There's a reason they call it a destination restaurant: Not enough people live in Tecumseh to make Evans Street Station a neighborhood place.
Not that the locals don't visit — they're 40 percent of the traffic. But the restaurant's a pleasant excursion for those looking to get out of Detroit, Ann Arbor or Toledo, maybe combined with a trip to the Purple Rose Theatre 25 minutes away in Chelsea, or Michigan State University's Hidden Lake Gardens in Tipton, as I did one recent weekend. Tecumseh is 63 miles from downtown Detroit.
The restaurant's philosophy is slow and local. If that sounds pretty fashionable these days, note that chef and co-owner Alan Merhar is surrounded by farmers, making it easy to make the most of them for his produce, in season. His relationship with Mike Prochaska of Prochaska Farms, for instance (it's four miles away), is such that each winter the two pore over seed catalogs and decide what to plant and then serve.
The resulting dishes are fancy in the sense that sophisticated measures have been taken, but (mostly) all-American if you look at the ingredients. Having worked under such masters as Takashi Yagihashi at Tribute and Tim Voss at Forté, Merhar knows his way around an advanced operation.
As I write, the season's changing, so new salads are coming onto the menu. One recently touted in Hour magazine, with artichokes, arugula, grilled asparagus and roasted onion, is an example of why we eat out: The ingredients are simple but the prep time will kill you.
When the winter menu was still in effect, a butternut squash bisque with parsnips and crème fraîche was flawlessly rendered, the slight tartness of the crème perfect with the sweet velvet of the soup.
Crab cakes were served on a bed of greens and shredded potatoes, soft as baby food inside but with a hint of mustard for bite. Duck breast was dished up with a loose, rich, winey risotto, mushrooms, brussels sprouts, and a pile of delicate prosciutto di Parma. The sprouts read a bit incongruous on paper but, in practice, their very slight acridity works well with the richness of the other constituents.
Merhar ventured a bit farther afield with a very tender miso- and sesame-crusted pork tenderloin, served with wasabi whipped potatoes and an egg roll. Though the roll was greasy, as most are, you could believe the pig was "all natural" as acclaimed.
Not everything's local, obviously: Scottish salmon, scallops, certified Black Angus steaks. But many of the side dishes will be, come summer.
Desserts are made in-house and include a rich cappuccino crème brûlée, pumpkin pound cake, tiramisu, Key lime cheesecake, and blood-orange or lime-ginger sorbets. I sampled three desserts and have for them only praise, including a honey-pecan ice cream — so much more interesting than butter pecan — that was chock-full o' nuts.
Every Wednesday is Wine Night, with bottles going for half-off, and Merhar says he gets plenty of "destination" business even mid-week. (If you're a cheap drunk, don't worry; you can take the remainder home.) I tried a lovely purple Carmenere from Argentina that was complex, cheerful and light for just $7 a glass. (Frequent readers will note the regularity of my Carmenere mentions since discovering it at Toast-Birmingham last year.)
Both the service and Evans Street's big-windowed space are calm and relaxed, with the room in subdued greens and burgundies, and including a stone fireplace. You wouldn't guess that it used to be a fire station. And there's a patio.
While you're in Tecumseh, you should stop by the Boulevard Market down the block (517-423-6000; boulevardmarket.com), where owners Erika and John Aylward, in their Four Corners Creamery, make more than 400 pounds of cow and goat cheese each week, sourcing their milk from local farmers such as Korte Farms five miles away.
Merhar raves about the Aylwards' goat cheese; their best-seller is an aged goat log with an edible rind, patterned after the French Bucheron. It's followed by a triple-cream cow's milk, also with an edible rind. I like to picture John personally arriving at the farms, milk cans in hand, to collect the raw milk. Combined with the imported varieties also on hand, the market is selling 600 to 800 pounds of cheese a week to discerning Tecumsehans, along with baguettes, wines and beers.
On May 15, the Aylwards will open an inn, yet to be named, on the second floor of the Market's 1850s building. Those looking for a dose of small-town America but unwilling to sacrifice their big-city tastes will now be able to eat, drink and sleep, all within a stone's throw. E-mail [email protected] for information and reservations.
The Market is open seven days but Evans Street Station is closed Sunday and Monday. It's open for lunch and dinner.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].