Déjà Food: Mourning the ‘Original’ Lelli’s


When our family thinks of celebration, we think of the original Lelli’s on Woodward. Our family went into mourning when Lelli’s burned down in 2000. My brother, a Detroit police officer, rescued a brick from the remains of the original house.

My first trip there almost didn’t happen. My uncle recommended it in 1960. We drove by Bethune and Woodward avenues where only two buildings stood: Lelli’s and The Villa Venice. My mother thought the area looked run-down. There was no garage and finding parking was a challenge.

We couldn’t believe the line up the front steps of the quaintly decorated restaurant. Small alcoves had perpetual Christmas lights draping the ceilings. We were told to try the Northern Italian dinner with antipasto, minestrone, spaghetti, and the best filet mignon I have ever tasted (with zip sauce), followed by spumoni ice cream.

We later cultivated the friendship of the best waiter in Detroit. When a neighbor couldn’t decide which veal dish to have, “Dozie” went into the kitchen and brought out three different samples. Once we watched in awe as Nerio Lelli prepared Zabaione (dessert) tableside for Les Gruber, owner of the London Chop House.

— Tom Klisz, Livonia



Do you have a story of a long-gone restaurant from metro Detroit’s storied past? Share your anecdotes — but don’t wax too poetic.  We’re only talking 200-300 words. We’ll give a $100 gift certificate to one of the finer “modern” restaurants in town to the author of items we publish. Email us at editorial@hourdetroit.com or snail mail us at 117 W. Third St., Royal Oak, MI 48067. Just put “Déjà Food” on the subject line or envelope.