Picnics Plus

Rose’s Fine Food stakes out a reclaimed diner near Belle Isle.


Photograph by Cybelle Codish

It must have taken a lot of imagination to see the promise in the dilapidated little diner on the corner of East Jefferson Avenue and Harding Street in Detroit. But Lucy Carnaghi and Molly Mitchell peered through the metal bars over the windows in January and saw it as the right place for a restaurant.

And so they made the leap of faith, signed the lease at the end of March, and — partially funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign — began the reclamation project that has resulted in the 30-seat Rose’s Fine Food. It’s named for their grandmother’s love of growing roses on the family farm up in Millersburg (near Rogers City) where the cousins visited during the summers when they were growing up.

Remarkably, the 30-something cousins — who are more like sisters — were able to salvage much of what was in the building, from the knotty pine and glazed brick wall to the two graceful chandeliers overhead. “We thought they were brown,” says Carnaghi. Hours of scrubbing off years of cigarette smoke and grease revealed the fixtures to be shiny brass with white globes. The tile floor is also original, as are the swivel stools at the counter overlooking the kitchen.

Now it’s the kind of place you’d expect to find in Corktown or Midtown, but the women preferred to be closer to Eastern Market where they shop, and also Belle Isle, the perfect location for the packed picnic baskets they offer. The neighborhood is not as well-known as Corktown, but it does have a name — the Marina District, home to nearby stalwarts the Roostertail and Sindbad’s. The neighbors are thrilled to have Rose’s there, and not just because those living within a mile radius get a 5 percent discount.

Another plus was the vacant lot next door, which they saw as just waiting for a vegetable garden. And the good news: After soil testing, it was revealed to be safe. Greening of Detroit is planning to till it for them. In the meantime, cabbages and herbs grow in two flower boxes outside.

Both Carnaghi and Mitchell have 16 years of experience in the restaurant business — Carnaghi as a bartender, and Mitchell, a graduate of the French Pastry School in Chicago with time in the kitchen at the bakery Tartine in San Francisco. Both worked at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor.

They call their menu simple and straightforward, based on fresh ingredients and from-scratch preparation. And since employees are paid above the minimum wage, the house policy is no tipping, the cousins say.

Rose’s Fine Food, 10551 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit; 313-309-7947; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Sun.

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