Monday, February 28, 2011

Real Detroit Weekly Extended Cut: Roast

Michael Symon’s Roast
1128 Washington Boulevard, Detroit
(313) 961-2500,
Hours: Monday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Bar opens daily at 4 p.m.

The word is out on Michael Symon’s Roast: this place is operating on a level that other area restaurants don’t even come CLOSE to touching. For the “Best Restaurant” category, there simply was no other competition. (No offense, everywhere else.)

Most *good* restaurants excel in one or two areas, more if they’re exceptional. Roast is the exceptionally rare place that absolutely NAILS it on all counts. There is not a single detail, not a single nuance of product, service or experience that is overlooked at this juggernaut of Detroit-area restaurants. This place is a well-oiled machine with a solid team behind it making sure it keeps firing on all cylinders.

First, the food: yes, they have a lot of meat. The hanger steak, smoked pork chops and roast beast of the day (which slow-cooks on a spit visible to the main dining room) are all favorites. The lamb ragu with paparadelle pasta is a sleeper hit, particularly because the tender homemade pasta is just as much the star of the dish as the juicy lamb itself. But some of the most noteworthy items on the menu are found under the appetizer section. The house-made charcuterie platter – which refers to the art of curing, smoking and preserving meats, a Symon specialty and one of the current culinary crazes in metro Detroit – is a rotating selection of pancetta, terrines, rilettes and sausages prepared for two. The beef cheek pierogi is once again an accomplishment of not only succulent meat but also the delicate dumpling dough. With the crispy veal sweetbreads, eat first and ask questions later. And the roasted marrow, drenched in oil and served on a sawed-off bone, has made it to the bucket list of mandatory Detroit dining alongside Slows’ mac & cheese and Buddy’s pizza. It may not appeal to all palates – it’s a bit gelatinous – but a necessary experience nonetheless.

Second, beverages: they have the best of all things you will find at any bar anywhere. Best beer list? Check, heavy on Michigan-made craft brews and fun, funky French and Belgian imports. The list itself is as precise in flavor profiling as the best wine lists. Best wine list? That may be more difficult to quantify but the list is extensive, runs the full gamut of price points, offers a wide selection of international and domestic labels, and is partial to lesser-known names. Best cocktails? You haven’t even HAD a cocktail until you’ve had one of theirs. The art of the classic hand-crafted cocktail – another current local craze – is demonstrated expertly here. High-quality gins, bourbons, rye whiskeys and vermouths dominate this menu of classic and classically-inspired hand-crafted cocktails, and be sure to ask about their current barrel-aged selections.

Other restaurants only dream of having a staff as knowledgeable, friendly and welcoming as the seasoned staff at Roast. Behind the bar, Travis Fourmont and Brian Vollmer (the “cocktail nerds” behind that majestic menu) are less “mixologists” and more your friendly neighborhood barkeeps plucked straight out of an 1800s saloon who make Corpse Revivers not because they’re trendy but because they are complex and delicious. Saddle up to the bar and you’ll feel right at home.

The atmosphere is posh while still being comfortable. The prices are surprisingly low – most steaks and entrees are under $30 – but the best thing about Roast, that final touch that makes them wholly untouchable, is the cocktail hour. From 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, enjoy $3 bites, $4 select beer and wine and $5 pours. Those “bites” include the ineffable Roast Burger: a 5-oz. burger topped with bacon, cheddar and fried egg served on a toasted English muffin. This creation has forever destroyed the burger bell curve; not all burgers are created equal but this one isn’t even fair. During cocktail hour(s) you can enjoy all the best of what Roast has to offer and spend only $15. It’s where Detroiters go to be bougie on a budget.

Read the print version here.