Restaurants in Detroit that have been part of the new wave in the last few years have some tenets undeniably in common. They’re small plates focused, sourcing obscure ingredients and manipulating them in increasingly dare-to-be-weird ways, often finding far reaches of the city limits in which to revitalize a dormant district. Selden Standard started it on the Cass Corridor, Mabel Gray fine-tuned it in Hazel Park, and Katoi made it mainstream in the western corner of Corktown.
Breakfast places haven’t been any different. What’s more hipster than a bologna sandwich at Parks & Rec, a tiny breakfast nook named for its actual administrative use in a former social club for Civil War veterans?
It can’t be said that Rose’s Fine Food, long anchored on a very far, eastern fringe of Jefferson Avenue, well past Belle Isle, is any of these things. And yet, in different ways, it has come to emblematize the spirit of what makes the Detroit comeback so tangible and real.
Walking into and up to Rose’s wouldn’t feel dissimilar to a lot of the diners you went to with your parents when you were a kid. Dingy parking lot, long bar seating seemingly reserved for regulars only, with a lengthwise array of tables running parallel. A server running back and forth with a pot of coffee and a chalk-written specials board that doesn’t really draw much attention to itself.
Rose’s has a simple menu when compared with other breakfast and brunch places that pop up all over the city. There’s no mole or gin-cured gravlax, but there are enough wrinkles to accompany a list of perfected, simple dishes, all curated by a staff of hard-working people that the owner proudly pays a living wage, flying in the face of labour laws in Michigan that pay servers and restaurant staff next to nothing. Gratuities, the menu will tell you, are welcome, and when given, are pooled equally, with a tenth going to a local, rotating charity.
Other than the fact that Vernor’s is one of the limited drink options, what’s more Detroit than that?
Although I’ll never forgive them for taking their house-made noodles off the menu – they were served with some fried root vegetables, grown locally – there are enough gems on the newly implemented menu to keep anyone happy.
The poodle platter is a great combination of breakfast favourites. Poached eggs, sautéed greens, fried potatoes, and thick toast. The one twist on the classic is that the toast has house-made ricotta and jam, which ultimately steals the show.
The egg sandwich resembles a Monte Cristo sandwich in girth, but is all savoury with none of the sweet teases. It’s a seriously thick breakfast sandwich with classic ingredients, served with potatoes or grits on the side. Always get the potatoes here. Don’t be fooled by their funny, kaleidoscope range of colours, these tubers are cooked perfectly with inherent flavour to match.
Breakfast diners are what has most often eluded vegetarians, and specifically vegans, as landing spots for outings. Rose’s could easily accommodate the strictest vegan, and they don’t do so with a complicated formula. They use their fresh produce and house preserves – on display on the shelf behind the bar – to their advantage to bring out the existing flavour of the ingredients. As is their philosophy, there’s nothing hidden.
A savoury breakfast is best capped off with something sweet to go, after your last swig of coffee. While Rose’s has an interesting host of in-house baked goods, my recommendation is to take Kercheval Avenue back on your way towards the tunnel, to stop at Sister Pie, which is another example of the trend I mentioned above. Sister Pie was among the first of many popular openings in Detroit’s historically affluent Indian Village, and their selection and vibe is second only to their Instagram presence.
Rose’s has been open for a little over 30 months now, and, a product of a Kickstarter campaign and some generous, unexpected donations, bears much of the unconventional swagger that has come to define Detroit’s upstart. The food is great. The approach is better. And, with an enormous sign on the corner of the road – a result of a donation – it cannot be missed.