I’ve wanted to write about Royal Oak, Michigan, for a long time, but I didn’t know how. An old suburb of Detroit and historically a farming community, today its formerly quaint downtown is the preferred regional destination for Metro Detroit’s overgrown frat boys and made-up lushes.
It’s also where, in 1991, Thomas McIlvane killed five people at the Royal Oak Post Office after he was fired for insubordination, contributing to the infamous “going postal” phenomenon. Yes, even Royal Oak has a dark side. A quick glance into the S&M den Noir Leather confirms it, where a beat up box containing the bizarrely legal hallucinogen salvia divinorum awaits its next victim.
But what really drew me to Royal Oak this time, what really cranked my gears, was the menu at Pronto. A palatial complex of homosexuality, complete with a bar, dining area, and gift and cake shops, it abuts a Methodist church and looks out at a Lady Jane’s (apparently the official hair cutter of the Detroit Tigers). I’d always thought of Pronto as simply a gay bar, but no, it turns out this place is Zagat-rated. Apparently, there’s some serious, good cooking going on over here. I had to investigate.
Still, when I entered Pronto on what was a blustery Tuesday night – already five beers in – I wasn’t completely sure what to expect. It was my 25th birthday, and I here was in a gay bar with colorful walls. What was going to happen to me? It was immediately clear to the regulars that I was an outsider. In a scene right out of a Western, the well-coiffed and impeccably dressed men turned around on their bar stools to size me up as I walked in, to see if I belonged. The bartender, probably in the midst of mixing up a strawberry daiquiri or some other suitably girly drink, gave me an especially quizzical look.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Uh, yeah. I’m here to, uh, eat.”
“The restaurant is that way,” he said, motioning to a room to my left.
“Oh, OK. Thanks.”
I quickly made my way to a tall booth in the adjacent room, where no one could see me. I already knew what I wanted to order, but I embarrassedly buried my face in the large menu the waitress handed me, anyway. Jim Domanski, co-owner of Pronto, had recommended guests get the Stowe Grill sub in the Detroit Free Press, and why argue with him? All I had to do was ride out this initial awkwardness, I figured, and the culinary gods would smile upon me.
And, it’s safe to say, I made the right choice. The sub came out on a toasted ciabatta roll – always a good sign – and gooey mozzarella dripped down the sides, which was a great sign. Packed with grilled zucchini, squash, eggplants, roasted red peppers, and lettuce, each bite was dense and fresh-tasting. An expertly applied balsamic vinaigrette washed upon my tongue in varying waves and kept things interesting, because let’s face it, plain vegetables can get a bit boring. This sub rocked the total package.
For only $8.50, I got up from my seat with the impression that I’d gotten a great deal, and that price includes a dill pickle spear and a side of potato chips (I, however, opted for the slightly more expensive seasoned fries, for what it’s worth). There’s a reason the Stowe Grill sub has stayed on the menu for over two decades. It’s an awesome bargain.
At Pronto, you can tell that they truly want to give you a good sandwich, unlike some restaurants that seem motivated more by how they can nickel and dime customers without getting caught. And hey, I escaped the night without getting uncomfortably hit on by a guy. Success! Here I’d thought most homosexuals were out of control sex fiends that regularly paraded around in their underwear. I guess not. Eating at Pronto was like eating anywhere else.
Although, on second thought, maybe I’m just ugly.