The relocation of the two-year-old Hamtramck restaurant appears to have been accomplished seamlessly. Rock City fits right into its new Midtown location, and the timing is right.
The construction work on the M-1 rail right out Rock City’s front door is moving right along, and it won’t be long before the transit line becomes an option for patrons of Nik and Jessica Sanches’ appealing spot. Running between Congress and West Grand Boulevard, the QLine street cars will surely help alleviate parking problems.
But there are other reasons why the new location is a big improvement over the original quarters. The kitchen is larger and more efficient and that allows for an expanded menu that includes such favorites as the house special mac and cheese, poutine (duck fat fries with cheese curds, duck gravy with caramelized onions and a toss of scallions) and also adds a number of dishes, notably pizza. While the prices are a tad higher by perhaps a dollar per item, there’s no sticker shock involved.
Those who remember the Hamtramck spot may be reassured that the Midtown setting is properly industrial, with exposed brick walls showing the patina of age, concrete floors and exposed ductwork. Here and there, a bright orange chair pulled up to one of the uncovered tables adds a shot of color to the room to break up the grittiness.
The eight-seat bar has its own small room and is well-stocked with wine and craft beers as well as some interesting craft cocktails, typified by the Shop Around, rye whiskey, tamarind juice, lime and apple cider.
The imaginative menus that cross many ethnic boundaries include a number of salads that are true entrees. For instance, the salmon salad includes fresh mixed greens, rounds of green olive, halved grape tomatoes and a hefty portion of roasted salmon in a light herb dressing, and an equally solid Mediterranean mix of lentils, quinoa, pickled asparagus, roasted peppers, tomatoes and greens in sherry-date vinaigrette.
The Sanches’ touch is known for its international approach, perhaps skewed a bit toward the Mideast. Lamb with harissa, feta cheese and onion salad turns up in a lunch time burger, and in the evening, a major dish is the roasted lamb with herbs, shallots, lemon and capers. All of the dishes, from pork chops with a tamarind glaze, roasted Brussels sprouts and smoked tomatoes, to the seafood pasta with crab, scallops, shrimp and prawns, include multiple fresh ingredients used with a lavish hand.
Pizza is something the Sanches always wanted to do, but were unable to at the original location. Now, however, the thin-crusted pizzas made with traditional dough are a major part of the menu and range from the five-cheese (mozzarella, smoked provolone, fontina, gruyere and pecorino) to the Indian (masala sauce, saag paneer, eggplant and cauliflower) among 10 creative varieties.
In the very early going, one change has already been decided on. The tacos that were on the opening menu are being replaced with a list of sandwiches.
Something that hasn’t changed is the availability of dessert pies. Sanches started his career as “the pie guy” and the butterscotch bourbon remains a classic.
Rock City Eatery
4216 Woodward, Detroit
Call: (313) 265-3729
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Sat. (Bar until midnight).
Prices: Lunch plates $8-$15, dinner plates $8-$27, pizzas $12-$14, desserts $4
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Street during the day, after 5 p.m. at a lot at 68 E. Canfield
Wheelchair access: No barriers
What the ratings mean
★ — routine
★★ — good
★★1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — outstanding