Families leaving a recent party in Grosse Pointe Farms were raving about the birthday cake that had been served to mark the 8-year-old’s big day. When Paul Sulek, the chef who made the cake, heard about the reaction, he modestly tossed it off, calling it just a chocolate cake. But if it didn’t seem out of the ordinary to Sulek, it certainly was to the birthday girl’s parents, who have ordered her cake from Sulek every year since there was one candle on it.
Sulek, and his wife, Peg, are the talents behind Dish, a catering and carryout company in a building on the far east side of Detroit that’s almost as tiny as its name. They’ve been preparing handcrafted fare for 14 years in the freestanding 800-square foot building that’s dwarfed by the bank next door. “Blink and you’ll miss it,” Peg says.
The space includes a “lobby,” as the Suleks call it, where patrons order lunches and dinners to go, and a kitchen that consumes the rest of the space. It’s plenty of room for the talented couple, who met when she was a 16-year-old busgirl and he was a 20-year-old line cook at the former Mallard Pub in Detroit. That was 1985, and Paul would soon go off to The Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, N.Y., to complete his culinary training. He graduated in 1989 and married Peg in ’91. Paul went on to become a pastry chef at The Whitney and then moved to the Country Club of Detroit an Meadow Brook Country Club.
Meanwhile, Peg and her friend Lisa Debs decided they wanted to open a restaurant. Funding the project, however, turned out to be impossible. They were able to compromise when they drove by a little bakery on Mack Avenue that sported a for-sale sign. The price was low enough that the two could snap up the lease and open what they called their “bistro in a box.” (Debs has since gone on to concentrate on her real-estate business.)
Paul had always helped out at Dish — “he was our back-up in case Dish went belly-up,” Peg said. But in 2000, he left his country-club job and joined Peg full-time in running the place.
Through word of mouth, they have built a core clientele of between 100 and 200 families — and not just for chocolate birthday cakes.
Monday through Saturday, they offer eight or nine complete entrees to go, as well as soups, salads, and sandwiches, all made from scratch (except for Breadsmith bread and Boar’s Head deli meats) and from fresh ingredients. They have just two employees: a sous-chef and a counter person. Among their most popular dishes are steak and Gorgonzola salad and another, called “Motor Martini salad,” that includes greens tossed in vodka vinaigrette with green olives, capers, cocktail onions, and crumbled blue cheese. Their also-popular New Orleans pasta is made with linguine, chorizo, cream, and bell peppers. The potato-encrusted salmon is what Paul calls “a permanent special.”
There’s also an intangible ingredient that has kept this little business going strong for 14 years, something beyond its well-prepared food. “People like the vibe at Dish,” Peg says. “It’s amiable.”
Dish, 18441 Mack Ave., Detroit; 313-886-2444, dishdetroit.biz. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-9 p.m. Sat.