Spicy Storefront

Keego Harbor’s Indo restaurant proprietors serve up appealing traditional family cuisine from Java


They met in Hong Kong, got married in Bali, lived in New York for a while, and are now the proprietors of an Indonesian restaurant in tiny Keego Harbor.

It’s an unlikely story, but one that fans of Asian fare should be thankful for, because it brought the appealing cuisine of Indonesia to metro Detroit.

Nik and Melik Alonzo came back to Nik’s home state of Michigan eight years ago. Melik, a native of Java, had been a chef in Hong Kong, and she quickly found a spot in the kitchen at Da Nang, the Vietnamese restaurant in Clawson.

Her dream was to have her own restaurant, and she and her husband worked toward that goal until last year, when after a lot of searching, they found the right storefront. 

They spent three and a half months remodeling and updating the space in a modest strip of shops (it had been Modern Food and Spirits previously) before they opened Indo right across the street from Cass Lake.

To say Indonesian cuisine was something new to the neighborhood is an understatement: The closest Indonesian community is in Ann Arbor. 

So the Alonzos have spent their first year educating people in Oakland County about the fare. Part of that is letting diners know that some of the dishes on the menu — such as peppercorn beef and pineapple chicken — are cooked to order and require a longer preparation time than most people are used to. 

Ordering an appetizer, such as lumpia goreng (egg rolls stuffed with chicken, glass noodles, carrots, and cabbage) or spring rolls, which are steamed rather than fried, compensates for the wait. And that will definitely be eased when they are able to serve beer and wine. They’ve applied for a license, but for now, soft drinks accompany the fare, with Indonesian tea the best bet.

The rijsttafel, or rice table, can be ordered in multiple courses so diners can sample a cross-section of small portions. 

The signature dish, Java chicken (ayam Java), can be served quickly. It is baked chicken with almonds, coconut milk, lemongrass, and fresh turmeric, and it is mildly spicy. Those who want this or any of the other dishes spicier will find that the top level at Indo is spicy indeed.

Almost all of the entrees and most of the soups are available in two portion sizes, a welcome touch.

Like other Asian cuisines, Indonesian dishes are based on fresh herbs including lemongrass and lime leaf, fresh chilies (Nik says he’s always taken aback when Asian restaurants use only dried chilies), coconut milk, rice, thin rice noodles, fish and shrimp, and fruits including papaya and mango. Ginger, garlic, and shrimp paste are other essentials. The fare is reminiscent of Thai, and there’s a touch of Indian and Vietnamese as well.

The menu has a rijsttafel (rice table) that may be ordered in three, four, and five courses ($28, $33, and $38, respectively). It includes: appetizers (egg roll, potato fritter, and chicken and beef sate); soup or salad (vegetable or meatball soup, mango/papaya, or Indonesian vegetable salad); entree (several curries, slow-cooked beef, and Java chicken); and dessert (coconut rice pudding or banana roll). It is a chance to delve into several small portions and sample a cross-section of the menu, and it’s a major value.

Indo is closed on Monday and Tuesday, but the hard-working couple spends most of Tuesday shopping for ingredients at their favorite Asian market, Kim Nhung Superfood in Madison Heights.

A future hope, says Nik, is to get approval to add a rooftop deck that will offer a view of Cass Lake. Whether that materializes, Melik’s dream of having her own restaurant has come true. 

1535 Cass Lake Rd., Keego Harbor; 248-622-4408. L and D Wed.-Sun.

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