While Detroit may be experiencing some of a resurgence (perhaps wishful thinking), it is still a rough city with a small number of little islands of brightness. One of these islands, which has been afloat since 1890, is The Whitney. This former residence of David Whitney, Jr. was converted from a mansion to a restaurant in 1986 and has flourished ever since with some of the best food Detroit has to offer. In Detroit, The Whitney is not exactly an everyday type of restaurant. The prices are pretty steep for the local standards, but are they worthwhile for the food or simply the price you pay for getting to eat in a Michigan Registered Historical Site?
The exterior of the place is both beautiful and somewhat opulent for its location in Detroit, while the interior still looks very much like it could host great house parties filled with Detroit’s bourgeoisie from the turn of the 20th century. But instead of couches and bourgeoisie, there are tables, chairs and patrons. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is being gently played on the piano, but snapping back to more modern times, the pianist would eventually turn out piano renditions of Elton John and Beatles songs.
The menu is what I kind of expect from an upscale restaurant, and a lot of it looked good. The Detroiter, a 30-32 oz bone-in ribeye was unfortunately no longer on the menu, but its little cousin, the New York Strip was calling my name. This 10 oz USDA Angus Beef came with fingerling potatoes, roasted corn and black beans, crispy shallots and a gorgonzola aioli for 38 bucks. All except for the shallots were ideal for an unvegan meal and although I wanted to order mine without the shallots, my family wouldn’t allow me. I think I embarrassed them. Whatever, at least I ordered it medium rare to retain some of my unvegan dignity.
What arrived was a thing of beauty. When compared to a 32 oz ribeye, a 10 oz strip doesn’t seem too big. But sitting alone on a plate with no other beef in sight, the New York Strip was quite big enough. The shallots had been fried to such a crisp that they looked nothing like the vegetable they once were. In fact, after trying them out, it actually seemed like The Whitney wanted some sort of fried taste on the steak, but weren’t sure what to fry. So, they fried the crap out of some shallots simply to have a conduit for fried goodness. It worked for me. However, I also found that the black beans and corn turned into black beans, corn and peppers. This was no good and would force me to put more effort into eating than I wanted to. But on to the eating.
This steak was incredible. It was perfectly juicy and had just a little bit of salt to bring out the perfect beefy flavor. Without the gorgonzola aioli, the steak was delicious, but with it, the steak transcended deliciousness and entered a plane of meaty glory reserved for only the best steaks in the world. The fingerling potatoes and black beans and rice were enjoyable, but they took a way back seat to the steak, which is certainly worthy of being served at The Whitney. And when you eat at The Whitney, you are not just eating food, but eating a part of the soul and history of city that once knew greatness and will hopefully come to know it again.
So thanks, Mom and Marty, for dinner at the former residence of David Whitney, Jr. The meal surely would have put a smile on his face, just like it did for mine. You know, except for the peppers. David Whitney, Jr. wouldn’t have stood for those peppers either.