It’s in the heart of downtown Detroit, but finding it takes some doing, tucked as it is into a rough-hewn, art-embellished alley, known as The Belt. That refers to the era when the section was part of the Detroit garment district. The sense of mystery continues through tin-clad wood doors, the original elevator doors of the Cary Building, that now lead to a dimly lit space where chef Brendon Edwards dishes up a small but distinctive menu. Joe Robinson handles the craft cocktail element that is really an equal partner with the cuisine.
Standby is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who appreciate the hideaway feeling and a menu that is far from traditional, it’s a haven. Unlike many of the new downtown establishments that appeal to a broad audience, Standby is a niche spot. You’ll either like it a lot or fail to appreciate its attractions.
A glance at the small fold-over menu makes it clear that the chef has surprises in store. He wraps sturgeon in chicken skin and garnishes the dish with confit gizzard and pickled mushrooms and finishes it with tea-smoked crème fraiche. It’s the most expensive entrée at $29. The Memphis-barbecue style loin and leg of rabbit are among the handful of main dishes, some of which have an exotic Moroccan spin, including the steak served with tabbouleh couscous, yogurt and leeks. Although not one of the sharable dishes, it’s hefty enough to split.
There are, of course, lighter dishes, including a terrific little bar snack, a mix of duck fat fried almonds with candied black cherries, or some gin-marinated olives, both ideal for sharing at the zinc-topped bar or one of the tables in the dimly lit space. Chef Edwards and bar man Robinson — who some will remember from their short stints at Antietam, another niche spot downtown — put international touches on the fare from such diverse places as Turkey and Japan. Don’t look for any standard dishes here, except for the notable beef tartare and — surprise! — the cheeseburger with bacon and fries, which Edwards put on the menu purposely to give the less adventurous an out.
“Someone can come in and have a cheeseburger and a beer if they want,” says Edwards. I suspect not many do.
The cocktail menu literally dwarfs the food options, offering dozens of shaken and stirred concoctions served in high quality barware by professional bartenders.
In a month or so, the artistic alley where Standby is located will also include an outdoor bar carved out of the space that resulted when a nearby dumpster was removed. It will be called The Skip — British for dumpster, says the well-traveled chef — and it will be primarily a seasonal spot for drinks with “maybe a little street food.”
225 Gratiot, Detroit
Call: (313) 736-5533
Hours: 5 p.m.-midnight daily (bar until 2 a.m.)
Prices: Bar snacks $6-$9, appetizers $8-$19, entrees $14-$29, desserts $8
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar with an emphasis on craft cocktails
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Nearby lots
What the ratings mean
★ — routine
★★ — good
★★1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — outstanding