ford’s Garage also has steaks, four different kinds of mac and cheese, fish and chips and pulled pork. There are also eleven different sides you can add to your meal, ranging from truffle fries to baked beans. I personally went with the patty melt, which was exactly what a patty melt should be, minus the salt. It was a good sandwich, but I couldn’t help but think that maybe they should worry less about ahi tuna steaks and kobe beef, and more about seasoning their burgers.
On a positive note, Eleanor thought this place was pretty great. There are old cars parked in the middle of the restaurant and the walls are covered in Detroit history. While I was fuming about various things that normal people don’t care about, she was having a great time and enjoying her meal. The place was packed with employees, probably too many, who checked on us regularly and made sure Eleanor was taken care of. Our server was hustling — offering drinks, appetizers and recommending deserts. Whoever is managing the front of house is on their game.
So in summary, I would recommend Ford’s Garage. Their menu is completely full of shit but it’s a fun environment paying tribute to a lot of great Detroiters. I personally wouldn’t include Jay Towers as a great Detroiter but that’s OK. There really are some great beers on the menu and you can probably have a really good time here, if you aren’t like me and have to nitpick every little thing on the menu and have strange requirements such as knowing the owner’s criminal record.