At first blush, the renovated Victorian space C. King & Co. Cafe occupies reminds me of the restaurant scene in which Michael Corleone offed Sollozzo and his henchman in The Godfather. From the faux-tin ceiling and glowing glass wall sconces to staff decked out in leathery aprons and newsboy caps, the look is just so. Keep an eye on any guy getting up to use the facilities, I tell myself. And take a seat against the wall.
As chef Richard Muszynski and I get down to business, the Mafia fantasy fades. He starts letting me in on the real goings-on here. Sure, the place is dripping in noir and history, for starters. English entrepreneur George King first opened this spot as a mercantile store in 1838, just 15 years after Ypsilanti’s founding. Any dueling done here during those days might well have been done with sabers. Now, the most formidable blade on the block may be Muszynski, who’s carved out a remarkably accomplished culinary career.
“At 20, I was making 1,000 canapes a day at the St. Francis [hotel] in San Francisco,” Muszynski recounts, citing priceless apprenticeship experience, as well as French formal culinary school graduation in New York City and a hospitality management degree from Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania.
From there, it was on to big-time gigs at Def Jam Recordings as a corporate chef and catering privately to cognoscenti — both noteworthy and notorious — whose names we’ve all heard bandied about over years of network news cycles.
From food-eccentric super-celebrities to the highest-profile politicos and their purported cronies, Muszynski’s cozied up to them in their kitchens and traveled the world as they made moves that made history. Regaling me with such stories (some highly redacted, I suspect), Muszynski also mentions that he had his own chocolate factories in Hawaii and New York. Who knows — maybe this guy once worked for Willy Wonka.
Considering his almost otherworldly resume, I couldn’t help but ask Muszynski why he chose what is essentially a pizza-and-salad menu model for C. King’s. With a wry, indulgent nod, he offers a great answer.
“Once I decided to open a restaurant here, I walked the neighborhood and asked people what they were hungry for,” he says matter-of-factly. “Most mentioned some really good pizza and go-withs, so that’s what I went with.” The words to the wise in that statement simply cannot be overstated for those contemplating a restaurateur’s career or a place to set up shop in the business. Want to find a crowd to feed? Set your eyes and ears to the ground consumers tread. This is old-fashioned food-business savvy, good as ever.
Applying all he’s learned to C. King’s now, Muszynski joins the crew prepping for service,
once we finish up. Soon, three samples of their wares come to me as the first customers file in.
I’m floored by the charcuterie board. This cornucopia’s centerpiece is venerated prosciutto di Parma, generously hand-carved to be more substantial than the typical paper-thin presentation. Next, I’m grabbed by utterly addictive apricot marmalade smeared on crusty, house-baked bread. For the next few minutes, I go giddy over bites of silky, smoke-kissed cheddar; firm but fresh mozzarella; and assorted accoutrements that include blue ribbon-sized strawberries and grapes, piquant pepperoncini, and olives.
After an equally impressive asparagus salad — sparely yet perfectly blanched and bursting with snap, subtle vinegar and balsamic syrup — a mushroom pizza arrives, pretty as a picture. From the bottom up, the architecture is admirable. The platform dough — rested and proofed through a three-day process prior to firing — is pillowy, beautifully blistered, and perfectly cooked. Creamed ricotta overlays it, followed by a studding of featured fungi, unctuous charred and chopped bacon, and fresh garlic, all lily-gilded with a judicious dew of truffle oil. You think pizza is pizza? Try this pie.
With C. King & Co. Cafe, Muszynski has opened the doors to a restaurant sure to remind us of something. The good ole days, perhaps. But more likely, what we’re really looking for in a new place to go: a good reason to go back.
C. King & Co Cafe is located at 101 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti. Call 734-510-9871 or visit ckingcafe.com for more information.
This story is part of the March 2023 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more in our Digital Edition.