When Flowers of Vietnam first opened in 2016 as a weekends-only restaurant on West Vernor it became an instant hit. The Vietnamese restaurant located inside a former coney island seemed to perfectly encapsulate a feeling of scrappy ingenuity and unpretentiousness while delivering flavorful dishes at every turn. The restaurant closed for renovations and expansion in March 2017, and after months of delays returned in January much to the excitement of its fans and supporters.
When things are going well, small tweaks to a recipe or the layout of the restaurant can result in a wildly different atmosphere for guests. Owners can become wary risks and messing with a good thing. Fortunately, chef George Azar and his partners took that calculated risk to comeback in a space deserving of Flowers of Vietnam’s caliber of cooking. The updated space is an improvement on — rather than a complete rethinking of — the original restaurant with a menu that offers more refined echoes of its predecessor.
Flowers of Vietnam worked with Et. al Collaborative on the renovation which included a complete makeover of the building facade and the addition of bar separate from the old fashioned diner counter. The dining room maintains its 1970s vibe with wood paneling, black refurbished booths, and two tops flanked by mid-century style chairs. Several additional wooden light fixtures were manufactured to match the ones already hanging from the ceiling.
The coney island’s grill area has matured into a full-fledge open kitchen filled with shiny stainless steel. Patrons can still get a front row seat to the action, perched atop blue and silver diner booths at the counter. On the west side of the building, customers can also now belly up at the rectangular bar flanked by additional standing bar rails. The walls in this area were left raw and lacquered so that the layers of paint show through.
Little touches are still being added to the space a month in, Azar tells Eater. During a tour of the space he pointed out some new slide projectors that were recently installed in the ceilings of the restrooms with a lineup of old photos on rotation making it one of the more stylized restaurant bathrooms in the city.
One of the beauties of the new layout is that a customer sitting at the bar can look through windows cut into the walls all the way past the dining room and into the kitchen where staff are furiously turning out bowls of pho and shared plates of fish.
People who ate at the original Flowers of Vietnam will find plenty of familiar dishes on the menu, but the renditions may be slightly tweaked. For example, after visiting Vietnam with his culinary team last year, Azar decided to adjust the recipe for his caramel chicken wings — one of the most popular items from the previous menu. “It might be the death of me because I’m changing something that everyone loved; [but the wings] being that sweet felt like it was not proper,” he says. “It felt amateur for me to be serving something that sweet, so it’s a little more nutty now. I take the caramel deeper.”
Azar has also adapted some dishes he learned more about during his visit to the Bến Tre Province in the Mekong Delta of southern Vietnam. A pork dish called thit kho — featuring pork swimming in broth with sliced eggs — is served in the style of that region of Vietnam using coconut rather than soy broth and curls of compressed coconut on top. Other items such as the bo tai chanh are less traditional, Azar says, but instead try to capture the spirit of the dish in a style that suits Flowers.
General manager and beverage director Anna Atanassova has also done a complete refresh of the drink menu with an expansive wine list that incorporates lots of rieslings and gewürztraminers that complement the flavors in Flowers of Vietnam’s food. “We have a really rare opportunity at Flowers to push aromatic white wines, which is kind of off the table for lot of other types of cuisines because it’s too intense,” Atanassova says.
The restaurant also offers a mix of beers for guests ranging from bottles of Tecate to Chimay on draft. For cocktail drinkers, Flowers has a robust lineup of brightly flavored options such as the charcoal-tinted Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (rice paddy herb, rum, falernum, and lime) or the easy drinking Green Suede Gatorade (vodka, Dolin Blanc, lemongrass-basil syrup, and lemon).
Moving forward, Flowers is continuing to expand its offerings with DJs setting up in the space on Fridays and Sundays. When the weather permits, the restaurant intends to add a patio dining space. Photographers Michelle and Chris Gerard recently visited the expanded Flowers of Vietnam. Take a tour of the space and some of the dishes in the gallery below.
The Dining Room
Flowers of Vietnam is located at 4430 Vernor Hwy. in Detroit; open from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.) Wednesday through Saturday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.