Restaurant Report: Coeur

In Ferndale, a new destination for fine dining comes with a stellar culinary pedigree but none of the pretense.
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Ferndale’s Coeur serves a Californian spin on New American cuisine with French technique. // Photograph by Rebecca Simonov

Roy Choi. Cat Cora. Kwame Onwuachi. Some of the most famous chefs in the country have studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. It is considered the most prestigious culinary school in the country, and its graduates leave with one of the best classical French culinary foundations available. So, when I discovered we have two CIA-trained chefs working nearby — along with a graduate of one of Michigan’s top culinary schools — it got my attention.

At Coeur in Ferndale, CIA-trained chef-owner Jordan Smith brings metro Detroiters a Californian, New American menu deeply rooted in classical French technique. If you think a top-notch restaurant needs to be stuffy, think again. Instead of the starched white linens, $300 per person price tag, and intensely pressurized kitchen conditions, Coeur’s vibe is relaxed and approachable.

The architect, Driven Design out of Battle Creek, created a minimalist space and décor with a bright, warm, and inviting ambiance. The 3,534-square-foot interior is enhanced with polished concrete floors and natural materials, like wood and leather. It has seating for 66 indoors, with another 14 seats at the bar; there’s additional room for 54 on the 1,559-square-foot outdoor patio.

Choosing Ferndale was serendipitous for Smith, who was born in Canada but spent his middle and high school years in metro Detroit. He began to hear about Detroit’s up-and-coming food scene, and once a few respected colleagues relocated here, he decided to check it out.

“I was at the point of being interested in opening my own place but wasn’t really sure where,” says Smith, who has spent the bulk of his career in notable fine-dining establishments around the country, such as James Beard Award winners Quince and Mina Group (the former is also a Michelin-starred restaurant) in San Francisco; Dinex Group restaurants in New York; and several outlets at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North in Arizona. “I came back here to have dinner and get the lay of the land and thought, ‘This place is legit.’”

The 3,534-square-foot restaurant is designed with natural materials, like leather and wood. // Photograph by Rebecca Simonov

After touring multiple locations across metro Detroit, his real estate agent took him through Ferndale on a whim. Surprised by the foot traffic and bohemian vibes, Smith realized the area had potential. He took over the space, formerly known as Assaggi Bistro, in August 2022. After a six-month renovation that began the following January, he opened Coeur — meaning “heart” in French — which he named for its central location in America’s heartland.

Alongside Smith are Beverage Director Sean Crenny, a CIA grad and trained sommelier, and pastry chef Carla Spicuzzi. A West Bloomfield native, Spicuzzi is a graduate of Schoolcraft College’s baking and pastry program in Livonia.

Crenny and Spicuzzi, who celebrated their wedding in April, previously worked together at Thomas Keller Restaurant Group’s Per Se in New York. Once the pandemic hit, the two embraced Spicuzzi’s familiar hometown, ultimately landing at Coeur with Smith. Coeur gives all three the opportunity to work in less-intense settings while still holding themselves to the same high standards. They are a powerful trifecta, with expertise covering the three prominent culinary domains. It’s too bad Michelin doesn’t rate Michigan yet, because this crew would get noticed.

“We came because that work is really hard to do and we needed a more relaxed environment,” Spicuzzi says. “Here, we can do our best for our guests, the restaurant, and the area without making ourselves crazy.”

Smith says the menu is a group collaboration. They bounce concepts off one another daily, pulling from their individual expertise; nothing gets past the kitchen without everyone’s approval. Some dishes are inspired by Crenny, who may have an exciting new wine to feature, and some are birthed from the organic overlap that exists between French cuisine and French pastry.

“I like to put my two cents in on the savory menu because every once in a while, you end up with a cool collaboration,” Spicuzzi says. “You don’t always get that without a strong pastry person that you can play ideas off of.”

The gougère with whipped bûcheron cheese is served with pistachio praline, roasted baby beets, and honey citrus vinaigrette. // Photograph by Rebecca Simonov

An interesting savory and pastry merger is the rye and bûcheron gougère, a savory version of an éclair featured on the tasting menu ($89 per person with optional wine pairing). Smith explains that while he was working out the dish in the kitchen, Spicuzzi suggested he wrap it all up in a parcel. Smith ran with it, using the dough to encase the warm, tangy French-style goat cheese from the Loire Valley, and served it with roasted beets and a sherry vinaigrette.

