A “bistro in a box” is what Peg Sulek calls her catering and carry-out spot on Mack Avenue in Detroit. She and her husband, Paul, established Dish in 1998 after seeing a for-sale sign on the one-story structure. It quickly became a neighborhood favorite. So much so, that when a family emergency forced Peg to temporarily close the location from mid-February to mid-July, customers were shocked.
What happened changed everything in Peg’s life. While dining out in Ann Arbor earlier that month, Paul suffered sudden cardiac arrest caused by what they later learned was an undetected birth defect. After weeks in the hospital, he died, leaving his wife and the business in limbo.
The couple had met back when Peg was 16 and Paul was 20, and they’d been married for 26 years. So, Peg was determined for the place she had established with Paul — a 1989 graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in New York and an experienced chef — to keep going. “I’m sad, but I feel like he’s here,” she says. Peg, a line cook, and her staff of three prepare everything in the 800-square-foot space’s kitchen.
There are soups like corn and seafood chowder and pastries ready in the small cooler near the entrance, but otherwise, the food is all cooked to order. She describes the style as “cooking as if I had tables.” She sears scallops and whips up beurre blanc like a pro, chuckling while making the classic French sauce because she is “retroactively Googling the recipe.”
Peg says the business has changed a lot. About 80 percent of the orders are now for individual carry-out — that used to be a much smaller percentage of the business. A steady stream of customers also now come by to pick up dinner throughout the week.
The most popular dish on her menu is what she calls New Orleans Pasta: a hearty plate of linguine with cream, bell peppers, and chorizo sausage, the latter, which she acknowledges is a Mexican rather than New Orleanian ingredient. There are usually three or four other pasta dishes on the menu, along with specialities like black bean and Spanish rice burritos, seared salmon with lemon caper butter, pizza topped with bacon and Gorgonzola, and a variety of sandwiches and salads.
Peg is grateful to the community for rallying around Dish despite the tough times. “People loved Paul” she says, because he was a “George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life” kind of person. That warmth, and the delicious food, is what will keep customers coming to back to Dish time and time again.
18441 Mack Ave., Detroit; 313-886-2444. Open 2 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Tues.-Sat.