One of the least likely locations for an elegant and ambitious restaurant is in the block of vintage buildings across the street from the Gratiot Central Market. Antietam, named for a nearby street, is a sliver of an Art Deco-inspired space in a pair of adjoining Mutt and Jeff buildings, one tall, the other squat.
The two rooms within the striking blue and white tiled exterior have the darkly romantic feeling of "Joe-Sent-Me" days. Knitted copper chains that look almost like lace are draped over lamps hanging from the tin ceiling; lamps that shed barely enough light to read the slender single-page menus on heavy stock. They're helped out by the flicker of tiny vigil lights on the uncovered tables that are close enough together to be almost communal.
It seems every inch has been accounted for in what is very tight space lavished with polished wood and a collection of antiques as well as some contemporary pieces. Conspicuous by its absence is a television screen. No distractions from the food and drink and the other-era setting here.
Despite its size, Antietam is already on the must-try list of diners who are methodically making the rounds of the talked-about restaurants that have sprung up in Detroit over the last eight months, starting with Wright & Company in the heart of downtown, quickly followed by Selden Standard in Midtown and Gold Cash Gold in Corktown. Then came Antietam, where it's cocktails and dinner only, of course, and I say that because it's difficult to picture a hurried lunchtime crowd in this setting.
This is leisurely dining, from a concise a la carte menu with just a baker's dozen listings from top to bottom. Each is distinctive, from the escargot pate on the shared plates list to the main plate of pork neck ragout, and an intriguing pasta dish made with rye cavatelli, butternut squash, ricotta cheese and a touch of apple. About the only expected item is a classically simple green salad with a lovely roasted chestnut vinaigrette and radishes sliced so thin they are translucent. Delightful, but just a few bites at $8. Small plates add up quickly and make the bottom line at Antietam more expensive than it may seem at first glance.
Among the five main plates, two stand out. The plump, pan-roasted whitefish, served on a wooden plank with a velvety squash puree, a shiitake mushroom and pepita (pumpkin seed) pesto, and the entrecôte of beef, sliced into rosy rounds and served with confit potato, cremini mushroom and a touch of mushroom foam, is the heartiest dish on the list. If it is on the list, don't miss the rich chocolate ganache and whipped cream dessert.
Antietam is well-run by proprietor Gregory Holm, who has chosen a courteous and attractive staff in black – definitely not T-shirts — and the fare from the kitchen of co-chefs Brion Wong and Jesse Feggan is meticulous and well executed but not fussy.
This is not one of those restaurants pretending to have something for everyone. Antietam is designed for those looking for an out-of-the-ordinary experience.
1428 Gratiot Ave., Detroit
Call: (313) 782-4378
Hours: 5-midnight Mon.-Sat. Bar later.
Prices: Small plates $8-$14, plates to share $10-$18, main plates $18-$22, desserts $8.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar and a well-chosen wine list.
Noise level: Low
Wheelchair access: no barriers