Small & Sweet

Birmingham’s compact Tallulah keeps things simple but satisfying


Published:

(page 1 of 2)

A discreet sign marks the modern, dark storefront on South Bates, just three blocks off Old Woodward. Inside, a creamy beige-and-white interior with crisp, white table linens sets a tone of invitingly simple elegance.


When the early-evening sun moves onto the glass front, it sends an angled shaft of light through the west-facing windows, across the white-marble bar and the tables, bouncing off the stemware. And just for a moment, Tallulah Wine Bar and Bistro has a delightful feel of Santa Fe, N.M.


Only, it’s in Birmingham, where, once again, the district has bucked the economic trend of greater Detroit and added another new restaurant.


Tallulah, which opened the last week in February, is the sixth significant addition to downtown Birmingham during the bad economy of the last three years. Tallulah joins other newcomers that include Quattro, Café Via, Chen Chow, and Toast — plus Forest Grill in the community’s nearby Triangle District. Why, exactly, is a little unclear. But money does follow money, and success follows success. By comparison, there have been more closings than openings in some other restaurant destinations.


Another good thing to come out of the tough economy has been a more sobering restaurant style. Casual and simple café dining has replaced rakish frivolity, opulence, and pretension. Brief, less pricey, and carefully chosen menus offering something unique are what’s succeeding.


Tallulah is small. It sports 15 tables, a large bar, a surprisingly short menu (there’s a chalkboard of daily offerings above the open kitchen pass-through), and an extensive wine list. Tallulah slides in at that same level occupied by Beverly Hills Grill, Bistro 222 in Dearborn, and a few others that serve very good food. Yet, the menu and wine list are unique enough to distinguish it from the competition.


While Tallulah’s overall smallness follows the model set by several other new restaurants, the whole package works nicely. Sameness does not have to mean boring or repetitious, and owner Mindy VanHellemont has kept the restaurant different enough in look and feel to be an inviting addition for its sense of somewhere-else-ness and charm.


The challenge of opening any new restaurant these days is tight budgeting for design and look, as well as for the menu and kitchen. On both, Tallulah appears to have done well.


In most of our favorites of the last two years (of owner- or chef-operated smaller establishments) there’s something in each that distinguishes the menu from the next. Tallulah executive chef Jake Abraham has kept the mix interesting and enticing.


Although the menu is almost jarringly brief, it has some really nice touches not seen too often elsewhere. Braised endive as a side dish? Cooked radishes on another dish? Morels in cream and sherry as a daily side offering?


A nice feature is that the wine — in addition to being available by the glass or the bottle — can also be purchased by the “pichet,” the ubiquitous French brasserie half-liter glass pitcher, which gives you a sensible two-plus glasses.


Another touch: At the bar, there are hooks under the bar top at each stool for stowing purses or bags. Yes, some other places do that, too, but it’s still a thoughtful convenience.

Edit Module
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

Local Pie Makers Offer Variety of Fillings

Area bakers offer alternative fillings for holiday pastry.

A Taste of Paris

Cannelle Patisserie chef Matt Knio’s baked goods are turning up in restaurants and markets across metro Detroit

The Big Dipper

Garden Fresh Gourmet is a shining star in the metro Detroit Food scene

A Zen Monk on Her Vegetarian Diet

Myungju Hillary talks spirituality, a plant-based diet, and more

These Businesses Are Planting Purpose in Metro Detroit — Through Food

Hour Detroit’s food issue explores sustainable restaurants, organizations, and more
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Top Docs List 2018
  2. Memories of Miya
    Citizen Yoga founder, Kacee Must Leeb reflects on her sister’s suicide, its impact on her...
  3. Introducing the Piekie
    These cookie-shaped pies win big on-screen and off
  4. The Sixth Man
    A youth basketball coach teaches lessons on and off the court
  5. Seeking Support
    Like many metro areas across the U.S., finding a therapist in and around Detroit can prove to be...
  6. Therapy in the Digital Age
    New innovations that revolutionize traditional approaches to counseling
  7. Food Recipe: Chili
    Michael Keys, of Red Crown in Grosse Pointe Park, shares his favorite chili recipe
  8. Author's Cuisine
    At M Cantina in Dearborn, Junior Merino is creating a new kind of Mexican cuisine that is...
  9. Seeing Clearly
    The co-founders behind Genusee on making eyewear with a mission
  10. Mending Migraines
    Nausea, excruciating head pain, sensitivity to light and noise: The oppressiveness of the list of...