If someone took you to Detroit Metro Airport, put you on a plane, blindfolded you, flew around for a while then later unmasked you at Detroit’s new Townhouse restaurant and gave you three choices to guess where you were—either New York, Chicago or Detroit, there’s NO doubt in my mind. Detroit would finish a distant third.
Nope, you’re not in Chicago, on the Gold Coast, or on 6th Avenue in New York. This happenin’ place just happens to be happenin’…
Townhouse makes it known from the moment you walk in the door that they not only embrace but also revel in the chance to show off the Motor City.
Over the reception desk, a chalkboard-like mural says it all: “Detroit drives the American dream” and “If you don’t love this city, we can’t help you here.” “This is home.”
Elsewhere, you’ll see other prideful neon wall art declaring “Hot fresh Detroit flavor” and (as if it needs any further exclamation) “This Town Ain’t for Weenies!”
No it isn’t.
Located at the foot of Woodward and Congress, at what will soon be stop number 1 of Detroit’s new M-1 light rail system, is a restaurant quite different from any of the recently opened dining venues this city has embraced these past 24 months.
It’s not in some out-of-the way location, redeveloped neighborhood, or quasi-suburban outpost. As a matter of fact, if you looked at any map of Detroit, the DOT representing the heart of the city would probably land directly on top of Townhouse.
Thanks to the foresight of Owner/Restaurateur Jeremy Sasson and the team he assembled to bring this Townhouse restaurant to Detroit (the other, a much smaller yet charming one in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham), the choice of designer Ron Rea and Chef Brennan Calnin (recently of Imperial in Hamtramck & Public House in Ferndale) culminated in a comfortable and very approachable blend of urban sophistication on many levels.
Packed within 6,000 sq. ft. and 300 seats of restaurant, you have many seating and menu options.
From its main entrance facing Woodward Avenue, you have indoor seating (actually carved from the N.E. lower floor of One Detroit Center). To your left, the room opens up into a 3,000 sq. ft. indoor/outdoor glass terrarium, complete with tall ficus trees and a sort of living wall, all with a stadium-like, retractable roof overhead.
Finally, you have 1,400 sq. ft. of truly outdoor patio space on the sidewalk plaza facing both Woodward and Congress streets.
Add to that dozens of seats at one of two bars, both featuring an enormous selection of tap beers, whiskeys and craft cocktails, an actual whiskey lounge and a sushi station with a handful of seats all its own (provided you get there early enough or have a reservation). This restaurant has seating options that range from high energy to comfortably cozy to THE place to be seen.
In total, Townhouse is a comfortable mix of unique spaces culminating in an overall indoor-outdoor feel. Yet with so many unique spaces, it all makes sense. Even better, you’ll likely be able to see it all from one vantage point because, no matter where you sit, the restaurant’s sight lines are terrific.
Thank you Ron.
From the sports bar atmosphere at the U-shaped bar at the restaurant’s entrance to the clubby tranquility of its new Whiskey Lounge, the design cues in each area range from concrete to carpet, wood in various natural shades, white tile and brick, stainless steel, dark leathers and cream-colored upholstery.
In keeping with Townhouse’s broad stroke design, Chef Brennan Calnin’s menu palate is no less eclectic.
When was the last time you ate at a restaurant that featured sushi, hamburgers and—wait for it—elk?
Like Townhouse’s interior design, there’s something for everyone on the menu.
Under menu headings of LOCAL FARMER, you’ll see half a dozen warm/cooked vegetable dishes. Looking for a salad? GREENS has a number of delicious options, from Power Salad #2 to a Chopped Salad and Build Your Own with a list of just about anything you could ever want tossed with leaf greens, including a plethora of meat and seafood choices.
SHARABLE is the heading where you’ll find both hot and cold appetizers with portions suitable for (what else?) sharing.
It’s here you’ll find everything from Merguez Scotch Olive to Smoked Trout, Crispy Duck Wings and a couple of items I’ll describe later.
COMMANDABLES has to be (like so many things here) one of the more unique menu categories I’ve ever seen on a menu. I’m still trying to get my head around it. Nonetheless, there are six (for lack of a better word) entrees that reside here, including Bolognese, walleye, a steak, chicken, fish and the elk.
Lastly, and with great pride, BURGERS round out the menu with their Award Winning Townhouse Burger on a Brioche Bun. It comes with Bourbon Glazed Onions, Aged Cheddar Cheese and Townhouse Fries.
If this particular combination doesn’t suit you, you can choose from a Build Your Own burger menu which will let you choose every imaginable option to complement their proprietary 10-ounce burgers, crafted from a blend of “28 day aged beef steak cuts” then ground daily and hand formed.
They also have a house-made Black Bean and Brown Rice Burger for the vegetarian hipster audience.
