Strike while the iron is hot seems to be Dinner Club Pop-Up chef Matthew Baldridge's mantra these days. He, artist fiancé Janna Coumoundouros, and several (as-of-yet) silent partners are cooking up two projects in Metro Detroit: a preservation-focused Ferndale eatery and a quick-service soul food concept in Detroit.
The first, dubbed The Conserva Ferndale, will offer a unique dining experience. Styled after restaurants in Spain that serve premium preserved seafood, Conserva will feature a wide selection of specialty jarred goods created by the restaurant and served with crusty bread. Says Baldridge: "We're going to have various jars, different types of pickled vegetables, fruits, [and] different types of marinated seafoods cooked sous-vide," as well as mustards, hot sauces, and aiolis. Like "creative Lunchables," diners will be able to mix and match options or select from specialty pairings. "We're going to do every bit of the culinary side of it. The packing, the marinating, the butchering — everything is going to happen at our kitchen commissary in Madison Heights."
"We want to try to usher in a new style of fast food."
Demolition at the restaurant, located inside a former bank building on 9 Mile, began a little over a week ago. Coumoundouros is taking the lead with design. Several high-top bar seats will look out on the street, with a mixture of communal tables and booths filling the main dining area. A bar serving beer and wine will line the east wall alongside shelves of under-lit jars. The eatery will also feature art curated by Coumoundouros. The group hopes to eventually take advantage of the 1,000-square-foot grassy area behind the restaurant for a patio. Beginning in mid-December the couple expects to activate the dining space with pop-up dinners, while they put final touches on the restaurant.
Concurrently, the duo is plotting a 50-seat fast-casual project called Atomic Chicken for New Center, an area that has proved challenging for some restaurant concepts despite its proximity to the forthcoming M-1 Rail. Baldridge and Coumoundouros recently signed the lease on the shuttered Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen on Woodward and Milwaukee, a corner space on a block that's may soon be filled with new bars, cafes, and restaurants if one development group has its way.
Baldridge describes Atomic as "chef-driven" with inexpensive ($8 to $10) soul food-style meals like chicken and waffles and chicken and biscuits. The restaurant will also hold a liquor license. Diners will place orders at the counter and food will be delivered to the table; however, Baldridge is also working with a family member to develop a specialized app for online take-out orders.
The pair say that the physical footprint of the restaurant won't change much, but they are working with College of Creative Studies on a design competition to create the best look for the eatery. Atomic's partners hope the concept will eventually expand to multiple locations. "We want to try to usher in a new style of fast food," Baldridge adds. Atomic Chicken is estimated to open in February, with The Conserva Ferndale making its official debut around March. Stay tuned.