Papa Hemingway's Café, a Critical Review

E. Myron Iron

Issue 8 * Spring 2002

Tucked nonchalantly between the ultrahip Styleside Dock and the upscale-downscale MicroBean Brewery in Michigan's up-and-coming Royal Oak steams Papa Hemingway's Café, serving up the latest and hottest in Cubano-Michiganian Cuisine. Piled high with twentieth-century fishing and hunting gear, Papa Hemingway's goes beyond the mere kitschiness of the run-of-the-mill theme restaurant and plunges into the realm of the downright angst-filled.

First up on the menu is the Nick Adams, a sandwich consisting of trout, canned beans, and spaghetti on stale white bread. Chewing this concoction reveals the special "secret ingredient": crow. Lightly braised, it is stuffed into the trout before frying. The experience of this dish is elemental in its simplicity, almost hubristic in its in-your-face reaction against today's pretentious neo-haute.

Unpretentious to the extreme is the Shotgun, a gloriously red dish made of head cheese, ketchup, a very piquant little salsa, and an entire fifth of Jack Daniel's. The flavor is tangy without being too heady, straightforward without being intellectual. It would make for a good rainy-day meal. This dish is served up with a real shotgun pellet in every order, so caveat emptor!

One of our favorites is the Bullfighter's Delight, a thoroughly brazen presentation of habernero-stuffed pork loin flanked by two huge, fried prairie oysters garnished with steamed parsley. Eating a serving of this is almost like consummating a love affair: fiery and all-consuming, meaty, but, sadly, over too soon. It's not the portion size that's the problem--there's enough here to choke a horse--it is the fact that you'll never really finish since you'll be full long before it's gone, and if you just keep eating, you'll probably become sick.

Another important menu item is just called the Pilar. It's a creamy fish sauce served over a steaming bed of noodles. The nettles, though, are what's interesting gastronomically. They, too, are steamed, and lightly rubbed with sage and dirt. The effect is both crunchy and chewy, smooth and downright painful. A "must eat" for those into challenging new food ideas.

The restaurant's atmosphere is perfect for those who enjoy gear, but it's also punctuated by a bell, rung at odd intervals. For whom this bell tolls receives a complimentary dessert. Should it toll for thee, let me suggest the Hill of White Elephants, a massive slab of ice cream infused with beer and a shot of absinthe. It may seem a bit of an odd combination, but the result will shock you into deep conversations about life, love, and discrete medical procedures. There's no way to finish it before it melts.

Prices range from $4.99 for desserts to over $50 for some of the more seasonal entrees. All prices are dependent on the sobriety of the maitre d'.