Cobo Joe’s recipe for success, like many of the best recipes, is simple — mix a hot idea with unrelenting desire, add a dash of persistence and season to taste. So says popular restaurant owner Delroy Thomas and the accomplished jazz singer, Joan Belgrave. The two are teaming up to turn up — the heat that is — at Cobo Joe’s Smokehouse BBQ & Sports Bar in downtown Detroit.
The landmark hotspot, famous for serving up eats and drinks to the Joe Louis Arena crowd, is on track to retain its reputation as the place to go for food and fun by keeping it 100 at the Congress Street spot, even though the Joe is gone. In fact, the iconic eatery has been packed with throngs of North American Auto Show visitors who return frequently to sample the exceptional menu items from the Caribbean cuisine to hearty smoked whole wings served naked with a selection of mystery sauces on the side.
Thomas, a seasoned restaurant and bar owner, has been in the food and beverage industry for 27 years. Having received his formal training from Marriott International, the world’ largest hotel company — and according to Thomas — the best. Thomas adds though, that although he received invaluable instruction and training during his tenure with Marriott International as well as the Dearborn Inn later, he also credits his grandparents for laying the foundation for his success. “But I have to put my grandfather and grandmother in the equation … Coming from my roots in Jamaica I was cooking for the men that worked for my grandfather on his pineapple farm,” explained the entrepreneur. “My grandfather believed that a working man deserved a good meal.”
The natural born entrepreneur and seasoned service industry professional is also the owner of First Place Lounge in East English Village. He came aboard as co-owner with longtime owner Richard Cadreau to help him begin his exit strategy and move on to a well-deserved retirement.
“Did you know there is no place in Detroit where you can go and hear Motown live?” queried Joan Belgrave, widow of the beloved and world-renowned musician Marcus Belgrave. Although Belgrave achieved international fame as a jazz trumpeter, he played and appreciated music across all genres and wife Joan is intent on bringing that experience to Cobo Joe’s patrons.
His special fare of authentic Caribbean cuisine is nothing short of brilliant. High quality meats are treated with a special seasoned dry rub and smoked for up to nine hours to ensure extraordinary tenderness and savory flavor with every serving.
My favorite, the “Triple Hit,” pulled pork served atop perfectly cooked beef brisket topped with Applewood bacon and smoked gouda cheese. It’s a sandwich with just about everything, but if you can manage to get to the spicy cabbage you are in for an authentic Caribbean treat.
Jazz singing sensation Joan Belgrave is a special ingredient in adding more flavor to the Cobo Joe’s upgrade. She is turning up the heat on stage with addition of live music, featuring the Motown performances on Saturdays at the eclectic venue.
“We want you to eat well and listen to top-notch entertainment when you come here,” explained the petite powerhouse performer and promoter.
“Can you believe there is not one single spot in this city that features Motown music?” queried Belgrave, with more than a hint of incredulity.
“People come (to Detroit) and they’re surprised, shocked even when they don’t hear Motown hits blaring from everywhere. … That’s one of the things that Marcus and I used to talk about as we traveled around the world is that we would go to places as far as South Africa and see people doing Motown … and then we would come home and wonder what happened,” confided Belgrave, who has made a commitment to exclusively hire Motown trained musicians and singers to perform in this up-close and friendly venue.
“I didn’t know that when Delroy and I were introduced he was actually sizing me up to manage the entertainment for Cobo Joe’s,” Belgrave says laughingly. “It was an audition of sorts and I must have passed.”
Thursday nights are Caribbean Nights at Cobo Joe’s featuring spicy Caribbean cuisine and the cool sound or reggae music on the ones and twos.
Note: Try Grandma’s to die-for oxtail recipe, served with zesty braised cabbage. The special Thursday night menu also includes jerk chicken and rum punch.
Motown music is the big draw on Saturday nights, with plans to extend musical offerings with Detroit based Blue Rivers Records sponsoring a special performance at Cobo Joe’s on Thursday, Jan. 25, from 7 to 9:30 pm. The show stars Joan Belgrave and renowned Reggae steel pan artist Lyndon Sorzano.
Belgrave has also booked the Stubbs Girls to perform Saturday, Jan. 25 and Feb. 2. The group is comprised of relatives of the late Levi Stubbs of Four Tops fame. Showtime is at 8 p.m. and there’s no cover charge.
Also in February, Belgrave has secured a latter-day member of the Vandellas, singer Rochelle Laughhunn, to peform. Belgrave will perform a Valentine’s Day dinner show on Feb. 14.
Cobo Joe’s now offers shuttle service to Little Caesar’s Arena for Detroit Red Wings games and other exciting downtown events and activities.
Cobo Joe’s Smokehouse BBQ & Sports Bar is located at 422 W. Congress, downtown Detroit.. Call (313) 965-0840 or visit facebook.com/CoboJoes. The restaurant opens 11 a.m. Mon.-Sat. usually (will open at 10 a.m. during the Auto Show). Parking is available next door in the Millennium Garage for $10.