Saturday, 30 March 2013
Restaurant Review: Vinsetta Garage
Late night greetings, dear Reader! I know I have a ton of blogging still to catch up on, but I did want to make sure I got this one written sooner rather than later. Opened in 2011 along Woodward Ave in Berkley, MI, Vinsetta Garage (not to be confused by nearby Vinsetta Grill) proclaims a byline on its neon signage which reads "Custom Detroit Eats". I had been prompted this weekend to check out the restaurant after I learned that one of my childhood friends, John, was working there. And since I do love food and happen to be home for Easter weekend, this evening was as perfect a time as any to see what this local dive (apparently site of the oldest garage east of the Mississippi) was all about.
Given the relatively small size of the parking lot (though it seems one could park on the adjacent street), I don't think I was quite prepared for the number of tables Vinsetta Garage could actually hold. We had arrived just before 10pm and it was still quite packed, full of Metro Detroiters enjoying the clear weather Saturday night. Inside the relatively spacious holding area, a smooth collection of R&B set the stage for a rather contrasted atmosphere of a bustling though concurrently nuanced, classy, laid back bar scene meets accessible foodie fare. Before I continue, I should note that our waiter for the evening was Chris, friendly, attentive and knowledgeable about the menu, with a personality that matched the vibe that seemed to run throughout the space.
Prior to putting in our menu choices, I went with one of the Garage's signature cocktails: the Sucker Punch. You can check out the ingredients of this great mix in the above photo; of the many items that converged in this glass, I was able to distinctly taste the rum, sparkling white wine and citrus tones.
Up first to arrive to our table was my mom's "side" salad. Oof, if this was a side, one could only imagine how big a regular portion is. I didn't end up trying it, but it looked like it was composed very well. Sitting atop the mixed greens (dressed with an oven-roasted tomato vinaigrette) were feta, snap peas, red onion, fresh tomatoes and perhaps the best part of it all, fried chickpeas.
Soon enough, my mom's entrée arrived in the form of a tuna casserole of white Albacore, Pecorino cream, peas, mushrooms, campanelle, fresh herbs, a cheese blend and the great textural element of a potato chip top crust. The tuna wasn't as overpowering as I remember it to be and the warmth of the cheese added a level of that comfort food feel that reminds me of Detroit. Also at the table was my dad's order of the Yeti Dog, a pair of bacon-wrapped & deep fried hot dogs (did the "bacon-wrapped" catch your eye, too?), melted pepper jack, chopped tomato, shredded romaine and mayo.
Surely it's somewhat blasphemous that I didn't order anything with bacon, but it seems my family was into it tonight. My sister ended up choosing a burger (what.). Known simply as the "3 A.M.", the Angus patty sits on strips of Woodshop MI maple bacon and a Sriracha mayo, and is topped with Swiss, a fried egg and crispy fried onion strings. Just like the Yeti Dog, the burger and mostly anything else on the menu comes with wonderfully crisped, house potato chips. Back to that bacon, my research is directing me to conclude (anyone who reads this that knows better, please comment below!) that "Woodshop MI" refers to the Union Woodshop in Clarkston, MI, of which Vinsetta Garage's CIA-trained Executive Chef Aaron Cozadd is also Executive Chef. (For those not in the know, the CIA I'm referring to here is the Culinary Institute of America.)
As for my order, I went with John's favourite menu item: the Duck Burger. Using the above left photo as a guide, chilling out atop the pretzel bun (yum) in the foreground were caramelised onions (near automatic win in my book) and a bed of arugula (near automatic red flag of caution, so this is pretty much a neutral dish at this point). On the other slice sat a beautifully cooked duck patty (I went with medium rare) from Inidana-based Maple Leaf Farms and a slice of Gruyère (yum x2, plus two points just for them including the accent grave on the menu). As per Chris's recommendation, I got the cherry compote on the side. Quite tart on its own, Chris was right in that too much of the compote could easily overpower the dish; at the same time, the compote took away the bitter taste of arugula of which I've never been a huge fan (bonus points to that compote for doing so). Taken as a collective bite, this was an absolutely delicious burger (great recommendation, John!). (For the record, Chris's favourite item is the Lamb Burger... looks like I'll need to return in the near future.)
As much as all of the aforementioned food was outright awesome, I have to praise separately the sidecar (get it?) known as the Farro Hash. Sincerely, oh.my.yum. I could eat this breakfast in a bowl (my words, not theirs) any time of day, and arguably on a meal on its own (though with a menu like that which is found at Vinsetta Garage, that just wouldn't seem right). In the small casserole dish is perfectly cooked and tender farro (1, 2, 3), along with balsamic eggplant, roasted shiitake, smoked gouda, herbs and crispy cheese crust. If you're in the area, just stop reading now and head over to the Garage (they're open from 11am-2am seven days a week, though the kitchen closes at 11pm Monday to Saturday and at 9pm on Sunday) and order this. It's extremely affordable (as far as gourmet comfort food goes) and so very worth it. Okay, continue reading and then head over there. Also per Chris's recommendation, I took this one with a fried egg on top. With the perimeter of the egg crisped but the yolk still runny, that extra protein and cholesterol ties this dish together, adding something of a creamy sauce to a dish that could turn out dry (though it definitely wasn't).
[I seem to be ending many of my posts with the following phrase but I'll use it anyway:] As if I hadn't had enough food, Chris suggested that as a food blogger I needed to try the above for dessert. Wow. Legit, wow. Any restaurant that can pull off something as simple and exciting as this dish deserves special recognition. To be fair, it's not all that simple and I'm pretty sure the average home cook doesn't store any liquid nitrogen... but that doesn't take away the fact that in the above photo are two scoops of house-made liquid nitrogen churned Faygo Rock N' Rye, dusted with Pop Rocks. I've never had Rock N' Rye before, but in this iteration, the cherry flavour is toned down a tad by the rather creamy consistency of the ice cream. And of course Pop Rocks are going to be the great pairing to go with Rock N' Rye. If you are fortunate enough to try this combo, I want you to think about at what point the Pop Rocks actually start popping. Strange but satisfying, no?
As I prepare (already?!) to head back to Columbus in the afternoon, I find myself leaving Metro Detroit with a heightened sense of the area's growing food culture. On a related note, earlier in the day, we had gone to the much beloved Eastern Market, where I saw at least six food trucks. Seriously, since when have food trucks been a thing here? (For a historical p.o.v., check out this and this; at least they're catching up...) Concurrently, I'm thrilled to know that many of my friends in the area, including John, are adding to the collective food identity that's building in Metro Detroit, an identity which highlights a generation of chefs, cooks, diners, eaters, foodies and the like who are prepared to take on Americana gastronomy one plate at a time. (Speaking of plates, the above dish ordered to go--the Lelio--was cooked by John, who cooks the pasta dishes. After all the food I ate, I could only take a small bite. The macaroni was al dente and the coal-fired tomatoes with smoked cheddar were slightly sweet and savoury. But alas, the bacon of the bacon Pecorino cream brought me back to my typical eating habits.)
To check out, or rather study, the menu (which I recommend you do before heading over) click here. For more photos, including the ones throughout this post, click here.