Followers of Garrett Lipar’s nomadic career have a new restaurant to look forward to come next year. The Eater Young Gun who has been twice nominated by the James Beard Foundation for Rising Star of the Year tells Eater he’s in the process of developing a new chef’s counter and bar in Detroit.
Chef Lipar has not yet revealed the exact location of Albena Restaurant, but says the space will be a return to the small quarters in the same vein as his highly successful Ferndale eatery, Torino. “What made Torino great was somewhat of the space limitation — the idea that we had a great control of every aspect and so I think we wanted that again, we wanted something small that we could have more control over.” The space will seat approximately 36 diners with 16 at the dedicated chef’s counter, a communal seating area, and an open kitchen plan. Albena will also feature a small bar and lounge with around eight seats and an accompanying bar menu that will remain opened later serving “some throwbacks” including Torino’s once-popular duck wings.
Joining Lipar in the venture is co-owner, manager, and longtime partner Tiffany Henderson, sous chef Emma Taylor, and an as-of-yet unnamed bar manager.
It took a long time for the Albena concept to gel for Lipar and Taylor. The chef achieved wild popularity with his tasting menus at Torino, earning a spot on Eater’s National 38 as well as numerous local accolades. However, Torino abruptly shuttered in June 2015 due to a lack of cold storage space. He then went on to temporarily helm the kitchens at Marais in Grosse Pointe, developing an intense preservation and foraging program focused on strictly Michigan-sourced products.
“It was a very turbulent time,” Lipar says following Torino’s closure. “For us it's good to get centered again and really figure out what's important to us and what we wanted in a concept. I think it took us a long time to put all the pieces together in order to put this restaurant together.”
Between restaurant gigs, Lipar has been traveling in South America, exploring new farms and purveyors, perfecting his bread recipe (a rustic 85 percent whole wheat loaf made with grain from Westwood Milling), as well as traveling to Detroit and Los Angeles for previews with pop-up outfit PlaceInvaders.
Lipar named Albena after his grandmother, a woman who was “always making sure somebody else had what they had before she had hers,” he says. “I think that mentality of service and taking care of somebody is so instilled in that name for us that that naturally clicked and made sense.”
Diners can expect that same type of intimacy of service from the chef’s counter, says Lipar. “There will be very few servers. The chefs will be serving and interacting with everybody the entire time.”
In terms of the tasting menu, Albena’s cuisine will move away from the Michigan-centric focus towards something more holistic with an emphasis on reducing waste. “Our idea is smart food with a conscience and an eye to the future,” he says. A recent preview, for example, served a dish with fresh tomatoes dressed with dried tomato skins and one with grated potato, chives, raisins, and onion, tossed with spent coffee grounds. “We can cook and utilize every aspect of an ingredient and showcase it at a very high level and still be smart and be able to offer it at a price that we think people can afford.”
Lipar has also honed in on details like pacing and texture when arranging his menu, which will encompass between 8 and 12 plates. The first half of the menu will be served in a brief 20 minutes. “We want people to experience [the full menu] in an hour and a half,” he says. “It's quick, it's short, and it's meant to get people come and enjoy the menu more than they did before.”
He adds: “They'll come more frequently and the price point is going to be quite accessible. We want it to be where it's not out of reach for anybody who wants to experience it.”
According to Lipar, the restaurant should come together quickly once the build-out begins. Albena is expected to open in early 2017. Stay tuned for updates.
• Albena Restaurant Instagram [Official]
• All Garrett Lipar Coverage [ED]