Gentrifying Brush Park has a stunning new eatery to match its recent condo developments, proving that if you build it, they (the restaurants) will come.
The décor of Bar Pigalle, on the ground floor of the Carlton Lofts, is simple, with uncovered tables and uncomplicated furnishings. It’s the food that lifts it way out of the ordinary, with emphasis on meat. Vegetarians will find scant purchase.
The place is named after the Paris neighborhood that’s home to the Moulin Rouge and Josephine Baker's night club. Its website refers to “French influences” and Brush Park’s history of being called “Little Paris.” (Hell, we used to say Detroit was “the Paris of Southeast Lower Michigan.” It was meant as a joke.) Our waiter said “New American with French influences,” which seems right, though, of course, New American is a very broad category. Charcuterie, brioche, potatoes lyonnaise, vichyssoise, absinthe, frog legs — all French, and the fries are called “frites.” But there are burgers too, and bison, and you can get your steak with a Coney sauce.
Owner Travis Fourmont, formerly of the now-shuttered Roast, says he calls the menu “playful French.” The menu was developed by chef Nyle Flynn, who previously served as sous chef at Roast, as well as Selden Standard and the Apparatus Room in Detroit.
“My thought was we’re Detroit, ‘day-twah,’” Fourmont says. “We can do our own French, we don’t have to conform.” He also noted that almost every French restaurant he’d checked out over the last few years, whether brasserie or fine dining, had closed. Barring a tanked economy, that seems unlikely for Bar Pigalle.
The very best dishes we ate there were lamb and Denver steak. The lamb is two umami-laden chops with a crisp exterior plus a tender loin wrapped in Savoy cabbage, with a bit of soubise (a creamy sauce made with sweet piquillo peppers rather than onions) and topped with ratatouille. “Magnifique!” said my companion, who took French in high school.
The Denver was the “daily butcher's cut” for a dish called Coney Style Steak Frites, an idea I am still trying to get my head around. With your smothered frites you could get 24 oz. of ribeye for $105, or the Denver for the market price of $33. (Denver is a marketing term for a muscle that is a little-used, and thus tender, part of the chuck, or shoulder.) It was luscious to the nines, and I would order it again, but about the frites covered in ground beef, the less said the better. Were they a nod to poutine? Sure, we like our local references, but I wish I could have tasted the potatoes without the unfortunate topping.
Almost as good was the very American-named Corn on the Cod, a buttery piece of fish atop a thin, smoky chowder with crisp corn and garlic scapes.
Lyonnaise potatoes, a starter or side, were crunchy and lovely, making up for the hapless frites, with a lot of garlic aioli, always a winner. I liked my rabbit mortadella wrapped in a crisp-edged, buttery brioche, served with a side of perfectly dressed greens. I found a recipe online for that mortadella which involved nutmeg, coriander seeds, pistachios, and pork back fat — what’s not to like?
A dish of pink bison tartare could have passed for not-raw and was served with warm housemade chips.
Vichyssoise was not as rich as I’d anticipated but still good. A dish of chanterelles and artichokes in a white wine sauce was perhaps not as successful. Since preparing artichokes is an awful lot of work, maybe better not to gild the lily here.
Desserts were divine. A financier (that’s French) is usually a rich little cake made with browned butter. Here the chef used browned butter and corn (that’s American) to make ice cream, atop a warm blackberry sauce. Profiteroles put chewy gingerbready cake around ice cream, with apricots on the side and a bit of noyaux — liqueur from apricot pits.
I did not get to sample Bar Pigalle’s largrely French wine list — of which it is proud — as I should have, as the companions I brought were either teetotaling or drinking beer (I need to plan ahead). I tried a French Malbec, new to me, and found it dry and generous. The list is quite remarkable for its affordability, with a dozen bottles in the $19-$32 range and many not much more. A glass of white for $7 and of red for $9 — you don’t see that anymore.
Fourmont cites sommelier Joseph Allerton’s “super-deep relationship with winemakers” and says, “At the end of the day a lot of times you can get a $20 bottle of wine that tastes just as good as a $100 bottle of wine. That’s a fact.”
Fourmont calls his cocktail list “riffs off of classics,” leaning French when possible: “Anytime we can use a French ingredient we’ll do it.” Customer favorite thus far, by far, is Happy Talk, which includes tequila and herb oil. I tried a Freddie Freeloader, which the server said was a “classic tiki,” complete with umbrella. Why? I was swayed by the inclusion of grapefruit soda, and the server’s description of the falernum sweetener as “less sweet.” It was indeed a little bitter, and quite tall and refreshing and inebriating.
Servers, by the way, are uniformly knowledgeable, efficient, and gracious. They clearly know a lot, but with zero vibe of snooty-French-waiter.
Bar Pigalle has its own parking lot. It was full, as was the restaurant, on a Monday night. It has caught on.