Sometimes when the original chef leaves a restaurant, the place struggles to find a replacement who can keep the regulars happy while drawing a new crowd through the doors. Chef Aaron Solley, two months into his role at Craft Work, is proving capable of the task.
He seems to fit in seamlessly with proprietor Hu Yaro and sous-chef Stephen Schmidt and the rest of the staff, and he expands his duties by occasionally popping out of the kitchen to mingle with the guests.
Solley is not a white jacket sort of chef despite his culinary school training. He blends into the dining room scene in his T-shirt and jeans and friendly demeanor. This is his second stint in the Detroit area, so it’s a comfortable place for him.
Craft Work’s location in Detroit’s West Village brings in an interestingly diverse clientele. Although some of its predecessors in the space on the street level of the Parkstone Apartments could be called swanky, Craft Work is not, despite its vintage setting. It’s casual and unassuming, although that doesn’t mean the American fare is routine.
Solley and Yaro have high standards when it comes to fresh ingredients and stylish presentation. The original menu has been tweaked nicely by Solley, (he wisely axed the half slab of ribs, for instance) and for my money, it’s exactly the right length, just seven appetizers and the same number of entrees, with a few sides. Despite the brevity, there are a couple of vegan dishes. Bread and butter is an a la carte side, and that’s a smart touch. How many bread baskets just sit there and have to be tossed?
The brunch selection is pared down even more than the dinner array, just 10 selections in all, typified by corned beef hash and eggs Benedict.
The appetizer list includes sharable nibbles such as marinated multicolor olives, and a plate of warm grilled bread from Hamtramck’s Holbrook Market with dips of housemade yogurt and harissa, the fiery red Tunisian sauce. Lamb porterhouse prettily garnished with olive tapenade, dried cherries, almonds and couscous could qualify as a main course with the addition of a side salad.
Holdovers on the entrée list include the perennially popular fried chicken, served with bacon-sparked greens, honey and mashed potatoes. That one won’t be leaving the menu anytime soon, nor will the two notable burgers, an Angus beef ($9) and the more expensive Wagyu beef ($15). The Angus burger is also on the happy hour menu at the bargain price of $6 and on my two visits, many people were ordering them.
Solley also does a fresh fish, as well as seafood pasta with littleneck clams, white wine, shallots, capers, garlic and lemon. At the top rung of the price list is Creekstone Farms New York strip at $26.
The overall price structure here is gentle, and that includes the cocktail offerings from the bar, where seating includes several communal tables in a setting of book shelves and vintage details.
The vibe is friendly and the kitchen is in good hands.
8047 Agnes, between Van Dyke and Parker, Detroit
Call: (313) 469-0976
Hours: Dinner 4-11 p.m. Mon.-Tues., 4-midnight Wed.-Sat., brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Appetizers $5-$14, soups and salads $6-$15, burgers $9-$15, entrees $14-$26, desserts $3-$6, brunch dishes $8-$12.
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Rear lot and street
Wheelchair access: No barriers