It is not often that a restaurant and social change belong in the same sentence, but the link between Selden Standard and the redevelopment of downtown Detroit is unavoidably clear.
On the Woodward Corridor between Wayne State University and downtown’s Grand Circus Park sits a little strip — a six- or seven-block area where curbs are still crumbling, streets are badly patched, and overgrown grassy lots sit on spots that once boasted grand buildings.
Call it urban pioneering or simply a new idea in search of a reasonably priced location, Selden Standard has plunked itself right there, driving its shovel into the churning rebirth of Midtown Detroit and adding a spanking new modern restaurant with high ceilings, a confident and knowledgeable waitstaff, a talented chef, and heavenly food.
“I just felt, wow, there was an opportunity to bring something different here,” says Selden Standard’s executive chef and co-owner Andy Hollyday. The goal was “to create a good neighborhood restaurant with simple but exceptional food.
“We do seasonal hand-crafted foods, American farm-to-table scratch cooking,” Hollyday says. “I cook with a lot of other influences. I’m heavily rooted in Mediterranean, French, Italian, and Spanish. But most of all, I want it always to be honest.”
Hollyday, a Toledo native and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., previously worked at the Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn and Tribute in Farmington Hills, both now closed. And most recently, he spent five years at Michael Symon’s Roast in the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, where he was executive chef. He left in July 2013 to create Selden Standard with partner Evan Hansen.
Across three visits in recent months, Selden Standard was absolutely jammed with lots of well-to-do locals, suburbanites and several ex-suburbanites who, we discovered, recently bought condos in the Woodward Corridor, which they now call home.
At one point on a weekday night, the restaurant got so crowded that the hostess informed an arriving party of four that the wait for a table would be more than an hour.
One man responded: “An hour?” Adding an incredulously bit of insult: “In Detroit?”
“Yes, sir, an hour,” said the hostess, refraining from adding her own “In Detroit.”
Things are indeed changing in Detroit, perhaps summed up by late great Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” anthem to being down and out:
“It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.”
And, yes, it has.
Then there is the food. To use the popular British-ism, Selden Standard is simply “brilliant.”
During several visits, I managed to eat my way through most everything on the menu; there wasn’t a single dish off target or odd in any way. It was all, indeed brilliant, beautifully flawlessly executed in the style of American Modernist cuisine.
In quality, Selden Standard takes its place among the best new restaurants in metro Detroit. It is part of a new breed, in which superiority is in the complexity of what their chefs are achieving without regard to the formality or fashion in old-world dining, or about the order or number or the size of courses. They favor uncomplicated, simple surroundings.
Their objective is to snare the diner with a deep concentration of flavors and textures. They want to surprise, not overfeed you with any one dish. They flatter you with one example of their skill after another. They take time to explain how they do it.
Selden Standard is in a remodeled building, sleek and modern with a somewhat cavernous interior and an open kitchen from which Hollyday is turning out adventures in eating with a style all his own.
From the simple grilled scallions in romesco sauce to the creamy rich and yet delicate braised savory rib beef ragu on celery root-stuffed agnolotti pasta to the translucent, tissue-thin shaved rounds in the roasted beet salad with house-made ricotta with walnuts and pomegranate seeds, it is all utterly inventive, clever, pleasing, and marvelous.
The menu at Selden Standard is straightforward and designed around the grazing concept of ordering multiples of small plates, rather than the standard appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Though you can certainly do either with the 10 appetizers and 14 smaller main courses.
“As best as I can here in Michigan, I keep what I do in time with the seasons and what they offer. I buy almost everything from Michigan farmers and growers,” Hollyday says. Much of it comes from urban farms in Detroit, some of which are acknowledged on the menu.
The first column of the menu, labeled “Vegetables and Such,” include such novelties as roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, Stilton cheese, and walnuts as well as a kale Caesar salad topped with crisped chicken skin, lemon, and sourdough croutons. For the vegetarian, or the carnivore in repose, there’s a plate of shaved vegetables, a carpaccio essentially, with lemon, capers, and Parmesan. Another stunning dish was the roasted cauliflower with tahini, lemon, cilantro, and pickled peppers.
The menu becomes more imaginative with the plate of duck sausage served with a salad of Brussels sprouts, pear, and fried shallots, dressed in a fish sauce vinaigrette. Another is the lamb meatballs cooked with roasted tomatoes and topped with yogurt and mint.
The restaurant itself is a sight to behold, a phoenix rising from an abandoned space that housed the old Selden Standard Dry Cleaning Company, right in the heart of Detroit’s Cass Corridor, which was among the city’s roughest areas in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Detroit was really shady back then,” Hollyday says. “But after a while, I remember seeing change on a daily basis. It went from junkies shooting up openly [and] people sleeping in the streets. And in five years it was really different.
“Eventually, I really felt part of the change. I wanted to be part of it, rebuilding it block by block,” says Hollyday, who lives near the restaurant.
Today, the old Cass Corridor is calmer — its gritty commerce faded and new life knocking at its door as Wayne State University expands its need for student housing and a slew of associated small businesses follow suit with coffee shops, book and office supply shops, copy and print places, and other service businesses.
Wayne State’s needs are pushing its zone of influence southward down Cass and Woodward and toward Selden Standard, just as another behemoth of change is slowly stepping north.
Down in Grand Circus Park, the well-established sports/entertainment businesses of Comerica Park, Ford Field, the Fox, the Detroit Opera House, the Music Hall, the Detroit Symphony, and the Gem have influenced change that pushes northward along Woodward toward Selden, too.
Add to the mix the 2013 opening of the city’s first Whole Foods by the Wayne State campus, and the new M-1 light rail now well underway, working its way up toward Selden, and eventually all the way to New Center, and Selden Standard is very well located for the change that’s gonna come.
Actually, it’s already here.
3921 Second Ave., Detroit; 313-438-5055. L Mon.-Fri., D daily. Br. Sat-Sun.
Cook is Hour Detroit’s chief restaurant critic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org