But wait! That’s not all! (As they say in the commercials) Townhouse also has an enticing Dim Sum appetizer cart/trolley that trolls throughout the entire space, enticing very willing victims into enjoying their nightly offerings.
I must admit, I got a bit too close and succumbed to a crisp ball of deep-fried Mac & Cheese with bacon crumbles that seemed to have my name on it.
I don’t ask the price. I just get what I want.
Crunchy, creamy, cheesy, bacon goodness… Yum!
I still don’t know the price. I still don’t care.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, once again, Townhouse’s whiskey selection.
It’s SO huge! Well over 200 selections! So large that it has its own menu and a lounge dedicated to it. In the lounge is a wall of personalized lockers, which if you become a Townhouse Whiskey Society member, you can lease.
Their Gold Membership of $299 yearly entitles you to said cage and to discounted prices on the full bottles of whiskeys and bourbons that adorn it. Sorry…no BYOB.
Another level at $100 gets you no cage, but does entitle you to happy hour pricing on drinks all the time and invites you to special events like Kentucky bourbon trail tours and such.
I didn’t buy a membership, but I DID enjoy a four-year-old Stranahan’s Diamond Peak Whiskey (Colorado) and a Rowans Creek (Kentucky), which will show up as two Cokes on my expense report.
I also enjoyed Pork & Beans, which is a savory braised pork cheek. It was fork-tender and succulent. The creamy beet greens accompanying it also had a wonderful, dill pickle accent to it and a nice sour tang. And did I taste some wasabi there?
The smoked kidney beans also added a nice textural crunch to this dish. Lastly, the sweet-and-spicy chow chow’s addition to this dish was a great idea.
I also tried the Wagyu Shabu-Shabu. They are thin rolls of raw Wagyu beef, with a choice of three dips: Wasabi & Soy, Daikon Radish with Sesame Oil and a Citrusy Ponzu. Try one, try them all separately or mix to your taste. It was delicious and as refreshing as beef can get.
Ok, enough of the fancy food. How could I not want to try the Townhouse Burger?
I always order my burgers medium-rare to (hopefully) get at least medium. Most cooks (even chefs) struggle to get this right because it’s trickier than a steak.
I ordered medium rare and I got medium rare.
Another burger note: Some brioche buns fall apart or sog out when the burger’s juices hit them. It’s a nice idea but usually they don’t work. But not this one. Its Plugra® buttery goodness hung in there with its oh-so-juicy burger partner until the last bite!
As for the rest, here’s my box score. *(5 being highest/best where numbers are listed)
Menu Intimidation Factor MIF 2:
No intimidation here. Easy to read, easy to digest. Pun intended.
Casual and leisure attire… This is not really a dress-up place. Dress as you would for, well, anything not requiring a swimsuit or track shoes.
The Crowd 4.5:
Townhouse’s eclecticness in both design and food is attracting every imaginable patron, including office workers, locals (yep, they exist), foodies, suburbanites and some hydroponic growers thinking this culinary greenhouse might just make an ideal location to grow some other herbs.
Valet, attached garage, and I’m sure they’ll somehow eventually figure out how to accommodate all of you Detroit Slow Rollers too. Bike rack for 300, please.
Bang for the Buck 5:
Prices at Townhouse are very reasonable. Appetizers from $8 and Entrees from around $19. The real bang for the buck is the décor and the overall environment, including Chef Brennan’s cuisine, which more than holds its own in this unique design.
Food Stuff 3.5:
Casual, Hip American with some Asian influences. BTW, all of you partiers, the kitchen is open until at least 11 p.m. every night.
On the other side of that equation, they also have a kids menu with smaller versions of the Hamburger & Fries, Mac & Cheese, Chicken Fingers and Buttered Noodles.
Energy, Vibe, & the Cool Wow Factor 5:
Simple place settings with water in 12 oz. mason jars and black plastic straws set the tone as a place having as much fun as they hope you will. Tons of looks, great tunes, managers with ear buds and wireless transponders are a must here, as the place and pace pick up by 6 p.m. and the downtown office folks flock to their newest nest in town.
*On a personal note, I love the sounds of the inner city (including honking horns & sirens), construction & traffic. It’s wonderful to be in a part of a bustling city once again, even if it’s not on every corner—yet.
Location: 500 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48226 (At the corner of Congress)
Saturday & Sunday Brunch 9 a.m. then open until 2 a.m. for Lunch and Dinner
Miscellaneous Stuff: They accept all the usual plastic cards and are wheelchair accessible right off the sidewalk.
In total, Townhouse has every chance of becoming a very successful (and unusual) combination of both a serious and not-so-serious dining choice, perfectly in keeping with its décor, food and eclectic patronage.
From here on in, it’s all about dedication and execution.