When Chicago chefs John Vermiglio and Joe Giacomino joined forces in 2016 with Detroit based restauranteur David Vermiglio and bartending wiz Will Lee, a Midtown legend was born.
By experimenting with new ingredients and sticking to local favorites, they’ve grabbed the attention and respect of Detroit’s foodie scene.
EXP: How did you all meet?
GG: Long story short – Dave and John are twins who had always planned on opening their own restaurant. Chef Joe and John worked together at Table Fifty-Two in Chicago, and Dave met Will at a pop-up in 2013. Dave loved Will’s mad bar skills and asked him if he wanted to be part of a new restaurant. Will thought he was kidding. The rest is history.
EXP: How did Grey Ghost get its name?
GG: We had a text thread together for ages trying to figure out a name. It took months of research, reading through old newspapers at the library because we really wanted a historical tie to the city. We kept coming back to a story about a rum running pirate on the Detroit river during prohibition. He was a legendary figure who always wore a grey trench coat and was known as the Grey Ghost. The moment the name Grey Ghost hit the group chat with three returns of “I don’t hate it” we knew we had a winner.
EXP: What’s your favorite menu item right now?
Chef Joe: The new scallop dan-dan is amazing – it’s a diver scallop with noodles, bok choy and cashews and is really delicious. I also love the 48-hour short ribs bulgogi, with kimchee and coconut-rice tots, and the fried bologna waffle with cheddar and jalapeno is a customer favorite. We like to keep things fresh by changing up the menu — we get annoyed doing the same things over and over in the kitchen. Like the charcuterie program. We got bored of the board and 86’ed it.
Will: Now that it’s Spring, everyone’s loving Grandma’s Garden, a green juice cocktail with St. Germain, vodka, cucumber, mint, lime, and rose.
EXP: What’s your favorite meal outside of Grey Ghost?
John: Scotty Simpson’s Fish and Chips. It’s in Southwest off of Fenkell and hasn’t changed from the late 50’s or early 60’s. Always pie for dessert, either coconut cream or pumpkin if it’s the season.
Chef Joe: Takeria El Ray has the greatest grilled chicken ever. They rub the chicken in a chili paste and the whole block smells like chicken. I always get a chorizo torta and a half chicken.
Will: Red Coat Tavern has the best shepherd’s pie — it’s my go-to.
EXP: Who’s your typical diner?
Will: It’s all over the place. We get a suburban clientele on the weekends, and sometimes the random celebrity – Marcus Samuelsson was here, Tony Hawk, Mayor Duggan, always the professional athletes, Dwele came in once too, which was really cool.
EXP: What’s next?
GG: Well… it’s kind of a running joke that we’re always taking second place in the city. We won “Second Best Restaurant in Detroit,” received “Second Best Burger” and the joke kind of stuck. Sometimes it’s okay to be Second Best, so we’re celebrating it and opening Second Best in the Fall.
EXP: Will Second Best be the same vibe as Grey Ghost?
GG: It will be more casual, very “cocktails out of a soda gun, beer-and-a-shot” type of bar. We want to kill the current “gotta be on the waitlist, can’t get a reservation” trend that’s happening. There will be no reservations, just come and enjoy yourself. When we think about some of our favorite bars over the years, the best ones have a nickname, now ours is fitting — “Besties.”