It was just a quiet Tuesday evening, but it was anything but quiet at Central Kitchen & Bar, where a capacity crowd turned out to sample downtown Detroit’s newest hot spot, despite the difficulty of getting around all the construction. A promising new restaurant seems to be enough of an incentive to make people deal with any impediment.
The space on the first floor of the First National Building once housed a bank, but after a complete re-do — one that respects the vintage details of the Albert Kahn neo-classical building — it’s emerged as a lively restaurant with a sidewalk café overlooking Campus Martius and inside, a dining room and bar done up in soft shades of gray and white under a mix of industrial light fixtures including some reclaimed searchlights. Just one fixture departs from the theme — a glittering crystal chandelier that is a stunning contrast to all the metal.
Pillars have been left scarred to emphasize the history and there is no plush carpeting covering the cement floor. Seating arrangements range from plump wicker couches to bentwood chairs at the u-shaped bar and fabric covered booths under a wall-sized photo mural of Campus Martius in the ’20s on one wall and mirror on another.
The setting, with roll-up windows to let in the breeze, is comfortably unpretentious and so is the nicely edited menu offering contemporary American favorites including buttermilk fried chicken, tacos, shrimp and grits, and calamari among other dishes, most of which are available at both lunch and dinner.
The kitchen where Executive Chef Christina Stanko presides over her busy crew, including Sous Chef Chris DeMorrow, is veiled by greenhouse style glass. The space once housed bank tellers’ cages but now the greens that emerge are French beans, watercress, baby kale and arugula.
Just a bite or two of calamari reveals the kitchen’s skill as much as any of the more elaborate dishes. It’s not that too-often-encountered heap of rubbery stuff, but a refined version of the dish made palatable with sweet soy glaze, a touch of orange, cilantro, jalapeno peppers and cashews.
Other dishes include the excellent burgers made with house-blended beef, with turkey and chickpea versions as alternatives. The thin, crisp seasoned fries are a must.
Salads include a lovely beet, watercress and pine nut version as well as a more conventional bistro salad with mixed greens, grape tomatoes and French beans in herb ranch dressing.
The chicken paillard, a tender scallop of chicken that is classically simple but subtle and delicious, is served with a yogurt mousse, and at the top of the price scale, prime filet of beef with braised shallots and a touch of red wine, again emphasizing simplicity.
The wine list includes some 30 wines by the glass, along with a number of beers on tap and of course, craft cocktails, without which an establishment couldn’t open its doors these days.
Central Kitchen did the wise thing by opening quietly a few days prior to the announced opening. That’s resulted in a pretty smooth transition for the staff, every one of whom attended a daylong seminar on the elements of service by Adrian Tonon of Café Cortina.
This promising new spot is the brainchild of Dennis Archer Jr., and two business partners, Christopher Brochert and Ken Karam, with Karam as general manager.
Central Kitchen & Bar
660 Woodward, Detroit
Call: (313) 963-9000
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-midnight Thurs.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun. Bar open later
Prices: Appetizers $8-$12, salads $8-$17, tacos $12-$14, sandwiches and burgers $9-$12, dinner entrees $17-$28, desserts $6-$7
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: High
Parking: Valet (evening) or nearby lots and structures
Wheelchair access: No barriers