It started with an Italian grandmother. Well, not the restaurant, but the chef.
For Myles McVay, 37, the executive chef at Otus Supply in Ferndale, the interest in cooking began with his Italian grandma, “She was always cooking.” From there, it was a short trip to the neighborhood pizzeria. At 13, he started working there, washing dishes. He moved up to making pizzas, and a career was born.
His career has reached its current apex at Otus Supply, an original concept for metro Detroit. Open since December of 2016, Otus is a 10,000 sq. ft. space: a combination concert hall, craft cocktail/beer bar, and restaurant under one roof. Designed by Alex Morales from SmartMouth Designs, a Chicago-based restaurant design studio, the Otus space features
funky lighting, textural walls, and flourishes of owls (“otus” is the genus of owls).
Myles oversees the kitchen, where everything* is made from scratch. And everything is designed to be prepped from order to table in 10-12 minutes.
The kitchen is large, and it has to be. Otus combines quality and quantity, serving up to 500 patrons on a summer weekend concert night. Guests are treated to a menu that’s difficult to categorize – there’s pizzas and pastas, a number of vegetable dishes, and four or five larger proteins. So Italian, right?
There’s a serious amount of influence from other cultures, from the kimchi used in the cucumber salad, to the complex mole residing under the unctuous beef short rib.
Fusion? World cuisine? I’m not sure. How about if we go with “unique”?
What I do know is this is great food. In two visits, I was able to sample a number of dishes.
Let’s follow the menu, and start with the pizza. Pizza is all about the crust, and here, the crust is made daily. Beginning with “00” flour, the dough is mixed, then allowed to rise in large plastic tubs. Because of the fineness of the flour grind (the “00”), and the natural leavening, the result is a finished crust that has the crispy exterior, airy, bubbly interior, and just the right amount of “chew”. I tried the “Our-inara”, the Otus take on the traditional margherita, featuring fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, garlic, and basil. The crust was perfect, and the sauce spicy, both from the garlic, the oregano, and the generous amount of hot pepper flakes.
There’s a similar care taken with another simple dish, the bread and butter.
The bread is a malted wheat sourdough, with a crackling crisp crust, and a light interior. The bread has a slightly sour taste (hence the name), worth mentioning because of the plethora of “sourdough” breads sold in the various markets that are neither crusty nor sour, and have no evidence of the required starter. That is not the case here, with a bread that is heartier than the traditional white San Francisco sourdough, but still features that great fermented taste.
The butter is made in–house, and combined with roasted garlic and Kalamata olives. It’s tasty. However, they change the blends often, even going with plain butter now and again. So the dish will always be a bit different.
The house-made pastas should make his grandmother proud. They’re cooked al dente, and have the creamy richness that comes from being tossed with the sauce.
The first pasta, the Mafalde, is a different noodle. Legend has it this pasta shape is named after a princess. Whether that is true or not, if you took a lasagna noodle, and eliminated 2/3 of the flat noodle in the middle, you’d have mafalde, a long flat pasta noodle with ruffles on both sides. There’s a lot of texture to this noodle, so the sauce needs to be hearty, to stand up to it. No problem here, as the pork sugo has the deep taste of slow simmering. A surprise here is the included hazelnuts. Yes, they are called out on the menu (no hidden allergen concern here), but it was a new inclusion for me. This is a dish with wonderful layers of texture: thick, al dente pasta, crunchy hazelnuts, tender bits of pork. The dusting of parmesan atop completes the dish.
The second was a squid ink pappardelle, a dish of glistening jet black pasta, topped with cured egg yolk, grated Pecorino Romano cheese, garnished with orange roe. The flying fish roe appears jewel-like, almost luminescent. It may be the most beautiful dish I’ve photographed, and the taste? It’s like eating the ocean. The dish tastes of rich, salty brine, with a textural counterplay of the “pop” of the fishy eggs. and the chew of the noodles. It’s tremendous, one of the two signature dishes here.
