I never ate at a trendy restaurant in Manhattan in the 1980s, but I imagine it would have been a bit like Boodles today.
The lights are dimmed and the air is filled with the sound of a live piano player and the clanking of utensils as a server toss a Caesar salad next to the table.
The tables are covered in brown fabric to match the banquet chairs. Just below the low, textured ceiling on the walls are illuminated, framed whiteboards listing wine offerings and specialties such as scallops, spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant parmesan, ribs in barbecue, mushroom rib eye and steak bites.
On the menu of the day, the list of about ten starters meets all standards: filet mignon, lake perch, chicken piccata, lobster tail, etc. “a thin beef steak smothered in savory juices that was popular in the mid-20th century.
Boodles is self-aware, however. The staff know that the 1980s are enough in the rearview mirror that these details aren’t just out of date. This place is vintage.
Chefs could use trendier toppings, but why? Chopped parsley seems just right sprinkled over grilled lamb chops with garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus. Part of the charm of Boodles is that he doesn’t bend over backwards to be cool or trendy.
“It feels old school, it’s not like all the lame gastropubs with their loaded toddlers. You’re not going to get that kind of food here,” said general manager Joe Day.
Tower of perch is my go-to dish, a pile of lightly breaded, flaky, crunchy fillets served with a lemon sauce and hiding a heap of mashed potatoes, crisp green beans, and colorful bell pepper slices.
The bread for the table is a basket of warm, golden rolls with a little parmesan cheese sprinkled on top and a few cellophane-wrapped breadsticks. The appetizers, mostly seafood, are proportioned to be a starter for one person, not for the table, so order accordingly or skip them.
If you get anything other than a starter, I suggest the table salad for two. The art of a Caesar salad is in the dressing, and Boodles is among the best around. You can’t get a fresher tasting salad than one prepared right at your table. Vinegar, lemon, mustard and garlic all shine beautifully.
Dessert is also served at the table. Choose from retro dishes like Jubilee Cherries, Foster Bananas or Crêpes Suzette.
The servers are attentive and meticulous. Boodles’ cocktail specialty is yours, however you take it. Up high on the rocks, with a top shelf or booze, fruit or not, they aim to please. The wine selection should satisfy the most, but the easiest to please will opt for one of the house wines sold by the glass, half carafe or full.
Boodles, opened by current owners Bruno and Charlotte Ferguson nearly 40 years ago, has had a tough few years as the pandemic put a damper on dining. There has also been a lot of construction at this intersection. Eleven Mile has been closed for many months right outside the restaurant door, and currently the Boodles exit on I-75 North is closed.
Madison Heights – where east meets west, as the mirror behind the bar at Boodles reads – is known for having a wonderfully diverse dining scene that includes noodle houses, neighborhood eateries, Italian restaurants, Mexican, sushi, restaurant chains, pubs and more. Boodles, who has been serving the area since 1985, is a venerable veteran of this scene.
935 W. 11 Mile, Madison Heights
Evaluation: ★★ (very good)
Hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday. and 4pm-11pm Fri.-Sat.
Prices: Appetizers, $11.95 to $16.95; entrees, $23.95 to $69.95; Caesar at the table for two, $21.95; wines by the glass start at $8.
Reservations: Yes, by phone
Carry out: Yes, but it is about the dinner experience
Outdoor dining: Nothing
Noise level: Medium
Accessibility: No barriers
Car park: Free parking
What do the stars mean:
★ — good
★★ — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — extraordinary