My Citizens, I have just recently learned that I will shortly be working with two companies about to call the Detroit metro area either their new HQ or the epicenter of their sales activities – and this pleases me to no end, as I am a big fan of the Motor City! I have very high hopes indeed for its renaissance as the city pivots away from heavy industry and towards its evolving role as a new home for technology startups in the transportation and green energy sectors!
The world-famous Masonic Center is justifiably renowned for its stately grandeur (it is the biggest building of its kind in the world!) and Detroit is also home to a wide range of superlative comestibles – including a unique type of pizza, unmatched ginger ale, fantastic hot dogs and Zip Sauce! Not familiar with the gustatory joy that is Zip Sauce, you say?!
Well then, buckle in as the Hetman of History educates you on the origins and delights of this delicious condiment designed to enhance all manner of steaks, chops and more! Now that we have officially moved into the Summer grilling High Season, you’re going to find a LOT of uses for this butter-based, umami-laden condiment on everything from meats to vegetables!
I was intrigued to learn that Detroit actually has a long and proud history of steakhouses, speakeasies and more – something I discovered via this (excerpted) seminal article from Detroitnews.com:
Before the famous Delmonico’s restaurant opened in New York City in 1845, there were no restaurants in the United States as we know them today. There were, however, “eating houses.” Detroit had its share, usually attached to saloons, where food was served, often to encourage more drinking.
This advertisement proclaimed a new enterprise in 1850:
Patrick Collins has opened a new Eating House on Griswold Street. Mr. Collins is a stirring man and of course will be successful. The arrangements are all “tip-top.”
Eating houses featured specialties like “all-you-can- eat” oysters or green turtle soup; they usually announced “a good accommodation for victuals” such as soup, potatoes, beef, ham and so forth. Nevertheless, complaints about the food were common. With the famous French chef and cooking instructor Professor Pierre Blott moving to New York City and becoming America’s first celebrity chef by 1865, Detroit newspaper editorials hoped that students of chef Blott could “relieve the country from the reproach of having but one gravy.”
The earliest restaurants appeared in the 1870s in Detroit, and by 1899 the city had 169. People had come to rely on restaurants for lunch, dinner and throughout the night as night shift workers, many living in lodging houses with no kitchen, began to depend on restaurants as their only source of cooked meals. (Prior to the 1870s, most single men lived in “boarding houses.”
A boarding house provided room and food. Later, as salaries in Detroit and the United States overall tightened, single men usually were found in less respectable “lodging houses,” which were simply rooms.)
In 1918, a series of riots broke out in Detroit when William K. Prudden, the state coal director for Michigan, ordered restaurants and all “non-essential businesses” closed, in a plan to save coal fuel during a winter shortage. Thousands of hungry and angry night workers hit the streets, and the order was immediately rescinded.
Restaurants and social class:
Detroit restaurants were in many cases categorized by the social class of their customers. Aside from the “first-class” restaurants, there was no menu to choose from; you got what they served that day. On the low end was “a meal for a nickel.” Nickel meals were served down by the docks in the bars where the ruffians and machine shop labor might show up. For a nickel you got a bowl of soup and bread or pork and beans.
Dinner for a dime was advertised in front of restaurants, which many times displayed their offering that day with a sample platter set on a chair or table inside the door. It might include a long-braised cut of beef, sauerkraut and a piece of buttered johnny bread (corn bread). Next to this array was typically a platter of buttered potatoes. Other days the offerings might have been pot pie, corned beef and cabbage, or pork roast. Your beverage choices were coffee, tea or milk — soda pop did not exist yet. Dessert was pudding.
People ate at the bar or at small wooden tables while the food was brought by waitresses who in 1899 were called “restaurant girls.” A bit later they were called “waiting girls” which then became “waitresses.” They worked for salary, no tips; in better establishments, tipping was considered insulting. The waitress uniform began in 1915 in New York City and spread across the country. It started as a plain black dress, white apron and white cap.
A restaurant girl was interviewed in Philadelphia in 1896 and asked what she thought of her line of work.
“Oh, all we restaurant girls think there is nothing like it,” she said. “Of course the work is hard. You don’t get many chances to sit down. … The life is a bright one. … The life of restaurant girls has a change of faces. We see new faces and get new ideas for dresses and bonnets from the women patrons. Of course, the work never changes a jot, but the changing faces keeps us from getting in a rut and keeps us younger and gayer in feelings.”
Moving up the restaurant scale, a meal for 15 or 20 cents got you more choices. They offered two meats, such as corned beef and cabbage or a Detroit favorite, “city chicken,” which was actually cubed pork or veal shoulder skewered on sticks (something to vaguely resemble chicken drumsticks) and braised in sauce. Veal and pork were cheaper than chicken in those days. In addition, you could take tomato soup, beets, pickles and bread and butter. Along with pudding, they offered apple pie.
These restaurants advertised that they used the “card system”: “One can pick out just as much or as little as one wants.”
Stepping it up further, for 25 cents you had a substantial choice. The following was the bill of fare for a quarter at one Detroit restaurant in 1899:
Broiled trout with egg sauce
Roast short ribs of beef. Brown potatoes.
Broiled English mutton chops. Baked potatoes.
Stewed Spring Lamb Petit pois.
These were served with desserts, coffee, tea, cider, beer or ale.
Fine dining establishments:
For 50 cents, you could dine in the finest restaurants in Detroit. It might be the Hotel Cadillac Café, the toast of Detroit in 1892. It was very progressive, serving both accompanied and unaccompanied women. You were attended by a waiter wearing a formal dress coat. Dress coats were at times the source for labor disputes for waiters and restaurant management, as the uniform was expensive to maintain in the mandated spotless condition, especially during the winter “off season” after the holidays, when dining traffic slowed and management would cut salaries.
The dinner menu would take a normal patron two hours to get through. It typically began with consommé, then fish, beef, turkey, duck, wild game and shrimp, all with sherbet served between meals. And of course, patrons had many choices of desserts.
In these high-end restaurants, little was subtle or restrained; the dining room appeared plated with gold, bejeweled with crystal or swathed in purple velvet. The Hotel Cadillac Café centerpiece for a reception held for Miss Valerie Etheridge Moran and E. Leydon Ford held in 1904 was an eye-popping example, as reported in the Detroit Free Press:
“The table, twenty eight feet long and six feet wide, was set in the center with a mammoth electrical fountain spraying water from four founts; the basin was ten feet long and three feet wide and was inlaid with red, white and blue electric lights and sprayed water also from its four sides into the center. The lights caught the water and flashed it in many delicate hues, while goldfish in keeping with the colors glided here and there among the varicolored lights in the basin. Around the edges were seashore stones and otherwise the table was a solid mass of costly flowers.”
Now that we have established the provenance for Detroit’s meat-eating heyday and love of fine steaks – let’s dive into the history of Zip Sauce, as noted (very appropriately!) in an excerpt from this fantastic article on chevydetroit.com:
Some call it a dipping sauce. Others describe it as a buttery, salty glaze. The bottom line for foodies of all kinds is that the delicious condiment known as Zip Sauce is the ultimate compliment to steaks, soups, seafood and even vegetables.
For newbies, Zip Sauce is one of those mysteries that make Detroit famous for its food and legendary restaurateurs. Like the stories behind who was in the Purple Gang or what happened to Jimmy Hoffa, there is controversy behind what goes into Zip Sauce, who created the best version and how to make it at home.
The actual recipe for Zip Sauce, much like SpongeBob’s Krabby Patty, is a closely guarded secret. But there are some universal ingredients shared among food experts. Most say Zip Sauce is a mix of butter, beef base, Worcestershire sauce, sometimes mustard and a blend of spices including garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper.
The history of Zip Sauce starts with Mario Lelli, who owned and operated a high-end Italian restaurant along Woodward Avenue that opened in 1939. As the story goes, Lelli’s restaurant was a hot spot where northern Italian recipes reigned supreme. But what made it a household name was its steaks and famous Zip Sauce.
People came from far and wide to eat at Lelli’s and savor the Zip Sauce. Its popularity grew to the point where other restaurants started making their own version, according to Michael Esshaki, who now owns the trademark to what he calls the Original Zip Sauce.
“It’s a household name in Michigan. Every person who goes to a steakhouse asks for Zip Sauce,” Esshaki said.
Esshaki, who began his food career as a waiter for Lelli’s, formerly owned Larco’s restaurant in West Bloomfield. That is there that Esshaki learned how to make Zip Sauce from the masters, he said. Every chef has their own recipe, Esshaki says, but Lelli’s knew how to make it best. Every time a chef moved, he or she brought their own version to the kitchen.
When Esshaki got the trademark for the Zip Sauce name about a decade ago, he wanted to make it commercially available. Through Esshaki’s company, the product he calls The Original Zip Sauce is based on the recipe he learned. It is now sold online, in 25 casinos, more than 200 restaurants and across 4,500 retail stores, he said.
Esshaki has a few Zip Sauce suggestions for the home cook. He recommends putting it in a spray bottle and coating your steaks and hamburger patties with it as they cook. Another idea is to use the Original Zip Sauce in French onion soup as well as corn on the cob. “You’ll never eat corn any other way once you’ve tried it,” he says.
Obviously, the exact recipe proportions for Zip Sauce are top-secret, but the basic ingredients are well-known – and I have added my own inimitable TFD touches that NO ONE can complain about since the actual recipe is in fact unknown! 😉
First off – I call for my favorite mainstream butter (the heart of the sauce according to many) which is Kerrygold Irish, found in most supermarkets. Lea & Perrins is the only supermarket-grade Worcestershire sauce you should EVER use – they did invent, it after all (though my homemade version is quite spectacular). I up the umami factor considerably with some white miso paste, and I prefer to use the spectacular Honeycup brand mustard in my recipe (you can buy it here). Demiglace is a critical element of the sauce – this is my fav brand.
Citizens – I hope you enjoy my version of this delicious condiment on a wide range of meats and other parts of your Summer meals – if you want to try the original version of Zip Sauce for yourself instead of my interpretation, you can easily purchase it at www.zipsauce.com. This is easily one of the simplest recipes here on TFD – and it is certainly one of the most tasty, a great combination for your Summer grilling excursions as we emerge from pandemic and back into something approximating normal life once again!
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