The third pasta was a root vegetable agnolotti. On this day, the root vegetable
in question was parsley root. The pasta is sauced with brown butter, bits of caramelized apples, and garnished with sage, parmesan, and flavored bread crumbs. It’s a fall dish, a sweeter sauce with holiday flavors.
Of the vegetables, the Sweet & Sour Cucumber was delicious and refreshing. This is a molded cylinder of matchstick cucumbers, sweet corn, and charred lemon bits, topped with feta, a cracker, and black sesame seeds. It’s light and tangy, either as a salad course, or a substantial palate cleanser before the larger dishes.
The wood fired broccoli is as it sounds, but sauced with a seaweed aioli for a
different taste. It’s garnished with sunflower seeds and togarashi (Japanese red chili powder). This is a solid dish. While certainly vegetarian, vegans will need to ask them to hold the aioli, as it contains egg. Chef Myles says they’re happy to accommodate requests like these.
I also tried the zucchini fritters. As you can see, these are beautifully plated and presented, topped with English peas, shaved fennel, and garnished with a bit of parsley mayo (also containing egg). However, these are zucchini fries, not fritters. Thin, long rectangular pieces of zucchini are battered and deep fried. And they largely taste like really fresh, expertly battered, fried zucchini.
Woodfired octopus was an interesting dish. Banish thoughts of calamari. This has nothing in common with the rubbery little circles of squid over-fried in other establishments. This is a classic Mediterranean dish, tender grilled tentacles of octopus, served over kimchi, garnished with puffed black rice (think “Snap, Crackle . . . oh, I always forget the third one!), dressed with a kombucha and honey vinaigrette.
I expected a heavy shot of funk with this dish, due to the two fermented items. However, the kimchi had a smooth, mild flavor. I asked Chef McVay, and he informed me that longer fermentation mellows the harsher flavors of kimchi. Because of this, it complemented the octopus nicely, rather than taking over the dish. The overall result was a balanced dish, one I would eat again.
The final dish was a show-stopper, the beef short rib.
Let’s start with size. This thing is huge. Otus obtains a special order cut of short ribs, and they average 22 – 24 ozs. per rib. That’s at least double the size of most restaurant portions, and triple that of some.
So it’s a generously-sized portion. It’s big enough to share.
You won’t want to, though, as it is cooked to perfection. The meat is well-seasoned, which, in the case of beef, means it has been properly salted. The meat also has a solid sear, creating a good crust. It has been cooked for several hours (braised, sous vide, both?), until the meat is fork tender, rendering the provided steak knife completely extraneous.
The rib is served in a pool of mole, the complex Mexican sauce consisting of 20 – 30 ingredients, including garlic, multiple types of chiles, chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, seeds, and spices. Chef McVay’s mole is mildly spicy, but earthy and rich.
The rib is garnished with chimichurri, roasted squash, and crispy shaved carrots.
The beef is richly unctuous, redolent with deep flavor. It’s grandma’s pot roast on steroids, fork tender comfort food. In my opinion, it’s their signature dish. If this is on the menu, order it, and plan the rest of the meal around it.
It’s that good.
Otus Supply is a unique restaurant, and Chef McVay brings a unique vision to the kitchen. There’s really nothing like either in the area. You should go.
If you can’t get a reservation, don’t worry. About 1/3 of the seats are saved for walk-ins, so there’s hope. Go with friends, order lots of dishes, and share and pass them around. That’s the best way to experience Otus.
“Owl” see you there.
Otus Supply is located at 345 East 9 Mile Road in Ferndale. It opens at 5 PM Monday – Friday, 4 PM on Saturday. The kitchen serves till 10 PM Monday – Thursday, 11 PM Friday and Saturday. The bar is open till midnight Monday – Wednesday, and 2 AM Thursday through Saturday. You can make reservations by calling 248.291.6160, or by clicking the button marked “Click Here!” at www.otussupply.com.
*In discussion with Chef Myles, it turns out that the mozzarella is the only item not (yet) made in house. However, by the time you read this, it probably will be.