When it was announced that Birmingham’s Townhouse was opening a second location in downtown Detroit, people might have thought it would be small and cozy like the original on Pierce Street. If so, they are in for a surprise.
The downtown version is big, bright and brash. It stands out on the cityscape like a colorful tropical bird in a flock of sparrows and it adds excitement to the thriving downtown restaurant scene.
With the retractable glass roof over its atrium, its big patio decked out with trees and garden umbrellas, a menu that runs the gamut from sushi to elk tenderloin, and a dining room with seating arrangements that range from cushy white couches to club chair style bar stools at the horseshoe-shaped bar, there’s just one word for the spot that was unveiled a couple of weeks ago, and that word is spectacular.
The staff in black trousers and white dress shirts with red suspenders brings the fare from the white tile-walled open kitchen where impressive young chef Brennan Calnin presides over a big staff and an equally extensive menu for proprietor Jeremy Sasson, who has been on-hand most of the time in the early going.
Offshoots are the sushi bar – called the seafood pantry – and a rolling dim sum cart that brings to tableside such items as shu mai – little rice paper wrapped dumplings filled with chorizo and bay shrimp, and braised pork belly tidbits with grits and barbecue sauce. It’s a nice touch for those who like a little bite of something with pre-dinner drinks.
This is a place that offers many options. Diners may choose to snack on the many sharable items or go for a main plate, such as blackened hanger steak or cornflake crusted walleye.
One of the stand-outs overall is the big (10 ounce) house burger made with a blend of dry-aged beef cuts, topped with bourbon glazed onions and white cheddar and served on a buttery brioche bun. There is a list of extras and substitutions for those who want to change or add to that classic array, and they include such frills as duck confit, rosemary garlic aioli, and olive tapenade as well as the standards of lettuce, avocado and tomato.
All of the burgers are accompanied by the standard house fries, but most people upgrade with thin cut truffle fries, sprinkled with white truffle oil and gremolata (minced parsley, lemon peel and garlic) that add a bright, fresh flavor to the mix. The crisp fries can be spotted on almost every one of the butcher-block style tables.
Those who prefer to go meatless and fishless will find not just a nod in their direction, but many choices listed under greens or local farmer.
Desserts have an ice cream sandwich theme, typified by the s’mores taco – a graham cookie shell with chocolate ganache, churro marshmallows and dulce de leche sauce.
From top to bottom, it’s an imaginative menu. The bar holds its own with an array of premium liquors, craft cocktails, a plentiful beer selection as well as an extensive wine list, all wrapped up in a red leather “libation list” in the house vernacular.
Although Townhouse Detroit seats more than 300, it doesn’t have a barn-like feeling because of the variety of seating plans.
What a welcome addition to the downtown restaurant scene. It is going to attract more than one demographic with its range of offerings.
500 Woodward at Congress, Detroit
Call: (313) 723-1000
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Sat., dinner 5-midnight Mon.-Sat., 5-11 p.m. Sun. Bar open later. Sun. brunch will be added this weekend from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Prices: Lunch soups and salad $6-$10, burgers $10-$14, add-ons 75 cents-$5, sandwiches $10-$15, entrees $10-$24; dinner appetizers and sharable dishes $3-$16, salads $10-$11, add-ons $6-$16, 10-ounce burgers $14-$19, mains $19-$39, desserts $6-$11. Sun. brunch dishes $6-$14, sharable dishes for two to four, $36. Children’s menu $8
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Convivial
Wheelchair access: No barriers