There's always been something homey about Rubbed in Corktown. It could be the dry goods that line the counter, kind of like a general store. Maybe it's the kitschy sloth print climbing the Empire State Building. Or maybe it's the wallpaper in the restroom, which features old-time recipes that look like they were cut out from back issues of Better Housekeeping. Since opening in 2014, the sandwich and charcuterie shop quickly has been welcomed by Corktown residents happy to have a new neighborhood spot.
It's in that vein that Rubbed's chef and co-owner Jason Frenkel started experimenting with special after-dark dinner menus, with the feel of clandestine supper clubs. Fans of the daytime deli were introduced to Frenkel's impromptu, upscale fare, without all the pretension often associated with a secret pop-up dinner.
The after-dark series gained popularity, and before long, Frenkel determined it was time to go all in and rolled out regular dinner service at the beginning of the new year. Being a small operation, Frenkel and co-owner Abbie Markell wanted to get the expanded concept just right, and so far only offer evening service three nights a week. The addition has caught on. Reservations are highly suggested, especially on Saturdays, for the 30-odd seats in the dining room, which are often packed with loyal followers. The constantly changing menu is consistent in turning out big hits. Rubbed has managed to make the transition to a more robust dining service in a neighborhood that's rapidly becoming saturated with trendy food and drink establishments.
Starting with some of the sharable appetizers, you're reminded of the eatery's deli roots. Several of the offerings feature Rubbed's house-made cured meats, as well as salads that could just as easily go with the lunch menu. We tried a creamy tomato salad, with generously chopped, juicy tomatoes mixed in with a tart yogurt, dill, parsley, and black pepper. This certainly isn't a small plate, and neither are the other offerings. At Rubbed, servers remind guests to think of how your mom might prepare food: It comes big in both flavor and in serving sizes.
To get a well-rounded sense of the charcuterie, we ordered the chef's board, made up of salami, prosciutto, and pepperoni that are all rich in smokiness and spice. The meats are paired with a menagerie of sweet, salty, and spicy treats. Fresh tasting cantaloupe pairs with the prosciutto, while an earthy, six-month-old Manchego and an aromatic Fontina cut the saltiness of the meats. A spicy mustard or pickled veggies are there for an extra kick. There's a large spoonful of slightly sweet bruschetta and plenty of crusty breads and thin, crispy breadsticks to scoop it all up with.
On to main courses: The entrees rotate regularly, and once an item has run out for the night, you'll have to wait until next week to try it again. This was the case with the three-bone lamb rack during one of our visits, which we would have loved to try. Despite the limited availability, we weren't left disappointed.
Pasta made several appearances during our visits. The lamb ragu, made with corkscrew pasta, ground lamb, and red sauce, was creamy, yet light, and came served in a large bowl and covered in a dusting of Parmesan. The pulled chicken Marsala was light in consistency. The Marsala gravy did not give off a heavy aftertaste, and the flat linguine noodles worked well with the tender, shredded chicken.
We also ordered an 8-ounce, dry-aged Wagyu New York strip, cooked medium rare, sous-vide style (sealed in an airtight bag, placed in warm water, and once it's thoroughly cooked on the inside, seared). The steak was melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside, nice and charred on the outside (it's torched at 360 degrees), and placed on a root puree, olive oil, and herbs.
Our favorite was a Zuppa Di Mare (seafood soup). Served in the same big bowl as the pastas, the broth was rich and tomato-y, with a slight tang. The seafood was bountiful, with plenty of crab legs to pry open, jumbo shrimp to peel, and large scallops to cut into. It came with a big hunk of rustic Italian bread used to sop up the broth. We didn't care if we got our hands messy in the process of procuring crab or shrimp meat. We were overcome by the comforting goodness of the hearty stew by the end of the meal.
For dessert, we were tempted by the cannoli, brought in fresh from an outside bakery. Rubbed lacks a liquor license, but serves cucumber-infused water, as well as craft soda pop. If wine is what you're after, Rubbed is conveniently located down the block from MotorCity Wine. As for service, the wait staff was friendly and eager to please, though at times they did not seem to know the menu (probably because it changes often). Give it time, and we think the menu will solidify with a few standbys.
The shift in the menu has accomplished a few things. It's introduced Rubbed to an audience that might not otherwise stop in during the day for a sandwich. It's also forced Frenkel to focus both lunch and dinner menus. Some of the sandwiches are no longer available, for instance. But the daytime prices have also gone down some, thus making lunch more affordable and helping the back of the house supply the nighttime offerings. We applaud Rubbed for its slow and steady approach to mastering its cuisine — both day and night.
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