“We push each other to be better in every category,” Crenny says. “Nothing ever gets better unless you’re always trying to improve on it.”

Other small plates include the potato and Comté croquettes ($12), the beloved fried finger food with French origins, bound together with mashed potatoes, flour, and cheese alongside a charred-leek crème fraîche dipping sauce. There’s a delicata squash tempura ($14) featuring creamy, sweet rings encased in a delicate crisped coating, served with a zesty sumac- and za’atar-seasoned fromage blanc, fresh herbs, and a chile garlic crunch. The grilled hamachi collar ($22) is a tender, flavorful yellowtail preparation glossed with a finger-licking, sticky sweet kumquat glaze.

Larger plates feature the French classic chicken roulade ($36), a rolled deboned chicken dish filled with mousseline and mirepoix and served with braised green cabbage and cipollini onions on a bed of fines herbes sauce. There’s also the short ribs ($39), offered as a deconstructed version of the classic red wine-forward boeuf bourguignon, served with trumpet mushrooms, carrots, and potatoes.

As for dessert ($14), Spicuzzi pulls on our nostalgic childhood heartstrings with familiar gems that taste better than you remember. On the tasting menu, she features a play on her grandmother’s apple pie by replacing the pie crust with house-made mille-feuille — layers of rich puff pastry — filled with vanilla mousse pastry cream and cinnamon apples. The banana madeleines, French butter cakes, are a Fluffernutter sandwich knockoff, served with a toasted marshmallow fluff and chocolate peanut butter ganache. She replaces the glass of milk traditionally paired with a plate of cookies with a malted vanilla mousse for dipping.

The house-made mille feuille has cinnamon apple, caramel, vanilla mousse and puff pastry. // Photograph by Rebecca Simonov

Weekend brunch has a variety of sweet and savory options. There’s the eggs Benedict ($19) with peameal bacon, poached egg, and hollandaise on an English muffin. The challah French toast ($16) is served with a seasonal jam and smoked maple syrup. For something heartier, Coeur offers a brisket hash ($24) that features smoked Wagyu brisket, poached egg, potatoes, onions, and peppers with a red wine jus.

The team is starting to see diners coming in regularly for the tasting menu, which they change often. (Spicuzzi is mulling a five-course dessert tasting for the late-night menu, with plans to put more courses on the dinner tasting menu.) They’re happy to see it grow in popularity, with a third of the guests participating on any given night. “That’s a pretty high rate considering it’s a true trust fall and we really don’t disclose what those dishes are,” Crenny says. “We’re lucky to have so many people trust us as a new restaurant and allow us to guide that experience for them.”

For the wine program, Crenny focuses on the quality wines of the world, which is reflected in his regularly refreshing the wine-by-the-glass program. He wants to make these classics more approachable so that Coeur becomes a destination for people who want to sip something special. Crenny hosts regular wine tasting events and offers membership to a monthly carryout wine club that includes three bottles explored by region.

“I hope to make these varietals less intimidating and give Detroiters a chance to learn about the classics,” Crenny says. “I pick the best representations for the kind of wines they are that I know will work well with the foods being featured.”

The chicken roulade is made with fresh herbs and served with braised green cabbage. // Photograph by Rebecca Simonov

There’s no ceiling to Coeur’s potential. With this team’s background and training, there will always be something new on the menu. Though relatively new, Coeur has already garnered positive reviews, was named the Detroit Free Press’s top best new restaurant, and received 11 category nominations for Hour Detroit’s Best of Detroit awards.

“At the end of the day, we are a bunch of food and beverage nerds, and we just want to share the cool things we come up with,” Smith says. “I want the locals in Ferndale to embrace a place that they don’t ever need to feel intimidated to come to, even if it’s for a fancy occasion.”

At a Glance

  • Price: $$$$
  • Vibes: Modern, hip, and relaxed
  • Service: Knowledgeable, helpful, attentive
  • Sound level: Moderate
  • Dress code: Casual and relaxed
  • Open: Dinner Wednesday-Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Reservations: Highly recommended. Call 248-466-3010 or reserve online at coeurferndale.com.
  • Parking: There’s street parking in front of the restaurant and a paid parking lot in the back.

Coeur is located at 330 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale. Call 248-466-3010 or visit coeurferndale.com for more information.


This story originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. To read more, pick up a copy of Hour Detroit at a local retail outlet. Our digital edition will be available on May 6.