Townhouse – Detroit
In the One Detroit Center Building at the corner of Woodward and Congress.
Visited August 21, 2015
When I first saw a cartoonish rendering of the Townhouse sign and entry chewed out of the corner of a Phillip Johnson granite skyscraper in downtown Detroit, I was, well….“skeptical”.
After visiting there for the first time last night, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with the buildout of the dining room and the glass dining pavilion on the north side plaza. With the variety of seating areas, different levels, 2 bars and a retractable roof, the 300+ seat restaurant actually has an intimate feel.
It was a beautiful evening, so we opted for an outdoor table which was a great choice. With One Detroit Center, the Guardian Building, and the Vinton building towering above, and the top of the Penobscot Building peaking over the Chase Building, it felt very “big city”, urban, and vibrant. There were a lot of pedestrians on the sidewalk, and vehicle traffic on Congress and Woodward (even with all of the construction for the M-1 Rail). All of the sights and sounds of a vibrant downtown are back in downtown Detroit.
To start, we ordered the Cauliflower, Sunchoke, and Mushrooms from the “Local Farmer” list and the Smoked Trout from the “Sharable” list. All were very good with interesting and creative accompaniments. The Trout was presented as spreadable rillettes with a green pea hummus, corn relish and small round toasts. With 5 of us dining, these 4 appetizers were more than enough to start the evening off well.
For our entrees, one of us ordered the Walleye from the “Commandable” list. The rest ordered burgers. The Walleye must have been good, there was no fish left on the plate. The $19 Townhouse Burger comes with bourbon glazed onions, white cheddar cheese and fries, and everyone seemed pleased. I ordered a plain “Build Your Own Burger” and added lettuce ($.75), White Cheddar Cheese ($1.00) Rosemary Garlic Aioli (N/C) and fries ($3.00) – it still came to $18.75. It was really good – maybe not the absolute best burger I have ever had – but high up on the list. The burgers are 10 oz. aged “proprietary blend” steak cuts, thick and juicy served on a branded wood plank.
What was disappointing and disconcerting for a restaurant touting its “red bison leather beverage menu”, it’s “library of libations” and a $19 “award winning” burger, is the obvious lack of training of some of the staff. First of all I want to say that our waitress was very professional, personable, efficient and well trained, but based on our interaction with the other staff members, I assume she was hired in that way.
We had a drink at the outside bar. After getting the bartender’s attention from chatting with another employee, we ordered two drinks off the “Craft Cocktail” page in the “red bison leather beverage menu”. With her back to us, after some time she turned around and set the drinks in front of us. There was no “craft” to the cocktail preparation, no visible pouring, measuring, stirring, muddling, straining, shaking, garnishing – just an average looking cocktail – although mine tasted very good. Paying the bar tab was equally as difficult as ordering the drink, having to flag down a different bartender to get my bartender’s attention.
We were seated in a booth with planters around us with a great view of the patio, the glass pavilion and the streetscene. We started by ordering appetizers from the one page menu. When the dishes were served, our food server could not identify the appetizers that he was delivering to our table. He asked another server nearby who also could not tell us which plate was which. It is not like the appetizer menu is that extensive with 6 items on the “Local Farmer” section and 7 items on the “Sharable” list. What a contrast when compared to Selden Standard and Wright & Co.’s food runners who can not only identify the dish, recite all of the ingredients, discuss how it is prepared and in many cases even state the farm that the ingredients came from.
When a round of “craft” cocktails were delivered to the table, again, the server could not tell my Sazerac from a friend’s Manhattan – and didn’t seem to care.
I understand that the Detroit Townhouse is relatively new, but it has been open for more than 3 weeks, and I would expect that the servers could at least identify the appetizers when they were served – of which there are only 6 on the menu. The presentation of the drinks and the food to the guests by the staff is equally as important as the quality of the environment and the preparation of the food.
With 300 seats, $12 cocktails and $19 hamburgers, management must take basic staff training seriously – or the Townhouse may be abandoned in favor of establishments that know the importance of providing knowledgable and attentive service.
That is the only thing that the Detroit Townhouse is missing, but it is a big thing for a restaurant taking a self proclaimed “immense pride in bringing you an experience you won’t find anywhere else”.