Review: Folk in Corktown provides beautiful, nourishing breakfast and lunch cuisine
It's been a busy year for the Corktown cafe, with a new chef, new liquor service and a super-seasonal menu that spotlights local and diverse fare
A visit to a restaurant should satisfy your appetite and make your stomach feel full.
What's happening at Folk in Corktown, though, is causing more than a feeling of fulfillment. I leave feeling nourished and happy.
It could be the tiny dining room flooded with natural lighting, with pristine white tiles that make the room look bright even on cloudy days. Maybe it's the super hit of caffeine that comes from the sweet Mexican coffee made with chocolate and spices.
Possibly I'm just delighted to have gotten a seat, which has happened every single time I've visited Folk over the past year and a half, even though I'm nervous there will be nowhere to sit. It's a valid concern; there are only about two dozen seats. Folk is ideal for the solo diner or small groups.
It's more likely, though, that the feeling of comfort and satisfaction is coming from the food.
Folk, which is co-owned by Detroiter Kiki Louya and native Australian Rohani Foulkes, has four breakfast entrees, three for lunch and another four that are kind of both and listed just as "bread." Here we find the apple cheddar melt, a crunchy sandwich that's piled high with melted cheddar cheese, crisp sliced apples, spinach and roasted chicken from Gifted Grass, a high-end farm in Ohio where the birds are pasture-raised.
Over on the lunch side of the menu, the congee (rice porridge) is pure comfort. The slow-cooked ginger and garlic rice is a bed for a variety of textures and tastes: a juicy, fatty piece of pork belly, a soft-boiled egg speckled with sesame seeds, scallions and crispy onions and sour kimchi.
The grits are also served plain as a side for $3. It's filling, but not as flavorful as the congee dish.
The First Frost is a good choice for someone who can't decide between breakfast or lunch. It's preserved tomato butter, braised greens and pumpkin seeds atop toasted cornbread, something chef Jessi Patuano says she's been tweaking for years. Louya and Foulkes scooped up Patuano from farm-to-table restaurant Gather after it closed in Eastern Market.
Many of the ingredients are local or regional — Zingerman's bread for the kid's PBJ sandwich, pumpkin spice oatmeal dressed with cider syrup made from produce from Michigan's Seedling Farm — but the cuisine reflects dishes from around the world at the same time.
My favorite example of this at Folk is the Parisian breakfast. Served like a charcuterie plate on a wooden board, the feast includes a pile of pink and white buttery ham from Marrow restaurant and butcher shop in West Village, a few hunks of brie, a croissant, a swipe of very rich butter and a small silver bucket of pickled cranberries and mustard seed. There are also a few green apple slices and a pot of spiced, house-made jam. I want to eat this every day.
I'm glad there's a nod to Paris here not just because of Detroit's French history, but this neighborhood sadly lost a French-influenced cafe just a few years ago when Petit Zinc closed up just down the street in 2017. (They reopened a year later in Midtown, but then that location closed in April.)
Enjoy what is on the menu at Folk when it's there, because what Patuano is doing is truly seasonal. I mourned the exit of Folk's avocado toast and colorful, flavor-infused steamed milk drinks and hope to see them return in the spring. First, Patuano will roll out a winter menu in January.
The owners of Folk are striving to be sustainable, ethical and healthful not just with the food, but with the new bar program as well. Nothing is processed or fake; all the juices for the cocktails are freshly squeezed.
Louya and Foulkes are part of Nest Egg Hospitality Group with Ping Ho and Sarah Welch, two restaurateurs who also have the aforementioned Marrow. The four women are behind the newly opened Mink seafood bar next to Folk.
Ho is also the owner of Royce Detroit wine bar, so it was a no-brainer to have her select some appropriate, sustainable wines when Folk obtained a liquor license over the summer. Louya said any of their flavor-packed cocktails can also be made as an alcohol-free mocktail.
As you may have read about Folk, it is one of those restaurants that has a automatic gratuity that they call a hospitality charge. This means 18% is added onto all bills. This is to ensure a living wage for all of their eight employees (they also get healthcare should they choose to opt in).
So why not just roll that extra percentage into the menu price? Louya said it's to point out the true cost of paying an employee a livable wage while also offering locally sourced food. There is also a tip line on the credit card slip for those who want to add something extra beyond the 18% hospitality charge.
That's old news, and something they've been doing for a while. What is new at Folk, is a Tuesday night series aiming to shine a light on women working in kitchens across the city. This week's dinner featured chef Phoebe Zimmerman, a sous chef at Marrow. On Dec. 17 Hailey Enzer, pastry chef at nearby Gold Cash Gold, will present a four-course meal that showcases her skills beyond sweets.
This series will pause for the holidays and pick back up in January or February. Find more info at facebook.com/folkdetroit.
Since I started writing restaurant reviews in May, I've filed more than a dozen features, each with a star rating to go along with my commentary. This is the first time I'm giving four stars, a designation reserved only for extraordinary restaurants.
If you think it's strange to give a casual spot such a high rating, that's fair. It's not what I expected, either. There are no white tablecloths, wild molecular gastronomy or gold flatware. The team at Folk, however, is 100% achieving what they've set up to do here, and while they are succeeding, they're also lifting others — local purveyors, other chefs, employees — along with them.
1701 Trumbull, Detroit
Rating: ★★★★ (extraordinary)
Hours: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Wed.-Mon. Closed Tuesdays.
Prices: $10-$16 main items; $2-$4 sides; $4-$6 coffee drinks and tea; cocktails, $12-$14; $4-$6 beer; $10-$13 wines by the glass; $40-$52 by the bottle. An 18% hospitality charge is added to all checks.
Noise level: Low to medium, even when busy.
Accessibility: No barriers
Parking: Small adjacent lot or free street parking on Bagley or Trumbull.
What the stars mean:
★ — routine
★★ — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — extraordinary