When word got out that a new restaurant with New Orleanian influence was set to open in Ypsilanti, the news likely conjured visions of dishes that typify creole and Cajun cuisine. Leading up to the opening, thrilled spectators may have anticipated heaping spoonfuls of jambalaya with hunks of andouille sausage and soft grains of rice, or steamy pillows of beignets dusted in confectioner’s sugar. Instead, when it opened last summer, Bellflower brought the finer side of Louisiana bayous to an otherwise informal neighborhood — with an adventurous twist.
Boudin sausage with roasted okra, baked oysters, and ginger ale- or Coca-Cola-roasted beets showed up on early menus at Bellflower as Chef Dan Klenotic’s way of straddling the line of creole tradition and an imaginative style that is entirely his own. Klenotic and partners Mark Maynard and Jesse Kranyak drew inspiration from the port city, less for its quintessential dishes than for its diversity of flavors and cultural influences.
“We never wanted to brand ourselves as a New Orleans-themed restaurant,” Maynard says. “It was a jumping-off point, but we don’t want to draw our boundaries there.”
Today, Bellflower has evolved to become a place with very few boundaries. Whereas the interiors are minimal — tabletops constructed from reclaimed wood from Ypsilanti Civil War veteran George Cady’s home and fresh greenery are the only prominent pops of color against clean white walls with black accents — the menu is a playground for Klenotic’s boldest ideas. Skate, a friendlier fish than its stingray relative, wears many hats on Bellflower’s rotating menu. A thin grilled fillet once glistened with the sheen of herbaceous brown butter and was topped with a bed of spring’s alliums of choice: sauteed ramps. On another occasion, skate was pan-fried, topped with plump mussels and escargot, and laid to rest on a bed of ajo blanco. Skate quenelles and pate a choux dumplings swam in a butter crawfish gravy. For more casual renditions, Klenotic has beer-battered the meaty fish wings for a whimsical take on fish-and-chips (though dubbed “Fish-and-Mash” alongside whipped sour-cream mashed potatoes) and fried them for crispy skate wing sandwiches on toasted milk bread with Old Bay Seasoning.
If you follow the menu closely, you’ll notice a pattern. Klenotic favors a muse for weeks, masters the ways in which it can sing on a plate, then progresses to the next — each more unexpected than the last. Since skate, there’s been monkfish two ways — crumbed monkfish rib served with creamed monkfish — pan-seared monkfish fillets, smoked monkfish dip, and tempura-fried monkfish. There’s been pork collar schnitzel and ham, pork cheek boudin balls, and pig head meatloaf. Roasted lamb belly, etouffee with lamb stock, lamb loin with collard curry, and cumin-crusted lamb steak with collard paneer have all shined as of-the-moment stars.
There are Cajun staples, such as po’boys from Bellflower’s in-house sandwich counter where baker Colin Hoard makes milk bread, sourdough, and rye from scratch. There’s also red beans and rice — and Crystal Hot Sauce is available upon request. Still, smoked rabbit with a sweet berry gravy and frog legs with oyster butter are where Klenotic thrives.
It might seem an unlikely place for a fine-dining restaurant with an adventurous spirit — at a landmark where a gentlemen’s club sits just next door (a bright red awning illustrated with the legs of a woman in fishnet stockings humorously touts Deja Vu as home to thousands of beautiful girls and three ugly ones) amid the buzz of city buses stopping at the Ypsilanti Transit Center across the street. But the co-owners say Bellflower is just what the neighborhood needed.
“There was a need for a trusted food resource in Ypsi,” Maynard says. Longtime Ypsilanti restaurateur and partner at Wurst Bar, Kranyak describes Ypsilanti’s culinary scene as eclectic with “lots of countries represented around town.” However, locals would generally need to venture to nearby Ann Arbor or Detroit for a fine-dining experience, taking revenue to other cities. In conversations with an Ann Arbor restaurant owner, Maynard says he learned that over 60 percent of the entrepreneur’s workforce came from Ypsilanti. “We didn’t have the infrastructure here for professional servers. We needed someone to establish a place for people to work.”
As one of Ypsilanti’s only fine-dining restaurants, Bellflower offers an elevated experience for diners as well as employment opportunities for locals in the food industry. And as a bonus, Klenotic, Maynard, and Kranyak work hard to support other small businesses in the community. Those decorative wooden touches are designed by Chris Behm of The End Grain Woodworking Co., a Livonia-based shop with a mission to reclaim old-growth lumber. The ramps, collards, and various local produce featured in Klenotic’s dishes are sourced from local farms, namely Argus Farm Stop, a year-round daily farmers market in Ann Arbor that provides 75 percent of purchase prices to participating growers for their goods. “I really believe in the mission of Argus,” Klenotic says. “By supporting Argus, we’re directly supporting the Michigan farm belt.” Klenotic says 80 percent of ingredients are sourced from Argus and other local farms during the growing season. The rabbit is sourced from Hoppin’ Good Farms, small family farms in southeast Michigan and northern Ohio.
In return, the community has gotten behind Klenotic’s imaginative menu. When booking a reservation, they’re prepared for surprise menu items dreamt up by the chef at work. “Everything comes back to the idea that we’re in a very special place by being in Ypsi,” Klenotic says. “Diners are looking for sincerity and food that resonates with them. They only require us to test the boundaries.”
In May, on social media, where the partners regularly keep followers abreast of what’s on the nightly menu, a photo of tender, sliced, pan-seared beef heart served with a side of roasted sweet potato steaks and aji amarillo appeared. All one diner could say was, “can’t make it in tonight …will this happen again?!”
This story is featured in the September 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.