Is It Legit? Four Detroiters Review Ed & Bev's at Berg'n
Detroiters are highly sentimental about their native foods: the Coney dog (a beanless chili dog with onions and mustard), square deep-dish pizza (that you'd find at, say, Buddy's) and a flaming cheese called saganaki, to name a few. So naturally, when Eli and Max Sussman, chefs and unofficial Motor City poster boys, announced they were bringing their take on some of these sacred foods to Brooklyn with Ed & Bev's, it felt like Christmas morning for just about every Detroit-born New Yorker. As one such Michigan-bred food writer, I was curious to taste the goods myself. Ed & Bev's is not a full-scale restaurant, but one of several new kiosks within Berg'n, a Crown Heights indoor food hall from the creators of Smorgasburg.
The Sussman brothers (Zagat 30 Under 30 alums), who were raised in Detroit suburb Huntington Woods, MI, have bounced around the NYC culinary landscape over the last few years. Eli was previously the chef at Mile End; Max worked previously at Roberta's and The Breslin and the short-lived The Cleveland, before the duo decided to branch off on their own and open a Lebanese-inspired concept, Samesa (also inspired by Detroit's robust Middle Eastern food scene), which opened at Berg'n as well a few months back. The brothers just returned from a summer in Montauk helming the kitchen at the trendy Ruschmeyer's before announcing the opening of Ed & Bev's, which just happened to coincide with a glossy NY Times Style section feature. With all of the misplaced hullabaloo swirling around Detroit of late ("It's the new Brooklyn!"), thanks to a deluge of "decay porn" photo spreads in national magazines and countless trend pieces on the burgeoning real estate market, the Sussman boys are (wisely) laying claim to a certain kind of Motor City cachet. Shinola's got the style part down, and now, someone's gotta do the food, right?
I had to get my Detroit posse on the case. So last night, I rounded up three childhood suburban Detroit pals (who spent countless 1990s lunch dates at Leo's Coney Island) and sat down to dinner at Berg'n to give Ed & Bev's a whirl. Here were our findings.
A quick preamble: before we get into any of the food at Ed & Bev's, I'm going to attempt to explain what a "Coney" is. A Coney is first and foremost a Detroit-style chili dog, but it's also the name attached to a typical Greek diner you'd find in Detroit or the suburban areas. For many, it's the equivalent of Saved by the Bell's "The Max" — the place where you sneak out to lunch with your friends as soon as you got your driver's permit at age 15. At a Coney, they serve typical Greek diner fare: Greek salads, avgolemono (chicken, lemon and rice soup), saganaki (a Greek cheese that's lit aflame with Brandy and put out with lemon juice tableside); lamb gyros et al. Coney Dogs are the most uniquely Detroit item you'll find at a Coney restaurant, which we've also taken the time to explain thoroughly in this video. The whole thing started nearly 100 years ago when American Coney Island was opened in Detroit by a Greek immigrant inspired by the hot dogs he had eaten in Brooklyn's Coney Island on his way to the Midwest.
At Ed & Bev's, the Coney dog is definitely the main event. Here they have integrated a smoky beef brisket into the chili instead of the more mildly flavored meat chili you'd find back home. But...here's the tricky thing about this place. It's billed as a "Detroit-Style Coney Island Diner" so essentially it's a tribute restaurant in that all of the food is supposed to be reminiscent of classics served back in the D. But it's also a chefly interpretation of that tribute fare, meaning that the Sussmans are taking creative license with these dishes by using higher-quality ingredients and putting their own spin on things. Naturally this creates a conundrum: if the dishes stray too far from authentic Detroit, Motor City expats and purists will cry foul and never return. But if the dishes are too authentic, while it might comfort Detroiters, it may seem too basic and uncreative for a New York audience to embrace.
I will say that this Coney dog ($7.50) has that certain "snap" that a Coney should have, and that the overall taste was pleasing. But the chili's strong smoky flavor distracted a bit too much from the hot dog. It was like topping a dog with Mighty Quinn's brisket — sounds delicious, but in a way, the two "styles" at work here (Greek and American BBQ) were bumping up against each other rather abruptly. The chili topping worked better with the Coney fries ($7.50), since the more subtle fried potatoes didn't compete with the smoky flavor.
Avgelomono ($6): This soup, a personal favorite, is marked by a strong hit of lemon juice and a rice-laden texture. This version was very chicken-forward, with large chunks of meat floating throughout. Overall, satisfying and comforting but not quite enough lemon juice for this group's liking.
The saganaki ($10). It's a definite bummer that they don't light this on fire at the table, like they do in Detroit (OPA! and all that jazz). Basically, an automatic minus 10 points. But maybe NYC laws are tighter on this one. The cheese the Sussmans used for this is a little bit different than the kind you'll find commonly in Detroit, and almost everyone at the table found it way too salty. The sesame bread that it comes with, though, was right on the mark.
Greek salad ($5 for small, $11 for large): This was the most disappointing dish for a number of reasons. For one thing, the dressing: this was basically like a Seven Seas Italian knockoff as opposed to the amazing oregano-laden Greek dressing of our youths. The requisite canned beets were present, but then we spied heirloom cherry tomatoes. Seems like the salad should either go all-the-way kitschy or not. Also, feta cheese never needs to be fried. Appreciate the effort again, but just give it to us crumbled.
Next time we need to check out the Hunter House–inspired burger (a famous slider joint in suburban Detroit) that we hear good things about, and the Greek pastries for dessert. But we were delighted to see Better Made Chips on the menu as well as Motor City "pop" of choice: Vernors.
At the end of the day, we were a bit disappointed that the meal didn't fulfill all of our Detroit food dreams. But it's early, and the restaurant deserves time to get its legs. And even though it fell a little short, the meal made four longtime expats nostalgic for their Detroit home in a way their adopted city had never managed before.