Gold Cash Gold is on the money

Food pawn

Jan 7, 2015 at 1:00 am

Gold Cash Gold's website uses the phrase "Conscientiously sourced, carefully crafted, uniquely Detroit farmstead fine food with a nod to the South, rooted in Old World tradition" as their description for their restaurant. It's a lot to consider, but in the end, it's simple. Chef Josh Stockton often works with local farmers, as well as his father's hog farm in Tennessee, and uses everything to its fullest in the kitchen, from whole beast cookery to pickling and preserving. He has surrounded himself, inside and outside of the kitchen, with talent, and so it goes: good food, good people, good place.

The feeling of warmth at Gold Cash Gold begins in the foyer of the old pawn shop at Wabash and Michigan, made of gorgeous stained glass panes in randomly arranged colors. Continuing inside, herringbone wood accents the ceiling, the bar, and a few other spots. The floor is an old gym floor, with most of an eagle mascot still assembled properly in the center of an open space in the dining room. A couple paintings accent the walls, but the focus is two long shelves of pickles of every sort, a nod to the heavy presence of pickles and brine throughout the menu — a hallmark of Stockton's approach. The kitchen is open, with bright white tile on the wall and a wide counter for completed dishes, where Stockton strolls confidently, finishing plates and directing the flow. At the end of the kitchen, against windows that look out onto Michigan Avenue, is the chef's table, private and personal. The place is picturesque and simple, elegant and understated.

Sitting at the bar during an hour's wait for a table on a Saturday night, a young couple and their very young baby enjoyed appetizers and atmosphere. The father asked the bartender for some warm water — and received exactly tempered water for the baby's formula, twice, without the bartender so much as batting an eyelash or missing a beat. Whenever an employee of Gold Cash Gold interacts with one of their guests, a dose of genuine care is palpable: What are you allergic to? Do I need to tell the chef anything about your table before I send you food? Southern hospitality at its finest, here in Detroit.

The food is, as a rule, excellent. There aren't too many dishes on the menu: It occupies one smallish sheet of paper, reprinted frequently with updates and tweaks. It's a paean to utilization, as pork is again and again used in a different way across the entire page; it's also a list of deceptively simple dishes that are underpinned by vast amounts of preparation and intention. "Curated" comes to mind as an apt description.

Eat the pork fat peanuts. You'll thank us.

Chicken liver mousse is silken and rich, served with a roasted onion jam and rich, wheaty grilled toast. It makes for an excellent starter, though you should pre-emptively order more bread, as it's definitely a rich dish and merits thin spreading.

Seek out the charcuterie. A pig's head croquette and pork terrine were both spectacular examples of the craft, executed with a modern precision and a grandmother's care. The roasted "Roman-style" sausage, sliced and served on creamy polenta and a side of braised bitter greens with anchovy and raisins and pine nuts, is emblematic as well: Italy is an easy leap from grits and greens and is done magnificently.

Seafood, pork, beef, and chicken all receive care and effort in the large plates. Pork cheeks are delicious, and make one wish the pig was bigger or had a second head. Three-day-brined short rib of beef was flavorful, served with rutabagas, oranges, and a carrot purée that tasted almost like a creamsicle smoothie, again executed with a perfect texture and incredible precision of flavor. Pickle-brined fried chicken is juicy and flavorful, and didn't trip the salt-sensitive palates of fellow diners. The hot sauce gravy is a Southern twist, and so good.

The desserts are also magnificent, including a sublime pork fat streusel on a buttermilk pie. Bread is made in-house. The kitchen bustles with activity, and the cooks smile and revel in their craft, and it shows in plate after plate of beautiful, flavorful food.

Stockton is an important part of the transformation of Detroit's restaurant scene. From a place described only a few years ago as a "food desert" in most of the national media, he's plucked out the hyper-local and fused it with a Southern sense of flavors and textures. He's taken the art of cooking as it had been known a hundred years ago — textured by the seasons, pruned by scarcity, guided by necessity — and brought its lessons to bear on the modern restaurant world, giving it all glorious life on the plate at Gold Cash Gold.