First Look: Ninja City, Just Days from Opening in Gordon Square

When Bac Nguyen and partner Dylan Fallon closed Ninja City in University Circle back in February, they estimated that it would be a few short months before the crew was back at work in the new and improved Gordon Square location. Then again, the process always takes longer than owners would like.

“There were some challenges,” Fallon says diplomatically. “We didn’t think we would have this long of a gap between one and the other based on the amount of construction we had.”

Other than some equipment upgrades in the kitchen, the former Old City Libations space in Detroit Shoreway needed only some cosmetic tweaks to give it that “comic books meets hip-hop” look that will be familiar to Ninja City (6706 Detroit Ave., 216-862-7200) fans. Graphic artwork, graffiti-style murals, comic book-style menus, and a small portion of Nguyen’s sizeable action figure collection brighten up the 2,500-square-foot storefront space.

While the general layout is the same, with the bar taking up a back wall and corner, the space feels smaller and more intimate thanks to a new wall that separates the kitchen and restrooms. Paneling was removed to expose some structural terra cotta bricks. A new backbar with roughhewn barn beams was added. With seating for about 70, the space is slightly smaller than the original Ninja City but more unified and open.

As one would expect, the menu offers tastes of both Bac, which closed soon after Ninja City in advance of the move, and Ninja City. But don’t expect a straightforward mashup of the menus, says Fallon.

“There’s quite a bit of an overhaul in terms of the menu,” he says. “We wanted to keep some of the dishes that we think are important, but we added quite a bit to make this place more accessible to the neighborhood. We thought that was super important.”

To start or snack, there’s edamame, spring rolls, green papaya salad, and potstickers, but also chicken wings, mozzarella sticks and lemon grass shrimp quesadillas. Bento boxes allow diners to mix and match three or four items in one, well, box.

To slurp, there are bowls of ramen and pho, joined by steak and egg topped rice bowls, chicken or tofu capped rice noodle bowls, steam buns, banh mi sandwiches, and Korean lettuce wraps with a choice of meaty fillings. Those items join more “accessible” dishes like a Philly cheesesteak, chicken and waffles, fish and chips, and Po’ Boy sandwich, all with some Asian twists.

On draft are 12 beers and two boozes; yep, Irish whiskey and tequila will flow straight from the taps. An additional 25 beers will be in bottles and cans, while creative cocktails are also on the roster.

While the space is new, Fallon says that regulars will spot many familiar faces in terms of staff and management.

“It’s important for us to stay with and support the people who have been loyal to us,” he says. “I don’t know what we would have done if we had to start from scratch.”

If all goes as hoped, Ninja City could open sometime next week (or very soon thereafter). 
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Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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