Dining Review: Craft Work excels in the unexpected

Molly Abraham
Special to The Detroit News

Indian Village and the West Village are among Detroit’s historic gems. And the restaurant on the ground floor of the 1926 vintage Parkstone Apartments fits very well into the neighborhood vibe.

   Those who choose to sit on the patio at the entrance can watch a neighborhood panorama of bicyclists and baby carriages rolling by under an umbrella of tall trees as they have drinks and dinner from the imaginative menu of chef Aaron Solley and proprietor Hu Yaro.

Executive chef Aaron Solley, left, shows Raw Bar cook Neishma Balaguer how to properly open an oyster. Guests nibble raw bar selections like Scallop Crudo and the Tuna Poke Bowl or dine on entrees like fried chicken at Craft Work, a cozy eatery in the West Village neighborhood of Detroit.

   Inside, two separate dining areas, one including the oyster bar, the other with the traditional cocktail bar, are dimly lit and cozy, with uncovered wood-topped pedestal tables and vintage atmosphere under a stenciled ceiling.

  There are usually 10 varieties of East and West coast oysters handsomely presented on shaved ice with classic sauces.

  The usual suspects are not what this restaurant chooses to present. Instead  you’ll find such less familiar choices as an appetizer of rich roasted bone marrow presented in the hollowed out bones with parsley-caper salad, and the Hawaiian-inspired tuna poke from the raw bar.Sure, Craft Work offers classics too, such as beautifully golden brown fried chicken and New York strip, but the thrust of the menu is more unexpected.

    It is based on freshness and quality and changes seasonally. Currently, the summer list includes such dishes as lamb pot pie with mashed potatoes and peas inside a pastry crust teamed with a small salad, and tostados with summer vegetables, black beans and chili sauce – a vegan dish. There’s always a fresh catch that might be striped bass with roasted garlic or Pacific salmon.

Chef Solley, not so incidentally, gets his fish whole and butchers them himself. Backing him up in the kitchen is John Golen, who recently took over sous-chef duties from Talia Clark, who moved to the dining room adding the strength of her food background to the front of the house.

  Side dishes, Craft Work style, are simple and almost all vegetarian and vegan. They include classic mashed potatoes, fries, and garlic bread, as well as  baguette and butter which avoids the waste of a bread basket that no one touches. Other restaurateurs should follow that lead.

   Desserts include a special “chef’s dessert,” which one evening this month was a silky citrus panna cotta with cherry puree. Another lovely dessert is affogoto (vanilla ice cream with a splash of espresso).

  Service is by a casually dressed staff in keeping with Craft Work’s aim of dispelling any image of “fancy” restaurant, despite its wood-lavished vintage setting.

   Note that Craft Work’s popular Sunday brunch was discontinued a while back, the proprietor says, to give the staff one entire day off.


Craft Work

8047 Agnes, Detroit

(313) 469-0976


Rating:  ★★★ 

Hours: Dinner 4-11 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; Raw bar 5-10 p.m. Cocktail bar later

Prices: Appetizers $6-$15, mains $11-$33, salads $13-$16, sides $2-$5, desserts $4-$9

Credit cards: All major

Liquor: Full bar, small, well-selected wine list

Noise level: Moderate

Parking: Rear lot and street

Wheelchair access: No barriers

What the ratings mean

★ — routine ★★ — good ★★ 1/2 — very good

★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding