You hear and read about it all the time now, not only in Detroit but also in every major city in the U.S.
Farm to Fork.
Farm to Fork is not exactly a cuisine; it’s more a philosophy, in essence a relationship, one between a chef and a farmer. The idea is the more you know about the food you acquire—that is, the specific variety, how and where it’s grown, how it’s harvested and how fresh it is, the better you are equipped to choose its best use and prepare it with care.
The benefit of most of these partnerships is that the food is local or regionally grown. That means what quite likely was harvested by the farmer that day is quite often on the chef’s plate that night. Adding to that, less transportation from field to dining room translates into less fossil fuel being used, giving us another oft-used term: a smaller carbon footprint.
Essentially, dirt to dining room, it’s Green Cuisine.
Farm to Fork and being green isn’t an easier way to be a chef. It takes a commitment.
But what if the chef is ALSO a farmer? One who not only grows produce but also breeds chickens, pigs, hundreds of turkeys, some ducks, geese for good measure, a couple of sheep and two new cows, all on his circa-1860s home on 6 acres of land in Hartland, Michigan.
Meet Chef Steve Allen, Proprietor and Chef of Steve & Rocky’s in Novi, Michigan.
He’s a different breed too.
Now, in the interest of full journalistic disclosure, I have to admit that Steve and I are friends. Our friendship goes back to his tenure as Chef de Cuisine & Executive Chef at the venerable Golden Mushroom in Southfield, Michigan, where he learned his chops under the watchful eye of Master Chef Milos Cihelka C.M.C. (as did such notable local chefs as Brian Polcyn, Joseph Decker, Daniel Hugelier, Michael Trombley, Rich Travis, and Randy Smith. The list goes on and on).
In the case of Steve & Rocky’s, when you’ve got his culinary talent added to those trained under HIS watchful eye, plus a well-trained service staff and management team under the supervision of General Manager Duane Brady, well, you’ve got something pretty special, something newer restaurants have a hard time duplicating.
After opening the purple front door and passing through their foyer’s glass-encased art and memorabilia, one of the first things that strikes you as you enter the restaurant is that every one of the nearly 200 seats in their dining room seems comfortable. Add to that another 35 seats at their hardwood-topped bar/lounge area directly to your left, and you’ve got plenty of seating choices.
The restaurant’s décor features large, decorative wall mirrors; art-evoking indigenous Michigan leaves made of copper and steel; an alcove sculpture of Michigan salmon; a mounted moose head; geese sculptures flying overhead and an enormous inverted seafood pasta bowl chandelier over the bar. All are reminders of Steve’s passion for his home state as well as his love of hunting, fishing, and of course, great food.
And did I mention roosters?
Steve has this thing about roosters. They’re everywhere (except on the menu). In a cook’s world, they’re the traditional symbol of luck, health, prosperity and integrity. For Steve, it reminds him of his culinary roots and his inspiration drawn from farm-fresh ingredients. The Gallic Rooster is also the unofficial national symbol of France. It was, and still is, found on many French menus. You’ll also find it on Steve’s.
Speaking of the menus (both lunch and dinner), in keeping with what’s fresh, what’s seasonal and what’s on Steve’s mind, they’re printed daily.
On my most recent visit, I sampled three dishes. Having said that, I’ve enjoyed so many dishes from his past menus, I can honestly say my opinions are well-researched.
I began with his crispy Sesame Bay Scallops, which were accompanied by a chilled salsa of fresh pineapple with a sriracha honey glaze and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro. Like most appetizers, I could have made a meal out of this dish alone and been perfectly content, but the Crispy Pork Belly appetizer was calling my name, so I moved on and was (as usual) glad I did.
The two slices of pork belly were, as billed, crispy on the outside but oh so moist and tender. Nested on a cheddar- and scallion-accented cornbread with a medium-heat Habanero glaze, it was very satisfying and a good follow-up appetizer from seafood.
Steve’s penchant for wild game (and hunting) is almost as legendary as his cuisine. You can expect that when it comes to duck, Steve knows how to do it right, so I chose the Roast Indiana Duckling to cap my evening’s meal.
Composed of a crispy-skinned yet fall-off-the-bone-tender half duckling with natural jus, wild rice studded with bacon and almonds, and a chilled pear beet salad, it (needless to say) was a wonderful choice.
In all, with six first course appetizers, four salads, 13 entrees and four additional specials to choose from that evening, you would be hard-pressed not to find a number of dishes to satisfy even the finickiest person. And with entrée prices beginning at $14.50, with most in the low to mid $20s, you’ll be even harder-pressed to find a comparable value.
Add to this a very reasonably priced Stones appetizer menu, generally offered Monday through Friday in the Bar/Lounge, and a fabulous tray of in-house pastries made under the watchful eyes of Chef Jeffery Evans. You can indeed have a supremely satisfying meal, then have your cake and eat it too.
As for the rest, here’s my box score. *(5 being highest/best where numbers are listed)
Menu Intimidation Factor MIF1.5:
The menu at Steve and Rocky’s is very straight forward. No fancy culinary-speak. It’s about as plain English as food of this high caliber can be explained in everyday words.
While you might actually see Steve drive up to the back kitchen entrance in a dump truck attired in bib overalls, if you’re a guest coming through the front door, business casual is just fine. They’ve never kicked me out for wearing jeans and you’ll find others in suits and finer clothes when their occasions warrant it. Many celebrate their special occasions there.
The Crowd 3.5:
Located just blocks from I-96, near three malls, multiple hotels and many upscale towns and neighborhoods, it’s a menagerie of folks who all have one thing in common. They’ve either been told, or already know, this place is one of THE best dining experiences (and values) in their area.
An enormous parking lot surrounds Steve & Rocky’s. You’re NEVER more than 100 steps away from the purple front door. And not to rub it in to Birmingham, Royal Oak, Ferndale or Detroit: it’s free.
Bang for the Buck 5:
Consistently great food, attentive service, attractive décor, a good wine list and a well-stocked bar are only some of the bang. Your bucks will go even further if you join their Celebrated Guest Dining Club, which offers additional discounts and special offers at both Steve & Rocky’s and Rocky’s of Northville.
Food Stuff 4.5:
I cringe when I hear the term meat and potatoes cuisine. If your definition of that means no pretensions—just good, honest, consistently well-prepared food, then you’ve found a home. Steve and this restaurant have won numerous local and national awards and recognitions, and his repertoire is about as sophisticated as any restaurant’s, at ANY price. What I often tell people is if you really want a meal that’s satisfying, one you can predict in advance will be to your liking, and a menu full of things you can’t choose from because they ALL sound so great, this is your restaurant. That’s what Steve & Rocky’s is all about.
Energy, Vibe, & the Cool-Wow Factor 3.5:
The décor is fun and a bit whimsical, and when it fills up in the evening, you’ll enjoy being part of the crowd of food-loving suburbanites.
Location: 43150 Grand River Avenue in Novi, Michigan, 48375 It’s just a half-mile south off of I-96 and a quarter-mile east of Novi Road.