Popular Saffron de Twah welcomes back guests with dine-in service, patio

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Moroccan restaurant Saffron de Twah was a favorite among the recently opened restaurants in the city in early 2020. Momentum was strong, reviews were stellar and there was even an national nod from the James Beard Awards, which listed the tiny Gratiot Avenue restaurant as a semifinalist for "Best New Restaurant." 

While chef Omar Anani and his team kept busy during the pandemic with various community efforts, pop-ups and a subscription service, the restaurant is only now reopening for dine-in service. A soft opening this weekend is sold out, and reservations are open via the Tock app and website for seatings starting next month. 

A glimpse of the new patio at Saffron de Twah, which will reopen for dine-in service soon.

"We've added a ton of seating with the patio, we're going for more of an 'oasis in the middle of a food dessert' type of thing," said Anani, meaning that if people were going to keep referring to Detroit as a food desert then he should build an oasis. "Morocco has a desert, so that's what we based it off, a lot of tropical plants and stuff like that."

In addition to the three small tables inside and the small row of counter seats at the window, the patio will have room for around 40, mostly at two-seater tables with a few that can seat four and one big enough for six. 

The revamped Saffron de Twah also has a new "dry bar," which will served crafted non-alcoholic drinks like orange blossom lemonade and chamomile sours. To get a handle on service and cope with the labor shortage, Saffron de Twah will at first serve dinner only Thursdays-Sundays. Expect chicken tagine with honey and apricot and fried pickled heirloom okra with Moroccan-style ranch dip. Brunch will launch later this year.

More:James Beard Foundation spotlights Detroit restaurant Saffron de Twah

The famous but labor-intensive fried chicken sandwich is off the regular menu, but will return for a designated week once a year, which Anani was inspired to do by late restaurateur Greg Mudge of Mudgie's as he did with their famous lobster roll week (which turned into lobster roll month each July). 

Anani and his team spent a lot of time and energy building the patio space and getting ready to reopen. They also changed the way they hire. Instead of having a "front of house" and "back of house," everyone who works there is a chef. That way they can not only speak to the guest with authority on the menu, but all employees are able to work where they're most needed on any given day. 

"Everyone at the restaurant is a chef: your server, your bartender, everyone ... they've had everything on the menu, they know what goes in everything, they've prepared everything on the menu, we all wash dishes, we all do everything top to bottom," he said, adding that employees start at $15 an hour minimum and tips are shared. "The industry needs to change, so I'm trying to be the change that I want to see." 

Most of all, he says he's excited to see people in the restaurant again and is grateful for the community support. 

"People say 'I haven't seen my friend in years because of COVID' and for me, the restaurant was my life so my friends are pretty much the people who come into the restaurant, and I haven't seen them in forever, so for me I'm excited for that."

Saffron de Twah is at 7636 Gratiot in Detroit. Visit saffrondetwah.com for details on how to make a reservation through the Tock app or website. Call the restaurant at (586) 359-6138. 

Saffron de Twah isn't the only African restaurant welcoming guests back to the dining room this month. Longstanding Ethiopian restaurant Blue Nile reopened last week for dine-in service for the first time since early 2020 at 545 W. Nine Mile in Ferndale. Call (248) 547-6699 or visit bluenileferndale.com

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Twitter: @melodybaetens