When David Gilbert was working at the restaurant Astrance in Paris, he would use the traditional three-week closing during the month of August to apprentice at the pastry shops “to learn from the great bakers.” The ambitious young American chef found them willing to share their secrets.
One of the secrets is that making a proper croissant entails much more than following a base recipe. “You have to acclimate recipes to your space and equipment — and butter plays a huge part,” he says of the flaky pastries that he now makes at Marais in Grosse Pointe. “It’s an art form you can always refine.”
Gilbert’s croissants were so appealing to the Sunday brunch crowd at Marais that the other dishes seemed to pale by comparison. Brunchers could find eggs Benedict, omelets, and French toast at other spots, but not authentic croissants.
The demand became such that Gilbert decided, in effect, to forgo brunch and instead offer the popular pastries in a morning cafe setting. Sunday brunch was discontinued in July, but Gilbert will still offer it on major holidays, “because it is such a tradition with some families.”
Marais’ cafe is catching on. To meet demand, weekly production of the rolled-by-hand croissants is up to 500. And that’s not counting the four or five other varieties of freshly baked sweets, including coffee cakes, cupcakes, and doughnuts (“My guilty pleasure,” he says of the doughnuts filled with lemon curd or chocolate-hazelnut).
Pastries are set out on the bar to be teamed with a selection of coffee, espresso, and cappuccino, made with Intelligentsia coffee. A daily-changing quiche is available for those who want something more filling, and it is accompanied by a tangle of fresh greens. The menu was recently expanded to include an array of savory crepes as well.
You may say it’s the morning version of happy hour. The doors and windows are thrown open, giving Marais a friendly feeling. Monica Gilbert, wife of the chef/proprietor, and Megan Mathews, who switched from bartender duties to the early shift, handle the cafe.
While pastries such as coffee cakes and lavishly frosted cupcakes are displayed at the end of the bar, they are not self-served. Patrons order and are served on the same fine china used in the dining room, or nicely packaged for carry-out. The menu will evolve seasonally.
Marais’ elegant dinner is still on the schedule, of course, served Tuesday through Saturday.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so busy,” says the chef.
17051 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe; 313-343-8800. Café hours: 7 a.m.-noon Tues.-Sun