Before we diverge into an architectural treatise, let’s get one thing out of the way: Otus Supply on East Nine Mile Road in Ferndale has a brief menu, delightful food, and superb service.
But more on that later.
There is a trend in restaurant architecture these days that relies heavily — sometimes totally — on the use of recycled materials. It sends a message that the owners care about their footprint on the planet.
It’s a noble idea, one that is well received by restaurant-goers, and has worked nicely for a lot of places. Otus Supply heads straight to the front of that parade with one of wildest looks ever pulled off around Detroit. All done with recyclables.
While Otus Supply’s design is not my cup of tea, as my grandmother used to say, it is impressive in size and style. Every manner of demolition and carpentry junk imaginable seem to have been used in putting this place together. It looks like a collision between a dump truck full of construction rubble and an architect’s office.
The design is immediately preoccupying, with its industrial-like windows high up at ceiling level, giving the feeling you might have traveled into some vast industrial warehouse being used for the evening by a posh oversized pop-up restaurant.
Yet, this place is completely new. Its atmosphere and trappings are totally by design, down to the three massive garage doors, tall enough to easily accommodate a couple of 18-wheelers.
Walking into Otus Supply’s front door, you pass through a dark anteroom with a few seats to the host station in the main hall.
The overall feeling of the main dining room is brightness, airiness, and a lot of rolling echo sound, which adds to the atmosphere of bigness without tripping over table conversations, which we found perfectly normal.
The idea was that splitting the room could also bring the sound level down quite a bit, says manager Ian Redmond. “So, on the whole, we still have intimate and usable space.”
A second room, called the Parliament Room, also accommodates dining and live music on certain days of the week. Farther down is the main hall, also large and industrial, but inside, the geometry shifts from the angular warehouse to three rounded, barrel-shaped openings leading into smaller more intimate rooms, one after the other. The first rounded entry is put together from all shapes and sizes of spindles, railing pieces, lattice work, and assorted bits of trim that a carpenter would throw away — all placed in various geometric patterns. The second room’s rounded opening is an entire wall made of pieces of recycled plaster slats, while a third room has the eerie almost candlelit-feel of a goth’s library, full of books, strange shapes, and an odd allegoric painting.
Back in the main hall, one wall is covered with a massive phantasmagoric mural that looks like a piece of massive tattoo parlor art.
I have a hard time accepting this look as something that works well for a restaurant. But …
The three key ingredients — place, food, and service — that make up a restaurant work well here. And Otus Supply clearly has been hitting all the marks since it opened in late December.
On the evening of a visit, we started with Otus’ rich crusty brown bread, which Redmond described as “the top of our game, here.”
It’s made with unleavened sourdough, has soft dark oatlike interior, and comes with house-churned soft butter sprinkled with olive oil and chopped fresh rosemary. As simple and commonplace as bread and butter are, they serve as an immediate opening remark to the depth and richness that you can expect in the dishes that follow.
Chef Myles McVay’s menu offers only five main courses, but 15 smaller starter-sized plates, which our savvy waitress, Molleigh, explained is the preferred route. “The menu is designed more for you to try lots of small dishes,” she said.
Redmond, a veteran of La Dulce in Royal Oak and the now-closed Torino in Ferndale, says the general theme or direction of the restaurant is the bring an “Old World sensibility to a menu from Great Lakes region sourced ingredients. Be it meat, fish, or vegetables, they are basically all from Michigan, and maybe Ohio.”
The night we were there, a furious rain and electrical storm had struck the Detroit area and knocked out Otus Supply’s pizza oven. While its five varieties of pizza were not available, there was still an extensive palette on the menu from which to select dishes.
Following the bread, we moved on to a zesty fresh beet salad with fermented blueberries, ricotta, and pistachios. Then to a small plate of four silver dollar-sized morsels of fried sweetbreads sitting in a bed of slightly spicy aioli, black garlic, pickles, and an herb slaw.
Next up, a beef tartare, which arrived topped with a quail egg, accompanied by grilled sourdough bread slathered in melted butter.
Here, I have a slight criticism of how the dish was prepared. From the sweetness and a little oiliness in the mouthfeel, I would expect that a more marbled, fattier piece of the beef was used. It’s true that I am wedded to a very clean, un-fatty mouthful in my beef tartare. Made the old-fashioned way, tartare calls for the very leanest cut possible — sirloin fully trimmed of all fat before grinding it. That’s what makes tartare its most enjoyable. Otus’ version — made with wagyu — is very tasty, even if the mouthfeel was off in my personal measure of tartare.
I can’t say enough about the very best dish of the evening: The wild boar rigatoni made with wild mushrooms, spiced with chili, and finished with grated pecorino cheese is superior, with a rolling richness and savory flavor that fills the mouth with round wholesome flavors.
From the main menu, we picked a very nice pastrami plate, maybe best described as akin to the French-styled Reuben in which the sauerkraut has been replaced with its Italian cousin, brovada — shredded purple turnip fermented in alcohol, sometimes a dry grappa. It is topped with and served on grilled sourdough that has been egg-washed, much like a non-spicy version of French toast. Other main dishes include trout, mollusks, fisherman’s stew, and a pork shank.
Overall, what Otus Supply offers is a mostly strange, cavernous look and feel. I happen to like the food better than the appearance. But it is a good restaurant and a welcome addition to the growing — make that mushrooming — choices for dining in metro Detroit.
We are living in rich times, as far as restaurants go. Here’s another one. Enjoy it.
345 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-291-6160. D Mon.-Sat.