There’s a “no apologies” homegrown pride developing amongst Detroit’s newest restaurants.
It’s infectious…and I like it.
If walls could talk, they’d say we’re Detroit born and bred and making an investment in the city’s future. They’d say we’re persevering AND thriving in spite of those who live outside the city who’ve yet to embrace us, who won’t venture into Detroit except to park in a secured lot next to a stadium on game day.
And while they know some have yet to make that leap of faith to explore the city afterwards, or better yet, to actually make it a destination, they also know the attitudes and habits of many others ARE slowly changing.
It’s about time.
Among the newest venues worthy of both your attention and patronage is Central Kitchen + Bar, located at 660 Woodward across from Cadillac Square and only a stone’s throw from Campus Martius. Whether you enter from the lobby of the First National Building on Woodward or its more prominent entrance on Cadillac Square, you’re enthusiastically welcomed into a bustling environment not too dissimilar from what you might have expected to experience at this same space before the turn of the 20th century, when it then housed Detroit’s Central Farmers Market.
Instead of farmers, merchants and stalls, Central Kitchen + Bar is now alive with the conversation of urban dwellers and professionals enjoying craft cocktails and ordering Chef Christina Stanco’s very approachable contemporary urban fare, all thanks to Dennis Archer Jr. and partners.
All of this Central activity is set against a backdrop of turn-of-the-century warehouse design cues; aged, industrial-like pendant light fixtures; distressed-wood paneling and wood-topped tables; scarred concrete floors; pressed-tin ceiling tiles with exposed ventilation ducts; enormous wall mirrors and turn-of-the-century murals, all overseen by General Manager Ken Karam and staff.
Great food doesn’t have to be served on fine china by waiters in tuxes. Conversely, not all new restaurants have great food.
After enjoying a beverage at Central’s centrally located bar, I settled into one of the restaurant’s large, comfortable booths with five of my newest friends, all of whom both work and live in the city.
I must admit I enjoy venues that have the capability, by design, to open their dining or bar space out onto a sidewalk or patio space. Central’s huge six-panel window/door walls, when opened, allow them to do just that.
So while perusing Chef Stanco’s menu, I found it quite pleasant—in spite of the restaurant’s energetic bar-buzz, techno pop music and lively dinner conversations—to gaze beyond it all and see the attractive sidewalk patio furniture, watch the passing pedestrian traffic, and occasionally enjoy some fresh breezes off Cadillac Park.
On these nice Detroit days, it’s kind of a resort-like lounge atmosphere, right in the heart of the city.
On to the food.
Chef Stanco’s menu, printed on heavy craft paper, has plenty of choice.
There are a half-dozen Starters. Likewise with Salad Central and “Plates” with a good selection of Burgers + Sandwiches, Flat Breads, and finally, Tacos.
Before I could really decide what I wanted to try, I got some coaching from my friends. Had I ordered all of their recommendations, the plan would have been to eat everything from the left side of the menu tonight and then come back the next night for the right side.
Central’s very reasonable prices would have made that affordable. My diet on the other hand…
What I did sample was the following:
Under the Starters heading, I had the Calamari, with snap peas, peppers, jalapeno, oranges, cashews, cilantro and sweet soy glaze. I’m a calamari snob, but this was wonderful…You don’t always get the trifecta of crispy, flavorful AND tender together. Here you do, and all the surrounding goodies worked deliciously together.
We sampled two Flat Breads,the Duck Confit with frisee (lettuce), stone-ground mustard, roasted grapes and fried egg. I have to admit the fried egg (easy side up if you are interested) was unusual to see on a Flat Bread, but once tasted, it went well and added to both the textural and flavor combination. The Fig Flat Bread, with fig jam, crispy Brussels sprouts, goat cheese and balsamic reduction was not nearly as brightly flavored (a bit sweet). Perhaps ours needed a splash more balsamic.
I tasted 2 Salad Central offerings. The Ahi Tuna with snap peas, avocado, edamame, cashews, peppers, crisp noodles, red onion, wasabi peas and pickled ginger vinaigrette was my favorite salad of the night. The raw tuna was diced into 1/2” pieces and was a goodly amount, and the vinaigrette matched all of the ingredients to a T (as in tuna). The Roasted Cauliflower with cherries, apple, curry-spiced pistachios, French beans, goat cheese, mixed greens and cider dressing was up next, and it was additionally garnished with salmon, one of the five items you can add to any salad for an additional charge. The other four were chicken, shrimp, steak and crab.
Not to be missed was the Cuban in their Burger + Sandwiches listings with slow-roasted pork, prosciutto, gruyere, house pickles and Dijon mayo. What I liked about the way they do it at Central is that it’s super crispy, grilled and full of meat. Yum.
While we were fishing in the Plates menu category, the Rainbow Trout with crispy Brussels sprouts (they like Brussels sprouts here), fingerling potatoes, balsamic cherries, frisee and curry-spiced pistachios gave us something interesting (and delicious) to contemplate with each mouthful. The trout was filleted and open-face garnished with the above mentioned. It was moist, flavorful and actually kind of salad-like.
Of course, in one meal, you can’t eat everything on the menu, but I made a good dent and WILL be back to continue the effort.
I thoroughly enjoyed the décor, the atmosphere and especially the food (and its very fair pricing). My only real disappointment of the night was Central’s liquor pricing on premiums. Well, at least the one I happened to drink, which was Blanton’s Bourbon.
At $17, I needed to have a second drink to get over the tab on the first.
As for the rest, here’s my box score. *(5 being highest/best where numbers are listed)
Menu Intimidation Factor MIF2.5:
Very simple menu headings, and except for a few ingredients (here and there), you won’t need a culinary road map to navigate your way to finding some great food here.
If it’s street legal, you’re good to go.
The Crowd 3.5:
Keeping in mind that Central is truly “Centrally located” in the city, you’ll see a fair number of business folks, suburban visitors (yes, I’m talking about all of you north of 8 mile), and some out of towners who can only sit and watch people circling Campus Martius so many times before they need a drink.
A parking deck is close, and there are a few large lots a couple of easy blocks away. The closest People Mover station is Cadillac Center, about two blocks away.
Bang for the Buck 4:
Attractive surroundings, very reasonable food prices and a lot to enjoy.
Food Stuff 4:
Partnering with local purveyors and distributors, such as Fairway Packing, Avalon Bread, Carmela Specialty Foods, Tocco Produce in the Eastern Market and local spice company Red Goose Spice. Corridor Sausage, Zingerman’s Coffee, Chef Stanco and crew have managed to pull off an incredibly diverse menu with these great resources.
They also have some simple desserts to enjoy, including nitrogen-frozen ice cream, cheesecake crepes, Nutella® brownies and such…
Energy, Vibe, & the Cool-Wow Factor 4:
An energetic crowd and bar, fun décor, seasonal patio seating, great tunes, great food and a target-rich environment make this a must for a drink, a bite and for urban people watching.
Location: 660 Woodward Avenue (in the First National Building) Detroit, MI 48226