My first thought about Grey Ghost was an odd one. Before I even got a chance to go there, the question I asked myself was: Who is the Grey Ghost? Is it Jimmy Hoffa? Rodriguez? Tom Cruise in the next Mission Impossible film? The answer is that it might actually be Will Lee.
Will Lee is the man behind much of the rise of the Detroit cocktail scene, and so many people may not even know it that he might as well be called the Grey Ghost. Lee helped launch the cocktail program at Selden Standard when they first opened, then did the same at Standby, and is now behind the bar at Grey Ghost. Like its predecessors, Grey Ghost is fresh, original, and fantastic, with Lee seemingly having an endless well of ideas and creativity.
The menu has a little more than a dozen cocktail options, loosely divided into two categories, the first a little lighter and more refreshing, and the second a little bolder and boozier. I highly recommend the cocktails that use mezcal as a primary ingredient, personally. Mezcal is just gaining popularity now but has been a favourite spirit of mine for years, since I first sampled it in Mexico. While tequila is made from blue agave specifically, mezcal is distilled from any type of agave, and has a distinct smoky flavour. But I digress. Any other cocktail has Lee’s signature restrained flair for fresh herbs, house-made bitters, vibrant colours, and vintage glassware.
While Lee fits the theme well for me, it’s not to overlook the kitchen’s contributions, which are impressive, if not typical of New American – or New Detroit – cuisine. A good amount of quirky sharing plates, a few meaty mains, and large, thoughtful sides which are mostly vegetable-based.
The two most popular sharing plates have been the fried bologna and the Chicago-style oysters. Bologna is delicious, overlooked, and fun to say. I first saw the return of it at Parks & Rec, a breakfast place not far away, and here it is again, served on a small waffle with some thinly sliced jalapeno and sharp cheddar dressing. Gluttonous. Deadly. The oysters, served by the half dozen, are called Chicago style, because they’re curiously garnished with tomato and pickle brine. I was skeptical at first but the saltiness works with the oyster’s own sweet brine.
Enjoy a steak for the mains, they usually have a few on and they’re all dry-aged. If not, the chicken sausage is terrific. Served as an enormous spiral sausage, it’s seasoned and flavoured with Asian notes. Another borrowing from Standby is that a modest cheeseburger is in the middle of more elaborate mains, but like Standby, it’s great, and as the menu suggests you should definitely put an egg on it.
For dessert I had a blueberry donut and it was pretty simple and incredible. Still warm and way too heavy after all of the food I just ate, but worth it in any case.
The interior is pretty modest and understated. There’s a large angular bar with seats all around the perimeter – the best spots in any restaurant – and then a number of tables on either side of a short dividing wall, similar to Selden Standard. Additionally, there is a small patio that you’ll be able to utilize for just a short time longer.
Located on a tiny corner of Watson St. and Woodward Ave., the signage is as modest as the décor inside. But it will be worth your time to hunt down.