Was there ever a grander place to meet in the old days of Detroit? Carl’s Chop House was not glamorous, maybe when it first opened, but that was way before my time. It was that iconic destination for a business man’s lunch or dinner without the trappings of an expense account joint. When I was a kid, it was still a bustling place, and alas I even remember it near the end when all the wind was out of its tattered sails. It had survived the period when Downtown Detroit was desolate, but I think the casinos ended this Grande Dame of the town. I had an Uncle that could have had a brass emblem mounted on his usual table and he was there at least a couple of times a week, I still smile when I think of him and his era at Carl’s.
It was one of those old time charmers, a steak house that was a roadhouse. They had the ribbons displayed of the prize winning steers from the State Fairs and 4-H auctions. The steaks were more then ample, since they were at least two inch thick, and the extra cut Prime Rib was enormous. You could always count on the relish tray with the chicken liver pate, the celery sticks, radishes and all the other odds and ends that you knew that you were just going to nibble on, while you were looking at the menu, even if you knew it by heart. Then there was the soup of the day and their salad with the creamy garlic dressing, yes I am sure there were other dressings, but not on my order. At lunch it was very egalitarian and you could even order from several different sandwiches, though I don’t remember anyone ever doing it, and I recall how people would swear they had the greatest burger, but I never saw that on a plate either. It was the steaks and the seafood that I recall. You could pick out your lobster if you wanted to, there was perch, frog lakes, trout, sturgeon and they would butterfly the shrimp, and then there was my Father’s favorite fish Red Snapper. The steaks were huge, not only did they do Chateaubriand for two, they had a Porterhouse Steak for two, and all of the meat back in the day was Prime. I could go on and on about the different dishes that I had over the years.
Carl’s was really for drinkers, that is cocktails and a lot of Scotch whisky. I always remember glasses and glasses of Dewar’s or Chevas Regal, but the Canadian crowd was also widely accepted as there was always room for a couple of Crown Royal glasses as well. Of course back then I would get some catcalls and razzing, but I would like to have some wine as well, with a crowd that wasn’t really into wine at the time. Carl’s would accommodate, but I it was always a bottle of Bordeaux or a Cabernet Sauvignon. I am showing in fact a bottle of wine that was a Cabernet Sauvignon Appellation Bordeaux Controlee 1972. Now this was a negociant blended wine and the label covered both bases of the early wine trade quite well. I even tried looking up the shipper and the only reference on could find on Gaston Hourticq was his name on a bottle of Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou 1946 from a Christy’s Auction, so I can surmise he was somewhat of a fixture in Bordeaux for years. Alas Carl’s Chop House is no longer even an empty structure on the streets of Detroit, but I know that there plenty of people besides myself that still have a fond memory of it.