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Simple food gets a bump at ACME Bar & Grill

Appetite

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Like the random cartoon chaos the name conjures, ACME Bar & Grill, the new Eighth Street restaurant, is a little hard to pin down. Cletus, the droopy-eyed cowboy moose in the foyer, says the restaurant is a little silly, a little whimsical. The wood-accented walls and thick wood tables say saloon. The low ceilings and round entryways say subterranean conspiracy.

The menu is mainly comfort food, but there's that ribeye steak au poivre. It's a place for adults to drink, but filled with games like checkers and Jenga and Connect Four (to go with pool, darts and foosball). And you can find a depressing selection of MillerBuschCoorsBevMolsonKugel — with Bud Light, Samuel Adams and Shock Top on draft — but that cocktail list shows promise, even if a Bourbon Smash tasted mostly like sugary soda water.

ACME itself isn't sure. "What are we?" asks an early Facebook post. "Hell, we don't know. Eclectic?"

Regardless, we found it comfortable and culinarily satisfying and kind of fun. (Note: We were identified by staff, so take our experience for what it's worth.) The restaurant lives on the west side of Motor City, just north of an Ivywild neighborhood coming alive with its own craft renaissance, while ownership comes from Ashley Deroche and Phil Duhon, who also run Oscar's Tejon Street.

Duhon, who handles back of the house, feels inspired by the place.

"I've been known to have some chops in the kitchen," he wrote in a February post. "Got a few awards to brag about in the past and had all that fancy chef wear stuff ... I put that all aside and now I get to just 'cook' anything I think I can make taste good. No rules, no genres, no same thing all the time and no format on price. Just make some good food.

"I haven't been this excited to cook since I got my first executive chef position in 97."

Lunch starts with a couple of complimentary biscuit squares covered in sausage gravy, sort of the restaurant's chips-and-salsa. It's hard not to stop there and demand more, because those are some soft biscuits and the gravy lands thick, meaty, clean and balanced. Two large orbs of fried mashed potatoes, called Fried Mashers, inspired my fiancée to endless Family Guy references ("so big you can eat them like a hand fruit"). But the bacon-and-cheese flavor was legit, and so was that crunchy panko crust.

A bowl of pale-orange lobster bisque, accented with spider-webbed crème fraîche, was distractingly full of corn, though still pleasant. The Italian Beef killed, even though it was more like eating thick slices of falling-apart pot roast than shaved top round, and the jus came so overly full of delicious fat that it was like dipping the sandwich in baby oil. More success came from a chewy po-boy full of plump-and-fresh fried shrimp. The $13 tag hurt a little, though.

Some house-made jalapeño poppers offered thick bites of pepper wrapped in crunchy bacon, while a muffaletta on ciabatta combined ham, salami, smoked Gouda, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, mayo and olive salad to gushy, satiating effect. Same story with another classic-sandwich variation, the Cubano panini, whose Sriracha mayo is perfect with ham, shredded pork, bacon and pickles.

As for sides, note a pedestrian salad, a fresh mac-and-cheese that needs firmer noodles, and some really good homemade fries — like, Green Line Grill good. Even the mothereffer of a hill at the entrance to the parking lot should not keep you from them, or your quest to figure out whatever ACME is.

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