It might seem like a gimmick to offer a menu that is part Mexican and part Italian, but in the case of El Barzon, the combination is organic. Chef/proprietor Norberto Garita was born to Mexican fare and expanded his repertoire at high-end Italian restaurants after coming to the United States as a child.
Growing up in New York, his culinary experience widened beyond his mother’s kitchen, and Italian dishes became part of his repertoire.
In fact, he was proficient enough to join the kitchen staff at an upscale Italian restaurant — remember Il Posto in Southfield? — after coming to Michigan. El Barzon — it is named for part of a horse-drawn plow and comes from a Pueblon folk song — started small when Garita and his wife, Silvia, opened it in 2007. It has gradually expanded over the years, to two dining rooms and a spacious enclosed patio (used in warm weather). There’s also a parking lot.
Amenities have increased as well. The well-dressed staff is highly professional and does a proficient job of taking care of diners at the double-covered tables, each centered with one fresh red rose. The menu is the same at lunch and dinner, with just the price structure differing. Zuppa di pesce (an array of seafood in spicy tomato broth), for instance, is $17 at lunch and $23 at dinner and mole Poblano is $16 and $22, respectively.
Diners may choose one cuisine or combine the two, as many like to do, but regardless of direction, a bowl of warm tortilla chips and the resonant house salsa come to the table immediately.
On a recent visit, my choice was a chile rellano (meat-filled poblano pepper) from the list of Mexican dishes followed by some house-made pastas, notably the strozzapretti alla Norcina, tender little twists of pasta in a sauce of fresh Italian sausage, tomato and cream, and cavatelli alla Boscaiola, with portobello and porcini mushrooms, showing the expertise of the kitchen.
Neither cuisine dominates the menu. Each one gets full attention from the four serious chefs Garita has added to the kitchen staff visible from the front dining room, which also includes a small bar. It’s an extensive menu, with seafood from halibut sauteed with tequila, orange and lime juices and triple sec among the Mexican dishes, and veal dishes typified by saltimbocca alla Romano among the Italian.
El Barzon may have an offbeat location, but it is very much an ambitious upscale restaurant.
3710 Junction at Michigan, Detroit
Call: (313) 894-2070
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri., dinner 5-9 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m. Fri-Sat., 4-10 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Appetizers $3-$12, lunch entrees $13-$28, dinner entrees $18-$37, desserts $4-$7
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderate
Wheelchair access: No barriers
Parking: Attached lot and entrance in rear
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good ★★ 1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding