The thing that made Lelli’s great was the food.
Owner Nerio Lelli of Lelli’s Inn on Woodward, Detroit, was about as round as a ping pong ball and twice as bouncy … He was a thoroughly likeable fellow, full of buoyant good humor and optimism, who liked to refer to himself in the third person as “the doctor.”
Signor Lelli would tell you half seriously, half kiddingly, that his was the best restaurant in Detroit … and he was the best chef … After you met him and talked with Nerio, you probably would have agreed with him.
The “doctor” business came from the fact that Nerio was an original or inventive chef and, rightly so, considered himself a true doctor of culinary arts.
Lelli’s was located in a building that could probably be described as horribly wonderful or wonderfully horrible … Anyway, they don’t make ’em that way anymore.
The walls were stippled green, the ceiling was quite low and the place was a mass of arches, little alcoves and tiny rooms … But, Lelli’s had a lot more charm and atmosphere than most newer, more modern places.
Nerio wouldn’t have moved to a new building if he could have afforded it … and he could.
The thing that made Lelli’s great was the food … The menu was loaded with house specials, many of these Lelli’s own, and everything was prepared to order.
All the dishes on Lelli’s menu were good, some of them were just better than others … A big favorite was the cannelloni, a simple Italian dish that elevates pasta from the mundane to the superb.
Another notable dish, the braciole of beef Lelli, was wonderful … This was a slice of prime beef rolled around a stuffing of cheese, pine seeds, garlic and topped with an ambrosia sauce.
Among the items that made Lelli’s reputation was his family steak for four … This mammoth porterhouse was broiled and brought to your table, sliced and served with Palmina.
There was no liquor at Lelli’s but it had a fine wine list.
The Lelli’s in Auburn Hills on Opdyke Road is still owned and operated by Nerio and Irene Lelli’s son, Mike.
OLDIE BUT GOODIE … Many years ago, a Jewish lady was stranded at a fashionable resort hotel that did not admit Jews and asked for a room … The desk clerk looked down at his book and said, “Sorry, but the hotel is full.”
“But your sign says that you have vacancies,” said the lady.
The desk clerk stammered and then said curtly, “We do not admit Jews.”
“I’ll have you know that I converted to your religion,” she said
The desk clerk said, “Oh yeah, let me give you a little test. How was Jesus born?”
“He was born to a virgin named Mary in a little town called Bethlehem. And he was born in a manger,” she said.
“That’s right,” said the hotel desk clerk. “And why was he born in a manger?”
“Because,” the Jewish lady said, “a jerk like you wouldn’t give a Jewish lady a room for the night!”
CONGRATS … (When possible, please send all birthday and anniversary dates two weeks in advance) … To David Sachs on his 70th birthday … To Arnold Melman on his birthday.