High-end Sylvan Table restaurant was born in a barn

Sylvan Table is a 300-year-old Maine barn reconstructed in a lake-dotted corner of Oakland County.
Sylvan Table is a 300-year-old Maine barn reconstructed in a lake-dotted corner of Oakland County. Lizz Wilkinson

Sylvan Table

1819 Inverness St., Sylvan Lake
5 p.m.-10 p.m Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Handicap accessible
Entrées $18-$29

The proprietors of Sylvan Table are making the most of their five acres of land just off Orchard Lake Road, with an enormous patio next to their enormous restaurant, plus their own farm that produces fruit, vegetables, greens, and bees. I did not see the well-worn words "farm to table" anywhere on the restaurant's website, but theirs is a case where they truly make sense.

The farm theme is doubly for real: the restaurant itself is a 300-year-old barn knocked apart in Maine, trucked here, and reassembled. Some of a barn's draftiness — or maybe it's just efficient air circulation — remains, but stone fireplaces, chandeliers, and stairs — not a ladder — to the former hayloft have been installed. You get fresh flowers and candles in jam jars. You don't feel like you're in a barn except when you reflect on how huge this one was and is.

The open kitchen is more open than most, with big windows across from the bar. I recommend the loft, as it is far quieter than the ground floor; no one ever said a barn should be acoustically correct, I suppose.

The farm and the restaurant are new (service began June 1), and Chef Chris Gadulka is dedicated to using wisely its fresh and seasonal produce, with an assist from partner farms. No pale winter tomatoes from afar will be served; a few of the 1,600 pounds of local ones that he had on hand at one point will be ripened in the solarium. The rest will all be dehydrated or freeze-dried or turned into sauce. Likewise a couple of hundred pounds of cranberries.

Gadulka says, "I have two cans in the restaurant, and they are sweetened condensed milk. We're learning how to make it ourselves, so we needed the cans just as samples."

The menu changes every two weeks depending on what's abundant or scarce. Hoop houses will provide kale, spinach, leafy greens, and some root vegetables through the winter. Composting is taken seriously, using a method that allows dairy and protein to be recycled as fertilizer too — 22 55-gallon drums of it.

Though the menu borrows heavily from the farm, it's not tied to it; you can get fish, beef, pork, and rabbit. Oddly, I found the protein main dishes — from other people's farms — more delicious than most of the vegetable sides.

A butternut squash bisque was velvety sweet, small but fine as a starter. Brussels sprouts, though, were tough in places, well-charred in others, and occasional flashes of honey didn't really help. Some of my carrots were too tough to bite and sadly lacking in flavor. The amuse bouche started with a great idea — ground cherries. I grow these in my garden and am a huge fan — they are a startling burst of tart-sweetness unlike any other in a salad. But Sylvan Table's were not ripe, and therefore only sour.

So my experience with farm-next-door-to-table was disappointing.

Not so with the excellent mains. A big ribeye came with a well-thought-out spicy and charry crust and just the right degree of chew. A whole, brag-worthy-size trout had a crisp skin and was served with umamiful shiitakes and roasted spring onions and beets (presumably from the farm).

click to enlarge A whole, brag-worthy-size trout had a crisp skin and was served with umamiful shiitakes and roasted spring onions and beets. - Lizz Wilkinson
Lizz Wilkinson
A whole, brag-worthy-size trout had a crisp skin and was served with umamiful shiitakes and roasted spring onions and beets.

Gnocchi Bolognese was a dream, the springy morsels thoroughly infused with the rich sauce of beef, pancetta, and red wine, which doesn't usually happen. A long-legged rabbit was more of a neutral flavor — not quite chicken — but served with some well-cooked vegetables in its own juice.

Also on the animal side, I was a big fan of the marrow starter, though the richness of marrow can be so satisfying as to derail the next course. Two Flintstone-size bones were served with pink peppercorns and lemony arugula to cut the fattiness and, to gild the lily, some perfect buttery toast strips.

Other starters, mains, and sides include a kale Caesar, catfish, sausage with pecorino, chicken under a brick, mashed potatoes with hay smoke, and heirloom grains "risotto."

Desserts shine. After you try Sylvan Table's spiced pound cake with pumpkin cheesecake ice cream, you will never make fun of pumpkin spice again. The cake was sturdy and the housemade ice cream with house-grown pumpkin was practically buttery. A blueberry crème brûlée was a good mix of sweet creaminess with tart compote and berries (also home-grown) on top.

Beers on tap are mostly Michigan. Cocktails, all $13, read delicious; I saw both ginger beer and ginger liqueur as ingredients, and beet juice, thyme, and honey that could be homegrown. I went sparkly for wine (with my rabbit and trout) and got vinho verde (always a good sign) and Prosecco, but reds are more prominent, ranging from $56 to $260 a bottle.

Sylvan Table seems to be filling an unmet need in this lake-dotted corner of Oakland County. Plan your reservations well in advance. There's a line for the unreserved bar seats each day at 5.

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About The Author

Jane Slaughter

When she's not reviewing restaurants, Jane Slaughter also writes about labor affairs, having co-founding the labor magazine Labor Notes. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, Monthly Review, and In These Times.
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