The Trattoria — a restaurant inside the Cantoro Market in Plymouth — not only serves great traditional Italian food, but it is also part of an interesting antidote to our messy metro Detroit sprawl.
Surely, the area is the antithesis of the New Urbanism concepts promoted by the late Jane Jacobs and her writings on the ills of urban America. But the folks who developed Cantoro Market seem to have embraced Dale Carnegie’s famous saying: “When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade.”
The lemon in this case is Haggerty Road north of Plymouth. This long stretch of pavement is peppered with housing developments, shopping centers, and commercial strips—and there is but one way to get around: drive. The lemonade is what Cantoro Market has done to counter that sprawl—a solution that might even make Jacobs break a smile.
The usual metro Detroit commercial mall setup would be to provide a freestanding supermarket in one area with lots of parking outside, and then place a restaurant somewhere else in the strip, surrounded by its own parking.
Instead, Cantoro Market and its restaurant are far more compact and together. They mimic many aspects of Eataly, the Italian market shopping concept that has been such a huge success in New York and Chicago where individual purveyors are all gathered under one roof.
“The idea was to have a place that specialized in Italian products,” says Alex Bazzy, general manager and sommelier of the restaurant. “Something like the great Mercato in Florence, where people shop every day. So we wanted to get away from the shopping by the week.”
Both Eataly and Cantoro key off the efficient and dense shopping for food found in Italian villages thousands of miles away.
The market side of Cantoro Market has a certain resemblance to those villages. They take a vast space and give it a feel of tightness and closeness. Individual counters look and behave like little “shops” at which to buy meat, fish, and fresh produce.
In the Italian village’s daily routine, you either walk into town or park your car in a public lot near the center. You take a shopping basket and little pull cart from your car trunk.
The walk into the village is usually not far, maybe a quarter mile at most. On the way, you would likely pass the bakery and stop in for bread. Then, it’s a “Buongiorno” to the butcher, where you buy your meat. Next, a check to see what the fishmonger next door has, maybe for tomorrow’s lunch. And, yes, we do need cheese and milk from the dairy guy across the street. The vegetable and fruit lady around the corner always gets the best greens, and the asparagus is just now in season. And, last, the heavy stop of the day, which is why you brought the pull cart: the wine shop for a few bottles of red.
When all is done, maybe you stop for coffee at the little place that has sidewalk tables. Or lunch at the trattoria across the way.
Cantoro Market is mimicking that routine by eliminating the traditional deep, front-to-back supermarket aisles, and scattering the different types of food—bakery, meat, fish, produce, wine—into pods, so you meander through the store instead.
It feels like walking through an adventure—and very much more like a supermarket in Milan—with just about any Italian food product imaginable, many represented by multiple brand names.
When I told an Italian friend who is a Florence-area native that I had been to Cantoro, she responded with a huge smile, adding that she shops there because it has more of the name-brand items she buys in Italy than any store in the Detroit area.
Cantoro’s proprietors are the Fallone family: father Mario and his sons, Michael and John. They began with the idea of a coffee shop, and then changed it to a full-service restaurant by the time the complex opened two years ago.
The marriage of restaurant and grocery store has been tried before successfully. Birmingham has Bistro Joe’s on Woodward Avenue, the restaurant that looks down from a mezzanine onto Papa Joe’s Market. And in Novi, the Toasted Oak Grill and Market inside the Baronette Renaissance Hotel offers table service, with an American grill menu, and prepared deli foods for takeout from its full kitchen.
Cantoro seats 80 in the stylish and modern dining room with high ceilings and lots of natural light. It opens onto a patio for al fresco dining in the summer months, almost doubling its capacity.
At first, I wondered from where the talent had come to put together this kind of well-run and extremely true Italian operation. It was no surprise once I learned that the chef is Anthony Calabrese. He and Bazzy, the general manager, both worked for Luciano Del Signore in the early days of Bacco, one of the top restaurants in metro Detroit.
Calabrese’s menu is exceptional in its freshness, and tackles traditional old standbys along with several new surprises. For example, he offers a unique house-cured salmon with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon, dill, red onions, and capers. The curing is done with grappa. In the salads, he includes a zippy finocchio e arancia with fresh orange slices, thinly sliced fennel, balsamic glaze, and micro arugula. Another is the insalata estiva, which is made with watermelon, roasted beets, goat cheese, red onions, mint, arugula pesto, and toasted cashews.
On our do-not-miss hit list was tagliatelle alla Bolognese—the wide flat pasta with a traditional meat sauce made of equal parts ground veal, beef, sausage, and pancetta.
The menu also includes a linguine alle vongole, traditional linguine pasta and clams cooked in white wine and garlic, and linguine with fresh and dried porcini mushrooms, onion, garlic, white wine, and chicken broth.
The costoletta di vitello—a grilled veal rib chop with mixed mushroom and veal reduction, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, and grilled asparagus—was astoundingly good.
I suspect that some people will feel it odd to have such a fancy restaurant butting up to a supermarket. My cure for that is this: Before you go to eat, wander the store for 10 minutes and get a feel for what it’s all about. That should get the appetite moving.
Then go eat.
There is something special about this place, and about the way that Bazzy and Calabrese have managed the terrific vision that the Fallone family has brought to the Plymouth area.
You’ll walk away smiling. And well fed.
15550 N. Haggerty Rd., Plymouth; 734 667-1199. L&D Mon.-Sat. L Sun.