A Taste for the New

Even in metro Detroit’s rapidly expanding culinary scene, there’s an insatiable appetite for experimenting with different options

There’s no shortage of new eateries in Detroit, right? But tickets to “taste-drive” a soon-to-open spot sold out in hours. A second night got added. Ditto. Then a third. All this to drop $50-plus per person — and BYO cocktails? Bring it on!

Revolver in Hamtramck is sort of an oxymoron: a permanent pop-up. The location is fixed; the chefs rotate. Tickets for a “5-Course Chartreuse Preview with Chef Doug Hewitt” sold like hot cakes. All by word-of-mouth — and help from Facebook.

Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails is the recent “most highly anticipated opening” poster child. But even owner Sandy Levine was surprised how fast tickets went. “There are an insane amount of good, quality places opening,” he says, adding that some of the buzz comes from the culinary community. “People are rooting for each other. Every time a new place has a pre-opening, it’s [attended by] other restaurant people.”

Pop-ups are (sorry) popping up — and selling out — all over, from the Michigan Building’s parking lot to a North Rosedale Park coffee shop.

Always Brewing Detroit recently hosted sold-out events by The Dinner Club — a venture run by chef Matthew Baldridge, artist Janna Coumoundouros, and gallery owner/musician Derek John.

“It’s kind of cool,” says owner Amanda Brewington. Chefs get to “test the neighborhood,” and perhaps even consider opening a restaurant there.

Always Brewing Detroit itself started as pop-up, and Brewington says creating a following and having some hard data helped when applying for loans.

If that’s the case, Baldridge won’t have any trouble getting backers. He started experimenting with pop-ups while he was a chef at Cliff Bell’s. “It kind of started as a way to be more creative — a way to play with recipes and make some money on the side,” he says.

The Dinner Club took off — many sold out in mere hours. In short order, he was able to leave Cliff Bell’s.

It’s also gratifying to be part of a thriving scene. “Everyone supports each other,” he says. “Competition is good, but doesn’t have to be ‘I’m out to get you.’ ”

Then there’s the challenge of a non-restaurant setting. Baldridge cooked four-course dinners “on a portable burner … with a blowtorch” in Columbus, Ohio.

Still, Baldridge’s ultimate goal is to open a brick-and-mortar place; he’s itchin’ to get back in the kitchen.

“It’s a shock to the system [going from] 70 hours a week to only working a few days,” he says, adding that he got so stir crazy last summer, he found himself cutting the lawn “a few times a week.”

Levine also has stir-crazy syndrome while workers put finishing touches on Chartreuse. “Sure we want to promote the new place and build clientele before opening,” he says of the preview at Revolver. “But it’s also wanting to do what you love doing. I’m not a contractor … I cannot wait to be in a restaurant.”