Birmingham to get tastes of French, Italian this year

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

People looking for a meal in downtown Birmingham will have a choice of a new French or a new Italian eatery to pick from by the fall.

Peas & Carrots Hospitality is scheduled to open the Italian restaurant Arthur Avenue and the French brasserie Au Cochon in the space formerly occupied by Chen Chow Brasseire, 260 N. Old Woodward. Both restaurants will have patio seating and a projected opening of late summer.

The restaurant group, owned by Zack Sklar, Josh Humphrey and Jim Bellinson, also owns and operates Birmingham’s Social Kitchen & Bar, as well as MEX, and Beau’s Grillery, both in Bloomfield Hills.

Sklar recently announced that he will open a Social Kitchen & Bar at the Grand Rapids’ Downtown Market, too.

The restaurant group is planning to expand even farther and is set to open Bernie’s Lunch & Supper in Chicago. Sklar says he’s also eyeing real estate in Detroit for a future concept.

For now, though, Sklar and partners are focused on giving Birmingham the two new dining destinations. Sklar says Arthur Avenue’s focus will be on unpretentious Italian food.

“Arthur Avenue is a place in the Bronx in New York and it’s very, very old school Italian — basically a street with lots of Italian markets, little Italian delis and stores and restaurants and pastry shops.” said Sklar, who moved back to Metro Detroit from New York in 2008.

“I think it’s that kind of food that Americans, especially in the Midwest, want to eat,” he said. “It’s very approachable, big portions. It’s not pretentious. It’s not overly expensive. Wine will be served in cups, not fancy Riedel glasses, so it’s going to be really fun.”

The 120-seat Arthur Avenue will have casual order-at-the-counter service for lunch. For dinner service, the white tablecloths will come out and the lights will be dimmed.

Next door, the smaller Au Cochon (which is French for “the pig”) will have an open kitchen serving duck fat French fries, burgers and other simple items.

“When you go to a brasserie in Paris, you get soft scrambled eggs on a piece of toast and an espresso, and that’s it,” says Sklar. (A brasserie is what the French call a simple, casual restaurant.) “I don’t know if our market would wildly accept that, so we’re having our spin on that and jazz it up a little bit, but it’s still going to be a lot of foundation methods and cooking procedures.”

Both new restaurants will have patio seating.

Sklar, who attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, says he also intends on having a “serious” craft cocktail program at Au Cochon, which he says will be similar to that of Sugar House in Corktown or the Oakland in Ferndale.