There is a world of hospitality contained in the tiny cups of black tea that greet you, along with a dainty plate of Welsh rarebit-flavored crackers, when you sit down to eat at Lady of the House, a nominally Irish, decidedly welcoming restaurant that opened last September in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit.
The lady in charge of this particular house is Kate Williams, a Detroit native whose family roots run deep in Corktown: her great-grandparents met at the neighborhood’s Gaelic League after emigrating from Ireland.
Williams, who previously cooked at other restaurants around town, had long wanted to open her own in Detroit, where “as much as we can,” she said, her business is now “getting the money back into a city that needs to grow the tax base.”
And, indeed, her focus is local. Much of Williams’ produce comes from urban farms, her house gin was created in collaboration with Detroit City Distillery and her tables and bar shelves were made by a local artist. A sense of resourcefulness pervades her cooking, which incorporates so-called ugly foods — ingredients that would have otherwise been discarded for purely aesthetic reasons — and whole-animal butchery.
“Chef is passionate about no waste,” our server informed us. “You’ll notice at the end of the night that we only have one compost bucket.”
We didn’t, largely because there was so much else that demanded our attention. Namely, there was the food, which is served on old-fashioned china and could be described as seasonal-voluptuous: roast chicken for four; mighty slabs of mushroom toast smeared with homemade ricotta; crisp-creamy roasted cauliflower served in a puddle of Parmesan sauce; a trio of scallops, fat as tuffets, plopped on a bed of polenta cooked in whey; and a sardine tin full of lethally rich shrimp butter, tinted scarlet with a dusting of Aleppo pepper and accompanied by toasted rye-sourdough bread. That bread, not incidentally, is exceptional; it’s the work of Shelby Janisch, the restaurant’s 21-year-old baker who is also, our server said, “really good at puns.”
Such cozy food asks for cozy surroundings, and Williams has obliged. The dining room has the low lights and polished dark-wood floors of a good pub, along with elegant banquettes upholstered in green velvet and caramel leather and a marble-topped bar. And there is the women’s restroom, where hospitality comes in the form of a machine dispensing free tampons and a bench whose fabric is printed with Ryan Gosling’s face.
The bathroom is a subtle nod to female empowerment, said Williams, adding that the bench, which is bolted to the ground, “is the most photographed thing here.”
Almost as popular are the restaurant’s potato doughnuts.
“My dad is still passionate about the potato famine,” Williams said. “So I was like, I can’t open a restaurant without a white potato dessert.”
Served with dried yogurt and a chamomile sauce, these doughnuts are improbably airy, although we were so stuffed that we had to have them boxed up. They were just as good the next day — one last touch of hospitality taken to go.
Lady of the House, 1426 Bagley Ave., Detroit; 313-818-0218; ladyofthehousedetroit.com. An average dinner for two, minus drinks and tip, is about $110.