Tucked away in a small, neighborhood corner, between the districts of Midtown and Brush Park, is a restaurant already becoming a popular spot. Grey Ghost (GG), a concept contrived by four brothers and friends, is a hot-new dining destination with an approachable ambiance and environment.
Brothers John and David Vermiglio joined by friends Joe Giacomino and Will Lee constructed the restaurant from a dedication to art, technique, and hospitality. Their mission: a restaurant that provides everything from high-end meats and cocktails to cheeseburgers and fries. Approachability is the name of the game, and Grey Ghost exceeds all expectations.
If you’re looking for your next dinner in Detroit, we suggest Grey Ghost. Check out our interview with Chef Joe Giacomino for an inside look at the restaurant’s concept, along with a discussion of the menu that inspired their story.
Nice to Meat You
Chef Joe Giacomino and I took a seat at one of the wood tables and began to talk about the story behind the restaurant. Of course, being the history buff I am, the first question I posed was the history behind the name, Grey Ghost.
“Chef John Vermiglio and I wanted to look into the history of Detroit and find a way to tie it into the city,” began Giacomino. “We were going through Detroit archives to find something that also tied into the restaurant. There were two contributing factors: We knew we were going to do a lot with meat in this restaurant, and Will Lee, our other business partner, is really talented as a bartender so we knew we were going to have a lot of cocktails.
We explored different avenues: The meatpacking era of Detroit, which there was a fair amount of that, and also the Prohibition era, to tie into our cocktails. We were researching stories and I think it was actually me who stumbled across the legend of the Grey Ghost,” reveals the chef.
“As we read it, we thought it was a cool story. He was the most notorious pirate on the Detroit River and his identity is still unknown today.
We thought the ambiguity of the whole story and the legend was cool. It also ties into Detroit and something we felt, on its own, had a nice ring to it. We thought it sounded cool, and if someone wanted to know the story, we could tell it,” he explained.
I asked Chef Joe how he paid homage to the Detroit “rum-running” pirate.
“We knew we had to install staff lockers that would be visible from the bar. So we actually commissioned an artist from Peru. He was in town working on another project. We told him the general story of the Grey Ghost and asked him to do an interpretation of it and he did this really awesome graffiti artwork. That’s where this all stems from.”
I asked Giacomino where the inspiration for the décor stemmed from – with succulents, steer horns, wood and copper, I thought the restaurant captured the industrial history of Detroit, with a homey, comfortable flair.
“Our design team did a great job of giving us the starting points,” Giacomino explains. “Some of those things were our touches, and our design team came in with these raw finishes. The space itself, the beautiful raw brick, gave us inspiration. The succulents and the steer horns are personal touches. I love green in a restaurant.
The steer heads are playing off the ‘neighborhood steakhouse’ concept. Since we’re doing so much beef in here it felt like the appropriate thing. We really like the motif.
Some of the décor elements came together based off the concept of the restaurant and a lot of what we’re going for, as you can tell, is a neighborhood feel to the restaurant with steakhouse fare,” he revealed.
“The room has a lot of factors that I think feel formal and nice and neat, like the tight corners, and then I think there are things in here that feel very casual. We try to bridge that gap for our customers: No matter what experience you’re in here for, it fits.
One of the things we are trying to go for is a unique concept of a ‘neighborhood steakhouse.’ The term itself is a unique concept where we bridge the gap. We’ve already started to garnish a lot of neighborhood regulars: the people in the Carlton, the Corolla, and the people directly upstairs. We have a lot of people I see here three times a week and they come in and have completely different experiences every time.
People come in one night and have our 60-day dry, aged ribeye for $55 and then I’ll see the same person at the bar having a cheeseburger later in the week.
So I think we’re able to offer some of the high-end meats, like our cuts of steak in the 20s, all the way down to a cheeseburger. I think that by offering all this in one place, as well as a phenomenal bar and bar team, we can offer so many different experiences.”
We began discussing Grey Ghost’s most popular menu item and drink.
“The one that has garnished the most attention, ironically, is the fried bologna, which is an appetizer,” Giacomino chuckles. “We make the bologna in house from scratch. It’s one of those dishes I really like because it seems so simple, but we’re able to take a simple dish and apply the same amount of technique and intricate love into it. It comes out and it’s super fun and approachable for people but at the same time it’s something that we worked really hard on,” he explained.
“When we opened this restaurant, and Chef John and I were writing the menu, I would never have guessed that the fried bologna was something that would catch on. For one reason or another it did and I love that people enjoy it. People will come in and get four of them for a table,” Giacomino laughed.
If you want a sneak peek of the menu before you make your reservation, check out the website menu, clearly labeled “Meat” and “Not Meat.”
“Drink-wise, I would have to consult Rudy, who is a bartender that works with Will. He said the most popular drink is Grandma’s Garden. It’s vodka, St. Germain, cucumber, lime, rosewater, and angostura bitters. It’s crazy: we sell an insane amount of it. It’s a great summer cocktail.”
Shaken, not stirred (or stirred, if you’re not James Bond). Check out the drink menu, featuring cocktails, beer, and wine.
I asked Giacomino, as the chef, does he have a favorite dish to make or eat?
“I mean, I love doing a lot of things,” he explained, “but I find that it changes a lot. I go through stages where at some point of time, I’ll get into something and try something new. Whether I have success at it or failure, it either drives me to correct the failure or grow off of the success with the certain style of the thing.”
Grey Ghost is located in Brush Park at 47 East Watson. You can visit the restaurant daily from 4:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. Hey, they even make reservations easy and accessible. Visit their website to enter in your party size, date, and time you plan to stop by. Avoid the line!
Keep up with all the happenings by following Grey Ghost on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Be sure to stop on by (tell ‘em Opportunity Detroit sent you) and let us know your favorite drink and dish.