The massive stone structure on Grand River and Cass is a landmark in downtown Detroit. And the castle-like Grand Army of the Republic building that dates back to 1899 has had many uses over the years, including the time it was the headquarters of the Detroit Parks & Recreation Department. And that’s the derivation of the name of the second restaurant in the building.
The larger Republic Tavern and its ambitious menu opened in April 2015 to positive reviews. Parks & Rec Diner followed in August this year, and while it is more casual and has a much more basic menu, it is more than an after-thought.
The restaurants share a kitchen, and it works because Parks & Rec is an early-in-the-day place, serving breakfast and lunch, while Republic is a dinner destination. When Parks & Rec closes at 3 p.m., the kitchen switches gears into dinner preparations for Republic.
Both have the same executive chef, Sarah Welch, who has been there since the opening, first as sous-chef to Kate Williams, then taking over the top job when Williams departed.
It’s quite a grind to mastermind two menus, but Welch, whose experience also includes time at Katoi and the pop-up culture, seems to be thriving on it. She gives credit to Williams for “setting the frame-work.” The transition seems to be seamless.
Breakfast and lunch at Parks & Rec are from a single menu of traditional breakfast dishes and sandwiches with creative twists, including hash made with pasta and pistachio pesto along with roasted vegetables, cheese and eggs; shrimp and grits with harissa, the Tunisian hot sauce; and the Coney waffle, yes chili atop a cornbread waffle. There also are standard items like buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy, eggs any style with bacon and toast, and they all are made with superior ingredients and have distinctive touches, such as the fact that the bacon, both pork and lamb varieties, and sausage are housemade along with much that is served here.
Sides include home fries, pancakes and French toast in small portions and also at a small price: none is more than $5 and most are $3 or $4, including the very good bacon.
The setting is the small section of the building at the corner of Grand River and Cass, with windows on both sides and park bench style seating along the wall. The tiny bar — yes, there is a bar, looks like an old-fashioned lunch counter. Seating capacity is tiny: And during brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, the most popular days, the overflow is seated in Republic Tavern.
The building’s owners, David and Tom Carlton and their partner, Sean Emory, have an office upstairs on the top floor, and they deserve a lot of credit for making sure the restaurants are not just routine but offer something worthy of the setting in this grand old building.
Parks & Rec Diner
1942 Grand River, Detroit
Call: (313) 446-8370
Hours: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. daily
Prices: main plates $7-$15, sandwiches $8, sides $2-$5
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Street or nearby lots
Wheelchair access: No barriers
What the ratings mean
★ — routine
★★ — good
★★1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — outstanding