Places such as the are not easy to find. Taverns that serve food are a dime a dozen, but finding one with an extensive, high-quality menu is special, and that pushes this Orchard Lake Road favorite a step above other taverns.
To call what the Rusty Bucket serves "bar food" is to totally miss the point. Yes, you're eating food in a bar, and the menu includes classic bar foods such as burgers and nachos. But the other dishes are much different. Even the nachos, burgers and sandwiches are made with special attention to detail.
Many times, strip mall restaurants are dismissed as either chains or cheesy, sometimes both. Yes, the Rusty Bucket is part of a chain that opened in 2002 in Ohio and includes locations in Northville and Indiana. But some chains get it right.
Before we delve any deeper into the food, let's take a look at the beer menu. While the list isn't necessarily focused on Michigan beers (it does offer more than a few, including Dark Horse, Arcadia and Atwater), it is very much craft beer-centralized. Imports from all over the world, as well as craft beers from all over the country, are available in bottles. There are also approximately 10 beers on tap with at least one tap dedicated to Michigan beers.
My journey through the menu included an appetizer, sandwich, entree and dessert. This experience could best be described as a teaser — after the meal was over, I was already scouting my next trip and counting down to the launch of the new location in Bloomfield Hills this November.
The best endorsement I can give a dish is my children's initial reaction. The double-stacked quesadilla has blackened chicken, pepper jack and cheddar cheeses and black bean and corn salsa. After telling the waiter that my children would be eating it, he suggested we substitute grilled chicken for blackened. My children approved of my waiter's sense.
A quick aside: Tony, our waiter, had been working at the Rusty Bucket for about two weeks. He had already tried everything on the menu (he said it is part of training), so he was knowledgeable about the menu. In addition, Tony was helpful and excited but not anxious. Tony made our dining experience better.
Back to the quesadilla — my daughter and son loved it. The mixture of delicately spicy pepper jack with tender chicken and sweet corn is a great combination for daring little diners. Guacamole, sour cream and salsa are served on the side and will cool off any moments of extreme spiciness.
Speaking of spicy, my Asian tuna wrap was a bold, fresh and healthful sandwich. The key to this wrap, aside from the super-fresh tuna, is the wasabi mayonnaise. I love wasabi, and its sinus-clearing presence can definitely be felt throughout the entire sandwich-eating experience. Sticky rice adds interesting texture, while bean sprouts and peppers add crunch.
The main plates and blue-plate specials sections of the menu have a comfort-food slant. Near the top of the list of Midwestern-style comfort foods, meatloaf is a tough dish to master. The Rusty Bucket's meatloaf is passable — a bit on the dry side by itself but tasty when slathered in barbecue gravy. The mashed potatoes were the big disappointment, with the dominant flavor being salt. Make the potatoes less salty, and you'd have a winner.
Universally (at our table, at least), the winner of the day was the sticky bun bread pudding, a decadent and sweet finish to delightfully surprising meal. Served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and ersatz whipped cream (skip the whipped cream), the pudding is gooey and cinnamony with pecans intermingled in the layers and on top. If you have a sweet tooth, this will do the trick.
Next time you have a hankering for something different, travel down Orchard Lake Road and stop by the Rusty Bucket. You will be pleasantly surprised by what a tavern can do.