There was a time Northville was a culinary hot spot, with three restaurants that seemed to always be in the limelight, holding top spots in surveys, guides, and in the lexicon of the various newspaper and magazine reviewers.
That was a decade ago. Then, one at a time, they closed. And since then, there hasn’t been much of a peep about Northville.
But there is something to recommend. Table 5, while not exactly new, has exceptionally good food, a short but excellent wine list, impeccable service, and an atmosphere that combines small village charm — due to its 100-plus-year-old storefront skin — with a great deal of casual sophistication.
Table 5 replaced one of those three important long-timers in 2008, and began a journey — with various twists and turns, chefs who came and went — and a slow climb to stability.
Today it’s a place deserving recognition in the ranks of the better modern casual American cuisine restaurants in metro Detroit.
The three original driving forces in Northville included Emily’s, super-chef Rick Halberg’s first restaurant. He’s now the chef-owner of Local Kitchen & Bar in Ferndale. The second was Little Italy, a charming, nicely done intimate family-owned dining spot that served distinctive Northern Italian dishes. The third was MacKinnon’s, which for years held the original high ground in Northville dining.
In the 1980s, chef-owner Tom MacKinnon did a lot of creative and experimental dishes, including bouillabaisse and duck cooked using a then-new technique of using air under the skin to get juicier meat with crispier skin.
The three restaurants became a magnet, drawing people from all over.
But eventually Emily’s closed. It was a few years before Halberg was back at it in Ferndale. Little Italy changed hands and lasted until 2009. And MacKinnon’s closed in 2008, to reopen after a total makeover with a new look as Table 5.
Six years later, it’s heartening to see high-quality dining again in Northville’s appealing downtown. But eventually Emily’s closed. It was a few years before Halberg was back at it in Ferndale. Little Italy changed hands and lasted until 2009. And MacKinnon’s closed in 2008, to reopen after a total makeover with a new look as Table 5.
“I’m from Northville and we have tight community,” says owner Mishelle Lussier. “And I wanted a place that’s not too fancy, where everyone could come and have different experiences — whether that’s just in the bar or for a special occasion.”
Lussier says the loss of the three restaurants was a big blow to the town, one she set out to correct.
When the second owners of MacKinnon’s decided to sell in 2008, Lussier had already been looking for a place to launch her own restaurant. It was a good match. She bought it.
“We tore apart everything” working with a minuscule budget, Lussier says. “We were lucky to have family and friends who could help. They began opening up the walls. Neighbors came down to help. You name it, they did it.”
Windows were added, and on Sept. 11, 2008, just as the last recession hit, Table 5 opened.
Like many restaurants in small old villages, Table 5 is in an 1890s storefront — its charm and warmth derived from exposed old brick walls, a copper-topped bar, and an open airy feel in the dining area.
Table 5 has a fun, crammed bar that our server explained is always that way, filled with locals — mostly well-groomed men and women in business attire and trendy casual dress.
Chef Brandon Wolschleger is a graduate of the culinary arts program at Schoolcraft College and worked at a restaurant in Port Austin and with Chef Shawn Loving at the Loving Spoonful. He and Lussier decide the menu and wine list.
There is also an abbreviated bar menu for those wanting to eat light.
The dining room menu draws from all over the map and from different cultural backgrounds. In that way, it’s got a wide-ranging American touch. Lussier says she wanted to avoid typecasting the menu. “As far as food goes, we just wanted it to be fun and not [depend] on any ethnicity or a label. We wanted to be able to say ‘Look, we found a new ingredient and, hey, look what we can we do with this.’ ”
For example, in a first course called Yukon potato gnocchi there is the gnocchi (which is sautéed), chorizo sausage, scallions, and a chive sour cream. So here is an Italian potato pasta, a Mexican sausage, and a dressing normally used on an American baked potato, all drawing on a little of everywhere. I frankly think it is quite brilliant.
We’ve seen beet and goat cheese salads on many menus, but Table 5’s take on it is a sunflower seed pesto, watercress, and walnut oil — and those multicolored beets called Candy Stripe Beets, which Wolschleger has shaved into semi-translucent rounds and plated. It’s visually an exotic dish.
Another starter platter came with three different types of cheese, a fig jam, some thin rolled slices of serrano ham, olives, and crackers.
As far as main plates, the pot roast was remarkable, and in keeping with Lussier’s idea of a little bit from anywhere, it triggered from my sensory memory bank a braised pot roast I used to get at the old London Chop House in the Lester Gruber years: red wine-braised pot roast with sweetened baby carrots, topped with crispy fried onion shavings and drizzled with a horseradish cream. Oh, was that good!
Also recommended is the pan-roasted lake trout, which arrived at the table slightly butter-browned. It was such a large and wide piece, the recipient asked our server, Jessica, if there had been an error in the order.
She smiled and said that no, that was indeed the size of trout recently, and that she, too, had wondered the same thing when she first saw it. The trout, atop a bed of freshly made gnocchi with green beans on the side, was another winner.
We asked Jessica to decant a bottle of light young red wine, a Santenay from Burgundy, which was very tight and bound up. She brought a super decanter of a spiffy glass design, with a hole in the middle so that wine flows around the grip. A nice touch by Lussier, it shows that a lot of thought went into even the esoteric eccentricities of this place.
Overall, Table 5 is very solid, and a terrific discovery that I highly recommend.
126 E. Main St., Northville; 248-305-6555. D Mon-Sat. Closed Sun.
Cook is Hour Detroit’s chief restaurant critic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org