Seasoned chef returns home to build legacy in Detroit

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Chef Maxcel Hardy, a Detroit native who has spent the past several years cooking in Miami, New York and Los Angeles, is preparing to open the first of three restaurants in his native city.

The restaurant River Bistro will open Sunday in Detroit’s Rosedale Park.

The first is River Bistro, debuting Sunday at 18456 Grand River in the Rosedale Park area.

For more than a year, Hardy, 33, said he’s been thinking of moving home, and when a pop-up dinner he did last summer sold out, it helped solidify his decision.

“I wanted to have something to hang my legacy on and build my legacy on,” said Hardy, who also is a philanthropist, cookbook author and has dabbled in fashion with a line of chef coats. “My dad was always big on family and legacy so what better city to come home and do it.”

The family influence is obvious at River Bistro. One of several bold, colorful pieces of art in and around the restaurant is a portrait of a woman Hardy said is an amalgam of his mother and his daughter. A dish called Mama Meatloaf is inspired by his grandmother’s recipe (he adds cilantro, as he does throughout his Afro-Caribbean-influenced menu).

Much of Hardy’s River Bistro menu is inspired by Caribbean and Jamaican flavors. In addition to cilantro, he looks to thyme, garlic and scotch bonnet peppers to flavor his food.

Many of the dishes come with Hardy’s game-changing house pickles: thinly sliced, pickled for 21 days and flavored with ginger and scotch bonnet. Vegetables served with other dishes like spinach and Brussels sprouts are fried in a huge wok that came with the restaurant.

The lunch menu includes a juicy crispy sandwich on Avalon bread, jerk ribs, coconut and curry shrimp scampi and and a signature Bistro Burger with jerk mayo, pimento cheese, bacon and caramelized onions. Lunch runs $6.95-$12.95.

Dinner ($8.95-$14.95) has many of the same items offered at lunch but with extra sides like rice and peas, cottage fries or plantain chips. Sides alone like cilantro rice (chef really likes cilantro, I’m telling you), three-cheese scallop potatoes, cottage fries, mac and cheese, and fried Brussels sprouts and bacon are each $4.

House-made desserts such as an ice cream sandwich with cannoli cream and chocolate ganache or banana and white chocolate bread pudding are $4-$5.

Hardy said he will deal with higher food margins to make his dishes affordable for the area. He may not spend as much on some ingredients as a restaurant downtown might, he said, but he’ll massage them and make them more flavorful to make up for it. For instance, he not only serves ginger beer Tana as a soft drink, but he also uses the locally-made product as a marinade.

“Our short ribs. We’re buying not the short rib that Townhouse will buy or some of the other big guys in Midtown would buy ... it’s a really nice short rib, but we’re not going all the way up, up,” he said. “The labor of love we put in it brings that product back to life.”

River Bistro, which will be part of Metro Detroit Black Restaurant Week planned Aug. 21-27, only has seating for around a dozen in the dining area. A swift carry-out business is expected, plus catering and delivery within the Rosedale Park area.

In the back of the restaurant, Hardy and staff have transformed a former storage area into a private chef table that seats 10-15. For example, guests can reserve the polished space and get a three-course meal designed by Hardy for $45 per person. River Bistro has no liquor license, but bringing a bottle of wine or bubbly is OK (for a cork fee).

Starting Sunday, River Bistro will be open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Hardy will serve lunch and dinner to start, and add a weekend brunch menu shortly. Call (313) 953-2225.

Hardy’s next Detroit restaurant will be Coop, a casual chicken spot opening in the Detroit Shipping Co. shipping container restaurant collective in Midtown. Later he’ll open Honey near the Little Caesars Arena development area (he’s looking at a March opening).

In the midst of his new restaurant openings, Hardy’s new cookbook will be released next week. “The Marley Coffee Cookbook: One Love, Many Coffees and 100 Recipes” is a project between Chef Hardy and Rohan Marley, the son of reggae legend Bob Marley.

Hardy’s isn’t the only restaurant opening in the neighborhood this week. Detroit Vegan Soul will debut its second location Saturday at 19614 Grand River, less than a mile from River Bistro. Menu and hours will be limited until full service begins Aug. 17.

(313) 222-2402

Twitter: @melodybaetens