It’s not quite Ferndale, but it’s so close it should be counted among Ferndale’s notorious teeny-tiny diners famous for breakfast and lunch. Mae’s in Pleasant Ridge has been open two years in April under the ownership of the husband-and-wife team Sean and Jessica McCarthy. Eating here is like going to Grandma’s if Grandma were an effortlessly cool twenty-or-thirty-something who smokes and swears and does cool artsy things without being self-important about it. It’s a mom and pop shop for the Facebook-and-iPad generation.
It’s retro hipster chic inside Mae’s. The walls are adorned with vintage signs from Detroit brands like Vernors, Faygo and Wonderbread, some dating as far back as the 1920s. The vintage décor pairs well with the original teal-blue 1950s soda shop stools, chairs, and chrome tables with laminate tops. “All the furniture is original [to the restaurant],” Sean says. “We didn’t have to come up with a design concept!” Glassware and plates are mismatched and kitschy. On one wall you’ll find chalkboard specials and a collection of black and white photographs spanning three generations of Jessica’s family. The photos—some art, some personal, all professional-quality—were taken by Jessica, her brother, their dad and their grandfather, all of whom were photographers. As far as looking at other people’s family photographs go, these are actually fascinating, and lend a very personal feel to the place. And on any given day, this 42-seat breakfast nook is populated by skinny-jeaned, shaggy-haired, horn-rimmed, mustachioed and plaid-adorned friends.
They wrote the whole menu themselves based on things they want to eat in a restaurant. Breakfast and brunch is served all day and includes a variety of omelets, scrambles, bennies, salads, sandwiches, burgers, baked goods and more.
“The concept was basically ‘what food do we like, what food did we grow up with, what food do we like when we travel that we can’t get at home?’” Jessica explains.
It’s all from-scratch, home-cooked food made with local products. They make their own jams, salad dressings, soups and chilis; Jessica also does all the baking and batter-making (one taste of their fluffy pancakes and you’ll fully understand the difference).
“We make almost every item on our menu from scratch with as many local products we can get our hands on Jessica states. What they don’t make in-house themselves they get from local vendors: pickles from McClure’s, bagels from New York Bagel Company, meat from Dearborn Sausage Company, dairy products from Guernsey Farms, bread from Avalon, even Better Made chips.
They only serve Detroit’s own Faygo (by the can or bottle) and Vernors for soda, they fresh-squeeze their own orange juice, and the bottomless coffee is from metro Detroit’s own Great Lakes Coffee. They also serve espresso drinks and smoothies.
Sidle up to the counter for some “ringside” action and watch them make all the food for the whole restaurant right there in front of you. If you have a group of four and want a table, there may be a wait but rest assured service is fast and friendly.
Weekends are especially crazy, but there are almost always seats at the counter even when the wait for a table is an hour long. Get over your counter-sitting stigma, grab a stool, and get ready for some of the best home-cooked comfort food you’ve had since Grandma’s. Also, that tiny little grill you see back there? Yeah, that’s THE grill. For the WHOLE restaurant. They can only cook so much at one time, so expect there to be a bit of a wait for your food on busy days.
The only thing not to love about Mae’s is that this “best-kept secret” isn’t much of a secret, but the wait is more than worth it. There just isn’t anywhere else in metro Detroit where you can get food like this. (Come to think of it, that might be a good thing…) This is comfort food on crack, and just as addictive.