Just four miles from their long-standing J. Baldwin’s Restaurant, the Baldwin family has opened their second restaurant, and it’s a winner.
Sons Jeffrey and Michael are running the new Testa Barra Kitchen & Cocktails with the guidance of their parents, Jeff and Rosemarie. Michael Baldwin, a 2014 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, is co-chef, along with CIA classmate Gabriella Rodriguez, who also happens to be his fiancee.
As might be expected at a second generation place, the menu is modern Italian and contemporary American with lots of flair. Creative touches abound: the accompaniments to the house-made pastas and the meat and fish dishes are not the expected pairings, but chosen with imagination. For instance, the scallop dish is accompanied by candied bacon and blistered tomatoes, and the bronzini (from Italian waters) is set off by little strings of crispy leeks, a puree of parsnips and some bright green broccolini. The bronzini is one of the best seafood dishes I’ve had lately, just lightly sauteed to a golden brown and the unusual accompaniments work well.
Even the list of pizzas is individual. Aside from the classic Margherita, the others are house creations, with such toppings as smoked gouda, fresh fennel and thyme, and mushroom confit.
Another distinctive touch is that bread is an a la carte extra, not just brought to every table, and it too has style, freshly baked focaccia and spreads including roasted garlic butter, beet and goat cheese pesto and honey ricotta. This is an idea that should catch on: How many restaurant bread baskets are just left untouched and have to be thrown away? A real waste.
Typical of the touch with vegetables, tri-color roasted carrots are given a lift with harissa, the Tunisian hot sauce, pistachios and arugula, and the carrots are one of the appetizers along with herb-breaded portobello mushrooms with red pepper aioli.
Service by a staff in blue denim shirts with roll-up sleeves and long aprons is friendly and efficient.
The setting for this appealingly fresh approach is open and casual, with a curving granite-topped bar seating some 21 and high-topped tables on one side of the big room and conventional lacquered wood tables and a few cozy banquettes on the other. The completely open kitchen is a plus for those who like to watch the action there.
There’s also a covered patio on the side that is especially popular currently. The skateboards on one wall testify to Michael Baldwin’s hobby and stylish decor touches include rattan furniture.
Testa Barra (Testa is Rosemarie Baldwin’s maiden name) may have a casual atmosphere, but the from-scratch fare delivers much more than that might suggest. It’s serious food without the trappings, right down to the house-made macaroons.
Testa Barra Kitchen & Cocktails
28524 Romeo Plank at 22 Mile Road, Macomb Twp.
Call: (586) 434-0100
Hours: 3-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 3-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., noon-9 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Appetizers $4-$22, pizzas $13-$16, pastas $15-$22, meat and fish entrees $24-$39, desserts $7-$9
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar.
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Attached lot
Wheelchair access: No barriers
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good ★★ 1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding