French pastry-Halal burger connection yields new Dearborn breakfast powerhouse

Shakshuka. Tom Perkins

Great Commoner

22001 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily; $9-$18
Handicap accessible

At first glance, Brome Modern Eatery chef Zane Makky and Cannelle pastry chef Matt Knio might seem like an unlikely pair to team up on a breakfast and brunch-centered concept.

Makky's first restaurant was a fast-casual halal burger and fresh press juice shop that's a hit in Dearborn, while Knio trades in fine French pastries at Cannelle, his formidable, upscale Birmingham and downtown Detroit bakeries.

But together they've channeled their collective powers into accomplishing what few restaurateurs and chefs can these days — developing an inspired, creative, and fresh menu. And, no less, they pulled it off in a culinary arena that can be as stale as they come — breakfast.

The Great Commoner avoids falling into the usual breakfast-brunch trap of recycling classics by incorporating a concept that fuses "American" breakfasts with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and French dishes and elements. There's an attention to detail, sparkling presentations, and a depth that's rare to find in a restaurant breakfast, and it's all very accessible.

Though brunch is the focus, Great Commoner also offers a short line of sandwiches, display cases full of Cannelle's pastries, and a menu full of coffee drinks. Dinner service is in the works, but there's no set launch date.

In the meantime, go straight for ful mudammas, a standard Middle Eastern breakfast that's stew-like with a mix of fava beans and chickpeas in a garlicky broth of lemon juice and olive oil. It's coated with minced mint and parsley, then topped with a small mound of sweet cherry tomato and chopped radish. Knio's excellent sourdough is utilized as the perfect tool for soaking and scooping the mix.

It's a bright dish, and further enhanced with acidic punches from a creamy, pea green version of shatta, a Middle Eastern hot sauce that Great Commoner makes with dehydrate jalapeños blended up with oil, red wine vinegar, or lemon juice. My only previous experience with shatta was a looser, minced version in Hamtramck's Yemeni-American sandwich shops, and there's no arguing with Makky's version. I could eat it by the spoonful.

Another highlight: Labneh toast, which feels like a Lebanese version of avocado toast. Though every plate's presentation is strong, this one stood out. It arrives with four colorful dollops of labneh (akin to a soft cream cheese) and one of goat cheese coated in different seeds, spices, and nuts. The labneh is treated with Knio's secret za'atar blend; finely minced Aleppo peppers; kammouni, a spice mix often used in kibbeh that holds floral notes from the addition of hibiscus; and baraki seeds, sometimes called "black caraway," which Makky explains is an ancient black seed from "back in Prophet Mohommed's days" that was used as a health remedy. The goat cheese comes covered in pistachio, and the dollops are to be spread on Knio's "gombette" bread, then assembled with cherry tomato, cucumber slices, olives, mint, and fig jam.

click to enlarge Ful mudammas. - Tom Perkins
Tom Perkins
Ful mudammas.

My dining partner said her Great Commoner couldn't top her Bulgarian mother's shakshuka recipe, but I found it to be an incredibly bright and deep take on another Middle Eastern classic. Its tomato sauce is particularly bright, which I thought owed to the use of lemon or sumac, but Makky said neither is added. He theorized my buds were fooled by the acidic, high-quality San Marzano Italian tomatoes, which are spiced with cumin and coriander. Leeks, onions, and shallots offer an aromatic depth, while the kale, lentils, and chickpeas lend a hearty component. It's topped with sunny side eggs, a thick coating of minced cilantro, feta cheese, and Knio's sourdough toast is again there to soak and scoop.

It's tough to read through the menu and move past the "burnt cinnamon whipped mascarpone" that's a key part of the brown butter pancakes. Mascarpone is a soft, creamy Italian cheese, and the concoction is perfect with the blueberry compote that soaks a portion of the three big, soft pancakes that possess an almost cornbread-like texture. Makky browns the butter for extra nuttiness which might also be behind the texture, he said, and the package is adorned with carbonated sugar.

On the lunch menu, the griddled chicken comes with a thick slab of charred chicken breast that's stacked on tomato basil focaccia with pickled red cabbage, muenster, cilantro, and burnt corn aioli. A cup of tomato-based Mediterranean soup was thick and creamy, though the soup options rotate daily.

The interior is big and busy both with customers and visually, and harkens a European café. The restaurant, which is a partnership with restaurateur Sam Abbas, offers limited outdoor seating, and attracts a diverse clientele. There's already been some discussion of adding an Ann Arbor location.

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