Monday, September 30, 2013

[EID Feature] Chef Paul Grosz takes a Stand

Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

The Stand in Birmingham officially opens for business today. The hotly-anticipated restaurant taking over the former Zazio's space - a concept that rather majestically flamed out for any number of reasons up to and including a cumbersome, poorly-planned space draped in seizure-inducing swirls of neon and food that quite simply wasn't that good (even by Birmingham's notoriously mediocre standards) - is a partnership between Chef Paul Grosz of Cuisine and fine dining industry vet John Kelly with Greenleaf Trust/Catalyst Development, owners of the building, as the investors.

Chef Paul is the Executive Chef of this new concept, and he'll also continue overseeing Cuisine in New Center, running back and forth between both. I've know Chef Paul for a few years - he was one of the first chefs I really established a personal rapport with back during my early days as a scrappy blogger - and, knowing him as well as knowing the difficulty of taking on such a massive space and making enough money on it for the business to stay open, my first question to him was: are you insane?

The answer is yes but in a way that makes sense in the long term. Paul has a 10-year plan. Part of that 10-year plan includes positioning himself for retirement and being able to put his mark on something other than Cuisine - a restaurant he is very proud of and happy with, but one that is also very much events-driven given its somewhat isolated location in New Center across from the Fisher Building.

Paul is also considering the natural trajectory of the chef's career. As he is currently filling in for Mr. Charcuterie Chef Brian Polcyn at Schoolcraft, teaching Polcyn's charcuterie class while Polcyn is busy working on his latest endeavors, Paul is thinking more and more of following in Polcyn's footsteps and transitioning into the role of instructor. He'd like to teach more at Schoolcraft - not Polcyn's class, but possibly a new class on seafood, which receives little attention as part of the school's culinary instruction, and maybe even vegetarian and vegan cuisine. (Paul is big on seafood, and also on veggies, as you'll find on the menu at the Stand). He'd also like to mentor up-and-coming chefs and eventually get out of the kitchen entirely.

Chef Paul in the kitchen. 

But that's all part of the 10-year plan. For now, Paul is going to be in BOTH kitchens, overseeing all operations and doing the cooking himself along with the help of his culinary team.

The menu at the Stand is decidedly small and carefully-managed. Items include a lobster fried egg - a brioche-breaded soft-boiled egg with lobster and asparagus - duck confit cassoulet, rabbit, and waygu beef, with a purposeful emphasis on sea food. (Again, this is Paul's thing.) There is a charcuterie room in which they will cure and dry their own meats (which will also be supplied to Cuisine) that should be fully operational in the next month. And while that all sounds like a very protein-centric menu, vegetarians and vegans can take heart: YOU HAVE YOUR OWN MENU. Eight entirely-vegan items are highlighted on their own menu, so you don't just have to order whatever lame-o salad or soup made vegan as an afterthought.

The bar area comes with its own menu and includes things like veal sweetbreads, foie gras burgers, duck sliders, and daily oysters. And desserts will be just as special as the rest of the menu: Pastry Chef Kevin Kearney, who has worked with Paul at Cuisine for years, is now at the Stand making his unique creations like goat cheese cheesecake and funky ice cream flavors (he did it before it was cool). He is one of the finest pastry chefs in the area, so do be sure not to skip dessert.

The beverage program is just as thoughtful, with a small but solid selection of Michigan craft beers and an entire craft cocktail program designed by none other than Travis Fourmont.

The Hall of Culinary Fun.

Those of you who remember Zazio's Wizard of Oz-on-acid color scheme (an image surely burned into your brain if you ever stepped foot in the place), all I can say The space is transformed. And by that I mean they COMPLETELY gutted it - like, everything. Like, they kept nothing. They scrapped everything short of actually bulldozing the building. The entrance is now on Peabody and diners will be greeting in the "lobby" before heading down what Paul calls the Hall of Culinary Fun. To the right, you will see the open kitchen with a 10-seat bar where they will host two degustation menu seatings per night (in lieu of actually having a "chef's table" in the kitchen). To the left is the separate bar area with comfy booths and a community table. Further down is the main dining room and three private dining rooms.

Hand-blown glass gourds from Epiphany Glass.

As you walk around the massive space, take note to pay attention to the design details. Wood for the bars, ceilings, the communal tables and booth backsplashes is all reclaimed wood sourced through the WARM Training Center in Detroit, much of it from deconstructed homes in Detroit and Hamtramck. Eric Gorges of Voodoo Choppers made custom metal art pieces, including a copper "replica" of the Mackinaw Bridge over the communal table in the bar. In the main dining room, a series of four hand-blown glass sculptures made by April Wagner of Epiphany Glass represent the four seasons of food - leeks in the spring, shellfish in the summer, squash in the fall, and ice wine in the winter. Janelle Songer made the ceramic pieces throughout the restaurant. It was very important to both Paul and John to make this a space that is a reflection of the community, using local artists and salvaged materials with roots in metro Detroit. They want this to be a place that appeals to everyone, to have construction workers sitting next to bankers and everyone be comfortable. Like at a lemonade stand, where everyone has the same experience regardless of who and what they are - hence the name.

In regards to my question of how they were going to break up this 10,000-square-foot space to maximize marketability and monetization (something else Zazio's struggled with), the three private dining rooms are the answer. The 14-seat communal table inside the wine cellar is one, perfect for private celebrations. The 10-seat Paul W. Smith room is intended for celebrities and high-ranking executives, and even has its own private entrance. The third is a 40-seat conference room wired for all AV equipment with a large TV for teleconferences, and this is the space with the most potential to bring in a steady stream of business business.

Part of Paul's 10-year plan includes possibly opening more Stands in other areas in metro Detroit, or working with John on another concept in Birmingham - seafood, perhaps? But he's got 10 years to figure that out. For now, he's focused on getting the Stand open, which quite possibly stands to be the best restaurant in Birmingham.

The Stand has already been operating for a few weeks, hosting private events and seminars. It opens to the public officially at 5 p.m. today and will be open 5-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5-11 Fridays and Saturdays (closed Sundays). Eventually they will also be open for lunch.

Want to see more? View the Flickr set here