Upscale, down-home

Power breakfast — what a concept.
Frank Taylor says that his and Robert Porcher’s newest restaurant fills a void for customers accustomed to high-end dining at lunch and dinner. It’s clearly designed for downtown movers and shakers to start their workdays by impressing each other over the most important meal of the day.

If you order just juice and a pastry, will you look like a wimp? Does manliness still require meat on the plate? Does the consumer of French toast risk aspersions on his patriotism? Does a check for less than $40 show that you’re not ready to play with the big boys and girls?

These and other perilous waters have all been navigated by our city officials and captains of industry since the Detroit Breakfast House opened Oct. 3 (see On a weekend, though, you’ll find the place packed with ordinary folks enticed downtown by the Taylor-Porcher cachet (they’re involved in two other downtown venues, Sweet Georgia Brown and Seldom Blues) and by the notion of upscale Southern cooking.

Actually, traditional Southern dishes are a small share of the house’s offerings, which borrow eclectically, drawing on everything from Mexican and Italian (Santa Fe frittata) to Creole to Manhattan (eggs Benedict).

But there are cheese grits, and another Southern-inspired dish popularized in a simpler version in old Harlem — waffles and chicken. Personally, I find that combination a bit odd, despite my upbringing south of the Mason-Dixon. Here, it’s a sandwich of fried chicken, ham, maple syrup and a fluffy, soft, sweet waffle (How sweet? Three times as sweet as the recipe on the Bisquick box). Although the syrup’s been upgraded to warm Canadian maple, and the originators probably couldn’t have afforded both chicken and ham, it’s well worth trying.

Patrons are branching out from the familiar, though, and making crab cakes Benedict one of the biggest (and highest-priced) sellers, along with Frank’s Stuffed French Toast (filled with apples and cream cheese) and housemade turkey sausage.

In crab cakes Benedict, the hollandaise is tinged with whole-grain mustard. The chef offers three other Benedicts besides the classic, even a vegetarian one.

I tried smoked salmon Benedict with fresh dill hollandaise. Long ago, I was offered smoked salmon at a friend’s brunch. When I said I didn’t really like it, my friend responded with one eye-rolling word: goyim. Since then, I’ve grown to love lox, and I found the Breakfast House’s serving a bit mild. The poached egg white stood up like a champion, though, and fresh dill was a fine accompaniment.

My companion ordered the Meat Lover’s Frittata, which includes applewood bacon, ham, sausage, Canadian bacon and four cheeses. The flavor is mostly sausage, though when you get a bite of the applewood, it’s lovely. Other frittatas are called Greektown and New Orleans, with appropriate ingredients. Omelet versions include jambalaya, seafood, Southern (with corned beef hash, cheddar and caramelized onions) and “If You Can Dream It, We Can Make It.”

So far, few customers are ordering from the lunch side of the menu. Breakfast is offered all day, and that’s what they want. The salads include chicken Caesar, spinach with hot bacon dressing, deli salad with pastrami and chopped egg on iceberg lettuce, and barbecue tuna on spinach. Among the sandwiches are a club, chicken quesadilla, portabella “burger” and fried chicken marinated in buttermilk. Each is generously loaded.

I found the grilled strip steak hoagie disappointingly tough and lacking in flavor, proving once again that you should order a restaurant’s specialties, not its also-rans. Desserts were disappointing too, with a just-ordinary Godiva chocolate cake and New York cheesecake tasting too much like butter. Apple brown Betty and strawberry shortcake sounded more promising, but the kitchen was out of those by mid-morning on a Saturday. But this was in the restaurant’s second week, a time when certain bumps may not yet be smoothed out.

Word-of-mouth has made the Breakfast House so popular that you can expect a wait to be seated. In an attempt to fit in all the fans, tables are placed a bit too close together for any confidential deal-making. The color scheme in the big main room is mainly cream and orange, with an Impressionistic paint-daub effect on the walls. Dramatic dark wood columns rise to high ceilings; they seem a bit much in the somewhat congested space.

The Breakfast House takes no reservations for breakfast or lunch. It’s open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays, although hours are expected to lengthen once a liquor license is granted.

When that happy date arrives, the power-diners can start the day off right with a three-mimosa breakfast.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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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