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When Smith & Co. opened in the Cass Corridor earlier this fall, I wasn't sure how it was going to set itself apart from the flurry of other new restaurants that just opened or were about to open in this rapidly developing area of the city. 

As we enter the final weeks of the year, however, I think it's becoming more clear. Smith & Co. is offering that middle ground between the super-casual, almost dive-y nature of its neighbor Honest John's, and two very popular chef-driven concepts on the same block: Selden Standard and SheWolf Pastificio & Bar. 

Smith & Co. is housed in the former Smith Welding Supply Co., which closed after decades in 2007. It comes to us from the same restaurant group as Jolly Pumpkin, North Peak Brewing Company, Blue Tractor Barbecue and others across Michigan. To me, this means they know how to successfully open a casual restaurant with well-sourced food and a thoughtful bar program. This isn't their first venture into this neighborhood, either; there is a Jolly Pumpkin a few blocks away. 

Besides a seasonal, interesting menu from chef Greg Antioho — he's releasing an updated version week — Smith & Co. has two major things going for it. First, it's spacious, which is an asset in this neighborhood where you have a lot of popular restaurants that fill up fast. Also, the staff is friendly and casual, but at the same time quick and knowledgeable about the menu. 

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The cheeseburger here could be a contender for one of the best in Midtown.

The Smith Burger is a juicy patty of waygu from Washtenaw County's Sugarbush Farms and not overly fussed with in regards to toppings, but it has a lot of sauciness and savory flavor with a sofrito, aioli and a soy-ginger marinade. Aside from some arugula, the other toppings — Manchego, runny egg and caramelized onion — are in cahoots with the sauces to try to destroy your white cloth napkin. 

The starters here are more small plates than appetizers. Get the empanadas. The bubbly, crisp shell is filled with banging chorizo from Detroit's Corridor Sausage Co. and garnished with a sweet salsa verde and pickled shallots. I know pickled shallots and onions are becoming cliche on menus, but I like the tang and texture they bring to a dish. 

Another starter at this 7,000-square-foot restaurant is beer cheese fondue, a generous cup of warm, smoky cheese sauce, bread and a pile of peppery, spicy sausages. This is a reworked menu item that replaces fry bread, a Native American-inspired dish with a complicated history that some saw as controversial. 

On to the entrees, which are seasonal, flavorful and colorful here. They can seem a little on the expensive side considering the portion size if you don't factor in the high-quality of local ingredients the chef is using. 

The entree that I tried — a pan-seared chicken breast dressed with flavors of soy and garlic, plus pickled shallots, Fresno Chili peppers and roasted carrots — is now off the menu in place of more seasonal items like a cassoulet and braised lamb shank

There's a lot of Michigan and Detroit influence pounded into the fare and sometimes it works and sometimes it feels forced. The smoked red pop chicken wings, for example, are a generous portion of nine chicken wings sweetened with real Faygo Red Pop. The sugary, strawberry flavor of that drink doesn't come through in the sauce, but honestly, would you want it to? 

Sweeter than the wings is Smith & Co.'s popular house punch, one of four house-bottled cocktails that are ready-to-pour. There's also a negroni, a paloma and a Detroit Manhattan that is made with Faygo's Rock & Rye and chocolate bitters. 

Chef Antioho stressed to me that he takes dietary restrictions and allergies seriously. The restaurant has separate menus for vegetarian and vegans and another for those with gluten sensitivity. He said if given 72 hours notice, he will go to any lengths to give that customer the full experience and cook something just for them with their dietary needs in mind. 

Besides an updated menu, next on deck for Smith & Co. is the opening of their sister business next door, the Nain Rouge Brewery, which is set to debut in very early 2020. 

Smith & Co.

644 Selden, Detroit

(313) 974-7100 or smithandcodetroit.com

Rating: ★★ (very good)

Hours: 5-11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5 p.m.-midnight Fri., 4 p.m.-midnight Sat. and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-10 p.m. Sun. 

Prices: small plates, salads and sandwiches, $12-$16, entrees, $22-$27; brunch, $8-$16; dessert, $7-$9; cocktails, $10-$11; beers, $5-$9; mocktails, $4-$6. 

Reservations: Recommended on the weekends

Noise level: Medium to loud, considering it's a big space that can fit a lot of guests 

Accessibility: No barriers for the side entrance

Parking: Street parking is free (for now). Gravel lot is being worked on across the street and will be ready soon for more free parking. 

What the stars mean: 

★ — routine

★★ — very good

★★★ — excellent

★★★★ — extraordinary

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens

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