September 4, 2008 at 1:00 am

Molly Abraham

Zaccaro's Market features Adrian's Southern Plates

Chef Adrian Holmes whips up made-to-order entrees at Zaccaro's Market for a small crowd, including Barbara Owens, from left, and Juanita Moore, president and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)

A few weeks ago, someone at Zaccaro's Market had a bright idea. Why not bring chef Adrian Holmes out of the back of the house, where he helps prepare food for the deli counter, and install him out front during lunchtime at an open kitchen?

He's a gregarious person, and he would get a chance to talk to the guests seated at the counter and at the handful of cafe tables under one big market umbrella in the rear of the store.

And so just four weeks ago, chef Adrian came out of hiding. Even though it's just for two hours on weekdays, his hot, prepared-in-view lunches have been a surprising success.

Word is beginning to spread about Adrian's Southern Plates, as he calls the entrees and two sides he dishes up at midday for just $7.95.

Even though the knives, forks and plates are disposables -- biodegradable ones, by the way -- his cooking is good enough to completely overcome the lack of frills.

The menu is brief, but each dish is a specialty of his. Diners may choose chicken wings, catfish, tilapia or ribs for the main, and then add two sides. Hand-cut fries, collard greens without a hint of bitterness, potato salad, black-eyed peas over rice, yams that have just the right level of sweetness, or tossed salad are the choices.

He prepares almost everything in a space no bigger than a typical home kitchen, peeling and slicing the potatoes for the fries, dipping the fish into batter, and ladling greens from a big pot.

This man can cook. His touch with this familiar down-home menu is the best I've ever had.

Chef Adrian seems to come by his skills naturally, but he honed them at Steve's Soul Food, where he was kitchen manager, and then at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History with Brown Bag Catering.

Zaccaro's Market, on the first floor of the handsomely renovated Crystal Lofts Building in Detroit's rebounding Midtown, is an interesting hybrid. It was the first upscale market to open in the area, a cross between a gourmet grocery, an espresso bar and a restaurant. It's a down-to-earth place to buy potatoes, onions, bananas and bread, and something of a neighborhood social center.

Chef Adrian has been there since proprietor Cindy Warner opened the market named for her Italian grandfather last spring. He helps stock the prepared food displayed at the deli section in the front of the store.

Because Zaccaro's is not a conventional restaurant, I haven't given it a star rating. But I can all but guarantee that Adrian's Southern Plates will put stars in the eyes of a lot of discerning diners.

You can reach Molly Abraham at (313) 222-1475 or abraham67@comcast.net">abraham67@comcast.net.

Sean Barry, right, takes advantage of the market's seating to read ...