Ottava Via: From Pawn Shop to Pasta
Last Saturday night, a stone’s throw from the site of Tiger Stadium, diners at Corktown’s new Italian restaurant and bar, Ottava Via, unanimously put down their forks and beverages to applauded Miguel Cabrera, who had just hit a homer on his first at bat since returning from the disabled list. We’d dropped in a few days before, and co-owner David Steinke had confused the heck out of us by saying, “Don’t tell anyone, but we’re open.” He said we could quote him on that. (Yeah, it confused us too!)
Ottava Via’s little block of Eighth Street (its Italian-translated namesake) as well as the old Dime Savings Bank branch it occupies, have been given quite a makeover. Co-owner Tim Springstead (also owner of Nemo’s across the street) and Steinke have repaved the sidewalk surrounding the building. They also paved a new 50-car lot in the back. “There are no street lights in this area that work,” Steinke said, “so we’re gonna light it ourselves.” The owners are also building two bocce ball courts on the back patio. Steinke calls it a “one-hand-free-for-a-beer sport,” but also says having folks out back keeps more eyes on the street to better deter any property crime.
Asked why he got into the restaurant business, Steinke said, “’Cause I wasn’t real good in school and I liked beer.”
No matter what Steinke’s underlying motivation is, Corktown residents will likely be his prime customers. Like many, he has deemed Corktown an “emerging neighborhood,” although more accurately Corktown would probably be called a reemerging one, because it is, in fact, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood. “We see a lot of bikes, we see strollers, we see people walking dogs, we see people jogging. And those aren’t tourists, and those aren’t wanna-be urban suburbanites.” He says his landlord gets calls almost every day about the apartment upstairs.
Of course, whatever the neighborhood, when it comes to a new restaurant, the proof is in the pudding — or, in this case, the pizza. And examining Ottava Via’s Neapolitan pizzas, as well as their other fine dishes ranging in from about $12 to $16, one might understand why. “Spend twice as much, eat half as much,” Steinke says. That is the Ottavavian philosophy. “Our portions are very reasonable. … Nobody needs 8 ounces of pre-cooked pasta in a bowl the size of their head.” Perhaps this is a novel concept for our fast food nation, but it is popular in European cuisine and increasingly more so in neo-traditionalist Italian dining. Ottava Via’s menu has plenty full-entrée options, but overall it is more precisely a “sample menu.” Steinke claims: “[Ottava Via is] just like those casual little places in Italy, where you can get a bite of this and a bite of that.”
Before leaving Ottava Via’s dining room, we asked him about when the joint opens. He paused, then said: “By the time you publish this, we’re open.” And winked. “So you can just tell them that we’re open now.”
Ottava Via is at 1400 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-962-5500.