In what was undoubtedly an attempt to make a bunch of local restaurant reporters fall into a food coma, Rock City Eatery invited Eater and a small group of area journalists from across the city to check out the progress at their new location in Midtown this week. The
five more like nine-course dinner created by chef Nikita Sanches revealed new dishes likely coming to the restaurant's expanded menu as well as key details about what to expect when RCE finally makes its move from Hamtramck. "It's like we're taking what we have and boosting it to the next level," says co-owner Jessica Imbronone Sanches. The following are a few key takeaways from the event.
Chef Sanches has never exactly played things safe with his Rust Belt Market pies and subsequently at his restaurant. He's known for combining unexpected flavors and presenting food in unexpected ways. However, the Hamtramck eatery's kitchen never truly offered the space required to achieve his full vision. The new 1,600-square-foot space will include a much larger kitchen space. "He gets to venture out and do things that he wanted to do from the beginning," says Jessica, noting that developing the menu is often about finding a middle ground a few steps back from Nikita's initial inspiration to a place where the food is still approachable for customers.
While the dishes were always a surprise the consistent thread throughout our meal was that plates looked distinctly different from any other restaurant in the city. Our first course, playfully titled "Ants on a Log" was a play on the classic after school snack but with an real insect twist — black ants rehydrated in vinegar to complement the creatures' natural flavors. This with the addition of a texturally interesting moss garnish was small but surprising touch.
The bone marrow that followed was also presented in an unusual way. Instead of the gelatinous marrow and bread typically served in restaurants that offer the dish, this marrow was reconstituted into pate and replaced into the bone with an chimichurri blended with umami rich nori.
The second set of courses highlighted Nikita's dept handling of vegetables with "Peas & Carrots" and a purposefully confusingly named dish called "Steak" that featured cauliflower steaks. As a strong adherent to the concept of breakfast-for-dinner, the pancakes and sausage were a personal favorite. The dish was assembled into a giant duck sausage sandwich of sorts with pancake topped by meat followed by another pancake. The sausage was exceptionally flavorful, and the pancakes with scallions dense and rustic, but what put it over the top was the marrow butter.
Diners can expect some of these items to make the menu when RCE finally opens, as well as Joe Bastianich-approved pizzas that the couple made during their run on Restaurant Startup. For those concerned that favorite items from the Hamtramck restaurant may disappear after the move, you can still count on staples like the brussels sprouts. More of the original items will likely appear on the restaurant's lunch menu.
Drinks have also been a cornerstone of RCE and beverage director Liz Cosby is continuing that tradition in a much bigger way at the Detroit restaurant. She did an excellent job of curating the drinks throughout the evening to match chef Nikita's changing palette of flavors including a mixture of beers, wines, and signature cocktails.
It was important for the owners to transition relatively seamlessly from their Hamtramck restaurant to Midtown. The design reflects this in its aesthetic. The space, still under renovation, has a distressed look with concrete finishes to the walls and floors as well as plywood. Jessica, an artist, has added a rock 'n' roll touch to the lady's room by painstakingly collecting and decoupaging Detroit band fliers circa the 1980s onto the walls.
The restaurant now boasts a bar separate from the kitchen with wood front panels. Don't ask what kind of wood though. The owners have largely left these decisions up to Ferndale-based Hudson Industrial, tasked with manufacturing their furniture. Currently the old Bangkok Cuisine sign is still hanging above the restaurant but that will obviously change soon.
Still awaiting permits and inspections from the city and after missing several projected opening dates, the couple isn't ready to say for sure when they will open. The space seems very close but still requires some kitchen equipment, tables, and other finishing touches to make it opening-ready.
When the restaurant finally does open, diners can expect expanded hours. Rock City Eatery will finally offer brunch year-round and will also open for lunch daily. Unfortunately, if you've been holding out hope that the couple would keep their Hamtramck spot open after the move, you're destined to be disappointed. It's for good reason though. Jessica says, "If we did both places, we'd be doing one a disservice so the answer is 'No.'" Fortunately, Campau Tower will still be open for all your late-night drunk food cravings. Pay a visit to the Hamtramck eatery before it closes and in the meantime check out the full menu from the press preview below.
The Preview Menu
Ants on a Log (pickled celery, peanut butter, roasted grapes, peanuts, moss, and ants)
Bone Marrow (marrow, bread, chimichurri with nori, parsley, chives, radish sprouts, lettuce)
Peas & Carrots (pine roasted carrots, snap peas, grilled pea sauce, cream, and freekeh)
Grilled Steaks (cauliflower, scallions, salbitxada, strawberries, almonds, tarragon oil, chocolate, and rhubarb)
Pancakes and Sausage (scallion pancakes, duck sausage, bone marrow butter, five spice maple syrup, and raspberries)
Lobster Roll (Lobster, rice paper, celery, nasturtium, aioli, yeast broth, and cucumber)
Nik's Bleeding Heart (blood sausage, raviolo, broth)
Beans + Rice (Indian rice pudding, fermented red beans, and pistachios)
Bread Pudding (caramelized bread pudding and chocolate ganache)