May 31, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Molly Abraham

Ferndale's Assaggi Bistro brunch soars beyond the egg and potato basics

The Croque Madame is a grilled ham and gruyere cheese sandwich topped with two fried eggs. )

It's hard to imagine a prettier setting than the garden courtyard at Assaggi Bistro on a sunny Sunday morning, when most of the other spots along the stretch of Nine Mile west of Woodward are closed. It's quiet, even serene, with the splashing fountain, classic statuary, tall evergreens and blooming kitchen garden bursting with flourishing herbs and heirloom tomato plants. Market umbrellas the color of café au lait shade linen-covered tables.

Guests at those tables order from a carefully chosen menu of appealing dishes and drinks from a French/Italian/Californian perspective. No need to stress over multiple choices. It's a concise and focused menu.

There is just one sharable appetizer that consists of a platter of sliced fresh fruit and ciabatta toast with whipped ricotta brightened with honey, mint and apricot butter, and eight appealing entrees that range from lemon-ricotta pancakes with maple syrup and blueberries to the basic eggs, bacon, potato and toast array that seems a bit outclassed by its more sophisticated companions, but is certainly necessary for those who like a basic approach.

One of the standouts is glamorized French toast (pain perdu), made with thick slices of brioche and finished with fresh blueberries and vanilla-apricot butter. It's sweet, but not overly so. Another notable dish is the asparagus and zucchini frittata with three cheeses (fontina, mozzarella and parmesan), and a cherry tomato compote and toast made with ciabatta bread.

Could there be a successful brunch menu without eggs Benedict? Here the classic dish of poached eggs, ham and hollandaise sauce atop an English muffin gets an accent of leafy arugula.

There are just a couple of side dishes that may be added a la carte, notably applewood smoked bacon, and what the restaurant calls "breakfast potatoes," a different treatment each Sunday such as hash browns or potatoes O'Brien.

The selection of brunch-appropriate drinks goes beyond the expected Mimosas, Bellinis and Bloody Marys (offered singly at $6 or in bottomless style at $12) to include something just a little different: the trendy and delicious Aperol spritz, made with fresh orange juice, prosecco and Aperol orange liqueur, and for coffee lovers, the affogato, a concoction of espresso, vanilla ice cream, hazelnut liqueur and whipped cream that easily doubles as dessert.

Service is friendly and low-key as befits the setting.

As the season progresses, more and more of the fresh produce will come from co-proprietor George Gize's garden that parallels the courtyard. He has also commissioned a local farmer to grow tomatoes for Assaggi.

Of course, brunch is also served indoors, in a room with the open kitchen on one side, a tiny bar in the corner and an artistic arrangement of paintings and photographs setting the leisurely scene at this Ferndale gem that reflects the constant attention of Gize and co-proprietor Josie Knapp, this month marking their restaurant's 12th anniversary.

The couple recently welcomed chef Steve Siekierzynski to the staff. He moved to Assaggi from La Dolce Vita, another spot with a romantic courtyard where Sunday brunch is something out of the ordinary.

(313) 222-1475

The French toast is made with brioche and served with fruit.
Co-proprietors Josie Knapp and George Gize work in their herb garden at ... (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
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