May 28, 2014 at 11:45 am

Molly Abraham

At the Zenith, surroundings are as surprising as the menu

The Stooge is a homemade biscuit topped with fried chicken, coleslaw, melted pimento cheese and tomatoes. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Expect a moment of culture shock the first time you walk into the Zenith.

Amidst the pure marble-and-bronze art deco beauty of the Fisher Building, the vivid background colors (a brilliant blue and a smoky green echoed by the tile-topped tables) and the collection of ’20s to ’50s memorabilia displayed throughout the new restaurant were enough to stop me in my tracks.

The spacious room on the main floor is decked out in an outrageous collection of vintage mannequins, toys, movie star photos, paint-by-numbers paintings, road signs and lamps with the garish panache of the ’50s. You certainly wouldn’t expect a conventional menu in a setting like this, and it isn’t.

The fare, a blend of southern USA and Mexican, is equally quirky. Tortilla, meet cornbread. Biscuits and gravy, meet collard greens. Surprisingly, it works.

Currently, the menu includes a put-it-together-yourself list of ingredients to be tucked into a choice of tortilla, cornbread or biscuit, then a protein such as chicken, chorizo, ham or shrimp, followed by potatoes, rice or beans, then vegetable and cheese. Finally, a topping such as jalapeno hollandaise. The resulting burrito is sturdy, and that’s even before a side of mac & cheese, coleslaw or roasted poblanos is added to the array. If the combination doesn’t work, you’ve only yourself to blame

It might be better to choose one of the already composed dishes with titles inspired by musicians. Take Heikki’s Suburban Burrito, for instance. It includes a mix of pulled pork, coleslaw, avocado, a scattering of mixed greens and salsa verde, topped with a slathering of mango sour cream. Or try the Smoky Robinson — refried beans, smoked ham, roasted poblanos on grilled cornbread with four pepper gravy.

At this stage of the game, the menu is an all-day one, except for the separate brunch menu offered on Saturdays and Sundays that includes both sweet and savory dishes ordered from the menu and a similar cross-cultural array of chicken and waffles, breakfast tacos, cornbread French toast and red velvet waffles.

Proprietors Melissa and Robert Jasper, who sold their restaurants in New Hampshire and Massachusetts prior to relocating to Detroit, are hands-on, with Melissa in the kitchen and Robert serving as Mr. Fix-It. When they first saw the Fisher Building space, Melissa says she thought it was “too grand.” They were thrilled to get it, however. And they’ve brought it down to earth with their 30-year collection of memorabilia.

The Zenith, which has been open just for a few weeks, is very much a work in progress. Still to come is the liquor license, which will bring in the tiki bar — an authentic vintage tiki bar, the Jaspers say — and expanded hours.

The Zenith Restaurant

3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit

Call: (313) 972-1135


Rating: 2½ stars (out of 4)

Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Tues., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Wed.-Fri., 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.

(Hours will expand when the pending liquor license arrives.)

Prices: Brunch dishes $7-$11,

lunch/dinner entrees $8-$11, sides $2-$3.50

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: License pending

Noise level: Moderate

Parking: Nearby parking lots, street and structure

Wheelchair access: No barriers
(313) 222-1475

Jalapeno cornbread can be topped with honey-chipotle mashed sweet potatoes, ... (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Norris Schell talks to Michelle Weatherspoon and Michelle Thornton at ... (Photos by David Coates / The Detroit News)