Hitting Z Spot

For nearly 40 years, a not-so-trendy gathering place has held down the fort in the suddenly popular Milwaukee Junction


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Photograph by Hayden Stinebaugh

Someone invited you out for a food and fun night in Detroit. But you can’t quite remember where … you’re pretty sure it had a “Z” in it? 

What to do? Consider who asked.

Here’s a few hints: 

• Hip Detroit hangs near the Z Garage, a new, 10-floor structure downtown at Library Street and Gratiot Avenue. Not-so-hip Detroit hangs at Z’s Villa, a 100-plus-year-old house on Piquette Avenue near West Grand Boulevard.

• Z Garage has graffiti-inspired artwork. Z’s Villa has sports memorabilia (Go, U of D Cubs!) and old beer signs. 

• Z Garage has Punch Bowl Social, with brand-spanking-new bowling alleys. Z’s Villa has outdoor horseshoes and beach volleyball.

• Z Garage has The Belt alleyway’s Standby, with craft cocktails and chicken-skin-wrapped sturgeon. Z’s Villa has beer, burgers, pizza ... 

Getting the picture?

We enjoy both experiences, but let’s go old-school — as in nearly 40 years of restaurant history.

The Zelinski family (brothers Steve and Mike) once had a joint called Z’s Place at Woodward and Warren avenues. When the property was taken by eminent domain in 2001 to make room for Wayne State University’s Welcome Center, they headed north. But not to the suburbs. 

They focused their efforts on Z’s Villa, an 1890s three-story building just off Woodward that they had already owned for a few years. And even though some more “legendary” neighbors are long gone (like the original Lelli’s), that’s where they’ve stayed. 

Maybe it’s because the neighborhood is far from the newly hopping Midtown, but at times, even decades-loyal patrons call Z’s Villa a “best-kept” secret (something Steve Zelinski says he’s not proud of). 

Now Milwaukee Junction is being touted as an “up and coming” area, and it will be one of the last M1 rail stops. The Bucharest Grill opened a location nearly next door to Z’s. And former Cliff Bell’s chef Matthew Baldridge is slated to open Atomic Chicken nearby. 

But like “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski, Z’s Villa will abide. It’s a no-nonsense place with a solid diet of staples, under admittedly corny categories with a “Z” in them — like bugerz, sandwichez, nachoz, and (no spell-check override needed here) pizza. 

One best bet is the perch, topped with grilled onions (what they call a Ma “Z” touch, and it works). If you’re a fan of cloves, try the Gumbo Yaya. Its prominent profile spikes up the New Orleans-style chicken and sausage dish. There’s also a hefty selection of sandwiches, and they’ve added Eastern Market-sourced corned beef. Or try the Model T Burger, named for the prized output of the Ford Piquette Plant that was once down the street. 

And the prices? The most expensive item is a slab of St. Louis Ribs at $29.50, but most entrees are well under $20. Plus there’s Sicilian-style square pizza with traditional fixings or a “Zuper” vegetarian version with chargrilled veggies (there’s got to be something for the hip crowd). 

One last difference? It costs to park in Z Garage. It’s free at Z’s Villa as is the free shuttle service to Tiger or Lions games, the Gem, Masonic, Fox, Cobo Center, and more. 

Yes, Z’s will abide. 

42 Piquette, Detroit. 313-874-2680. L&D Mon.-Sat. Open Sun. for Lions and Tigers home games.

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