Review: At Brome, you can have it both ways

The Mex.
The Mex. Tom Perkins

Brome Modern Eatery

607 Shelby St., Detroit
10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday

22062 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
Dearborn: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. every day
Burgers $8.50-$10.50, salads $5.50-$9, milkshakes $4.50-$5.50

At Brome, downtown Detroit's newest burger restaurant, I tried four burgers and fried haddock and liked or loved most. But its marketing gave me pause. Brome tells us on its website, "Every day we wake up and make a conscious effort to minimize the negative impact we have on our planet." Thats funny, since if we wanted to slow global warming through our eating habits, quitting beef would be the single most effective thing we could do. (Every day, the 1.5 billion cows in the world each belches and farts 30 to 50 gallons of methane into the atmosphere. )

Brome, an offshoot of a Dearborn location opened in 2015, is kind of an all-around oxymoron. Mostly its menu is what's usually junk food — burgers, fried chicken, fish, tater tots, milkshakes, and candy — and yet it makes those crowd-pleasers with natural sweeteners and with organic beef from "grass-fed cows that lead comfortable lives."

To be fair, Brome doesn't claim to be selling healthy food, just providing "a higher quality experience." Its juice bar, Balence, does tout a ton of health benefits, though, with various smoothies and juices tagged "detoxify," "alkalize," "beauty food," "immunity food," "joy promoter," and "brain activator." All I can say to hapless swallowers of such claims is that they could use some brain activation.

Personally, I liked Brome's offerings — but I'm not fooling myself about results other than my own individual joy promotion.

Burgers are available medium or well-done; chef Ray Rahal says that at the original Dearborn location, rare didn't work out. This is not fast food; expect a longish wait unless you order online.

The haddock was just as tender within and crunchy without as you get in the best fish and chips, with plenty of slaw and remoulade — plus tomato, not standard for fish.

If I have a criticism of the burgers, it's that despite a plethora of ingredients, they tend to blend together into one (good) flavor. Dante's Heaven and the Mex are two of the most ordered, along with the Deluxe, which adds beef, bacon, and cheddar. I found the Dante, which uses habanero for its fire, too one-note hot despite the turkey bacon, ghost pepper jack, onions, and cherry pepper relish that should have made it complex. The Mex was less spicy, with corn salsa, pickled jalapeño, avocado, and chipotle mayo. On the Wild Mushroom I liked the sweet braised onions and mustard-grain aioli. The Veganmami is a little crisp and doesn't pretend to be meat — it's not juicy and you can see the carrots and green peppers — but it's full of flavor with its braised onions and mushrooms for umami.

Brome also offers a vegan Impossible Burger that, according to Rahal, is indistinguishable from ground beef. On any sandwich the normal beef patty can be exchanged for an Impossible for $3, or $2 will get you an "organic patty" that is somehow even more organic than the norm.

If a healthy meal would promote your joy, Brome offers five salads plus a monthly special. Most popular is the Farmers Market, which I loved. The herb vinaigrette, chevre, and kalamatas are exceptional, and quinoa is scattered on top.

Other salads are citrus Caesar and kale in lemon vinaigrette, or, for those seeking more sugar and fat, the Signature with candied walnuts, blue cheese, and creamy balsamic.

Brome offers both milkshakes and "concretes," which are much thicker, all made with vanilla bean frozen custard. Add-ins include Oreos, cornflakes, fresh strawberries, chocolate chips, and Reese's Pieces. (No, that's not natural sugar in the cookies and candy.) The strawberry shake did indeed taste like real strawberries — a delight, as was the super-thick salted caramel.

These are, of course, not beverages. To quench thirst, try the Brooklyn-made Bruce Cost unfiltered ginger ale with tiny particles of fresh ginger — light and refreshing.

It gets complicated upstairs at Balence, which occupies an intriguing space: a pedestrian bridge one story up over Shelby Street. You can order plain juice; mixed juices with add-ins like pink Himalayan salt, ginger, or turmeric; smoothies with up to 10 ingredients; mocktails that may include kombucha, honey, bee pollen, chia gel, or algae; shots such as wheatgrass, kale, or E3 Live with BrainON (this is E3AFA extract of phenylethylamine and phycocyanin, but don't worry, it's not only organic but 100 percent guaranteed).

Then you can choose to "boost," "sweeten," or "intensify" your drink with a shot of all sorts of health-claiming ingredients such as mulberries, stevia, spirulina, or cacao.

One of my criteria for a multi-part concoction like these is that you actually taste the different ingredients, that it's not an undifferentiated mass. That happened with Goldrush juice, with orange, grapefruit, and lemon all discernible, plus a hint of ginger, and also the Mango Tango smoothie, where the avocado peeked through the mango.

New on the menu are açai bowls, which Rahal describes as "basically a smoothie with toppings but in a bowl." They start with a thick base of açai fruit purée from Brazil, and add things like house-made turmeric granola, blueberries, pumpkin seeds, and chia seed pudding, artfully arranged. My Island Haven Parfait was tasty enough, but I would have liked more generosity with the toppings.

You can get a terrific all-American meal at Brome — burger, fries, and a milkshake. What's not to like? It's a valiant attempt to have it both ways.

Related: 22 mouthwatering burgers to try just in time for Detroit Burger Week

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Jane Slaughter

Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, Monthly Review, and In These Times.
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