In wake of unprecedented times, Metro Detroit restaurants have relied upon creativity and persistence to keep their doors open. In the case of some restaurants – like Ferndale’s Voyager – the pandemic sparked an opportunity for experimentation and growth.
To be clear, we’re talking about conceptual growth. The space itself is about as small as a restaurant can be. But within the confines of the cozy 9-Mile abode, big things are happening.
This spring, Voyager will celebrate its 5-year anniversary; certainly a milestone in an industry defined by near-constant turnover. Some things have remained the same: its quaint, sea-faring-inspired interior, the charm of the bar. But other aspects, most notably, the menu itself, have been reworked several times over.
Andy Law took over the role of Executive Chef in September 2020. An original affiliate of Otus Supply (mere blocks away), he jumped at the opportunity to work within a much smaller, ingredient-driven environment.
Of course, September 2020 was not exactly the industry’s Golden Age. Challenge was implicit in the role. Law saw opportunity.
“When I started, we were carry-out only. It was a very different menu from when we had first opened. Sandwiches, French fries. It was the height of covid, so we were essentially a grocery store too.”
He’s referencing Voyager’s Dockside To-Go program – a pandemic-driven pivot aimed to provide locals with fresh seafood, sans contact.
As on-premise dining returned to Detroit, Law – a longtime Metro Detroit resident – recognized the uniqueness of the surrounding community and the importance of tapping into its specific needs.
That meant vegetarian options. Gluten-free, dairy-free. It also meant providing a cuisine that matched Ferndale’s eclectic vibrancy. Plato said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Law said, “I wanna take fries off the menu.”
Today, only two selections from Voyager’s original menu remain: hushpuppies, peel-n-eat shrimp. The rest of the listings – constantly rotating – speak to a mission of progress, innovation, and above all, ridiculously amazing ingredients.
Sometimes the chef is a magician, conceptualizing and executing dishes unimaginable prior to their emergence on a menu. Other times, they’re a curator – a conduit of diverse flavors and textures sourced from oceans abroad – somehow, miraculously – appearing upon your plate. Voyager’s chilled seafood platters represent the freshest catch available in Metro Detroit. Do you want oysters? Obviously. But from which body of water? Now we’re talking.
The Crudo Trio is worthy of its own write-up. Dry-aged hamachi, uni (sea urchin), tuna tartar marinated in a blackberry vinaigrette.
Only now does heat enter the equation. Seared U/10 scallops. House-made fettuccine with Maine lobster and caviar. Cioppino like a masterwork collage of the sea’s bounty.
Oyster mushrooms with black garlic, “pickly things,” and scallions. The texture is exquisitely firm, almost as if to offer vegetarians an experience mirroring that first bite into a perfectly steamed mussel.
If you’re lucky, they’ll have a whole-baked red gurnard – one of those “deep-sea, Pacific bad boys” that does not, not resemble something straight out of a prehistoric biology textbook.
Is it a dinosaur? Could be. Could also be the best whole fish in Metro Detroit.
Save room for dessert. The Black Manhattan – chocolate brownie cheesecake, hot bourbon fudge, and vanilla ice cream – is a two-person undertaking.
Clearly, Voyager is on one. While the restaurant industry has experienced nothing short of catastrophe, this unassuming, East Ferndale address has transformed from a sandwich and fries type of joint into an all-out culinary juggernaut. And they’re showing no signs of slowing down. Next experiment on deck? How about Charcuterie From the Sea – Yellowfin tuna capicola, Parisienne hamachi rillettes, swordfish speck.
This is not Tony Soprano’s gabagool.
Chef Law loves the progress he’s seeing. But most of all, he’s grateful to those who make it all possible. He showered his sous chef with praise. Lauded the restaurant’s owner, Eli Boyer, for his remarkable flexibility during trying times. I’m so lucky,” he said. “We’ve got people that bought into what we’re selling. It’s really easy when it’s like that. We talk about that feeling of home from the guest’s perspective, but it’s really important to have your employees feel that too. That’s where it starts.”
As these strange times wear on, Voyager looks ahead with a newfound optimism and dedication to craft and community. In a moment where we could all use a little inspiration, Voyager serves up a notion of promise that, despite incredible adversity, Metro Detroit’s restaurant community will emerge stronger than ever before.