A Side Order of Jazz

Friday nights in Dearborn are hopping at Joe’s Top Dog Restaurant

Until this year, the claim to fame at Joe’s Top Dog Restaurant was its $1 coney dogs served every Wednesday. That distinction has been eclipsed since they added Friday live jazz performances to their attractions just over a year ago.

Since then, the Dearborn spot, run by the team of Joe and Zoja Bojovic with the help of their son Joe, draws a capacity crowd for more than good Alexander & Hornung dogs on fresh Brown’s Bun Bakery buns.

The Bojovics, a genial and friendly couple, say they have two anniversaries, their August wedding 33 years ago and the day they bought their restaurant three months later.

From 7-10 p.m. every Friday, they dim the lights and bring out white linens to cover the tables in the cocktail lounge that adjoins the restaurant, turning the space into a jazz venue. The lounge was added to their holdings when the previous owners closed.

An up-to-date dinner menu also comes out, with such dishes as fresh grilled salmon, lemon chicken, and Caesar and Greek salads. That’s not to say that patrons can’t get a coney or a fresh, hand-patted burger on a kaiser roll if they really want one.

The house band is the Rich Michaels Trio, featuring Michaels on drums, Chuck Shermataro at the piano, and Ray Tini on the bass. Michaels also does the booking for other acts. Guest performers include many of the Detroit area’s top-rated jazz stars, including Ursula Walker, Buddy Budson, Kate Patterson, and Shahida Nurullah. On tap for May: saxophonist Chris Collins, vocalist Meri Slaven, and trumpeter Johnny Trudell and vocalist Ramona Collins (all backed by Michaels’ house band, as usual).

Frequent patron David Zeigler says he and his wife, Deborah, are there “sometimes twice a month,” and they try to make it whenever Trudell (“Still unbelievably in control of his horn”) or another favorite, vocalist George Benson, are appearing.

“We are thoroughly entertained,” Zeigler says, and the couple likes the intimate size of the room (it seats just 70), and the fact that the music is early in the evening. Short ribs, one of five dinner entrees, are his favorite, as are the bourbon beef tips appetizer. His wife tends to order the fish fry.

Gary and Sue Smith of Canton call themselves longtime customers, and they were there on the first anniversary of the jazz performances in March.

“I don’t consider myself a groupie,” says Sue, “but it’s a really fun night.” The Smiths’ evening includes their favorite dish, sautéed perch, served with cooked-to-order green beans, garlic mashed potatoes, and coleslaw, as are the other mains.

If the room fills up, patrons are seated in the coney room, with closed circuit TV beaming the entertainment to them. And did we forget to mention that there is no cover charge?

13342 Michigan Ave., Dearborn; 313-846-0888; Live jazz 7-10 p.m. Fridays. Regular hours 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri., 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat. Closed Sun