The high-ceilinged room was once a garage, and the big overhead door will swing up as soon as weather permits. But for now, Café 78, the new restaurant at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, is buttoned up snugly, welcoming a crowd in winter wools to its communal tables and handcrafted wood bar.
The building originated as an auto dealership, and that's where the 78 comes in. It refers to rule 78, which governed how interest was charged on car loans.
The café — though that word doesn't really seem appropriate for this massive industrial space — opens even before the museum itself, at 8 a.m. for an array of Anthology coffees and pastries from Ferndale's Pinwheel Bakery, and then adds an all-day menu at 11 that includes about a dozen carefully chosen dishes from the repertoire of co-proprietor and chef Marc Djozlija. The bar is ready to whip up craft cocktails from the repertoire of the other proprietor, Dave Kwiatkowski, both of whom also collaborate on Wright & Company a couple of miles down Woodward.
A paper napkin-casual café in a museum might not seem especially worthy of note except for the fact that Djozlija and Kwiatkowski are two of the highest profile restaurateurs in the city, and their focus on quality is unquestioned. The crisp little menus reveal their distinctive approach, with both food and drink getting equal time and concern. The current menu will be in effect "till the weather breaks," says Djozlija, and it ranges from a luscious celery soup topped with garlic croutons and chives to Gulf shrimp rolls with herb mayonnaise.
In addition to somewhat heartier items like a trio of peameal bacon sliders — not really sliders, of course, but slider-sized and topped with lettuce and tomato and honey mustard sauce on shiny little brioche buns — there's a wedge salad with blue cheese and pickled onions in a mustard vinaigrette that Wright diners will recognize. Croque Madame, the French interpretation of a toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich with the addition of a fried egg, and a pasta salad are other choices.
For those who just want a snack to accompany drinks, there are addictive roasted and Moroccan spiced cashews. And Djozlija hasn't forgotten dessert. There's a dense chocolate panna cotta topped with almond brittle and dotted with fresh raspberries, attractively served in a little glass jar.
And the cocktail menu, inspired by eight Pantone paint colors and exclusive to Café 78, includes such creative combos as gin, carrot, ginger, lemon and Pedro Ximinez (Pantone orange 1595) and Scotch, cucumber, dill, lemon Chartreuse and simple syrup (Pantone green 376). Take a chance and order simply by picking a paint swatch.
The Café 78 space is large enough to house special events on the museum calendar, and it occasionally doubles as a concert or performance venue, which is just fine with the proprietors. It has its own entrance on Garfield Street around the corner from the main museum entrance.
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
4454 Woodward, Detroit
Call: (313) 784-9636
Hours: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon.
Prices: Breakfast pastries $3-$4.50, coffees $2-$3.50, plates $4-$9, craft cocktails $7-$10
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Rear lot or street