Although the nearby coneys on Lafayette must present daily temptation for many downtown office workers, a new restaurant in the Chrysler House offers up tasty and more healthful fare in a cute, friendly environment. Dime Store, opened about a month ago, has dubbed itself an "American Brunch Bar" and serves breakfast and lunch dishes with a cheffy twist.
A bright, colorful interior and smiling staff welcome patrons to the small but noisy space (some sort of acoustic tiles would be nice; the concrete-floored room gets downright deafening during busy times). Shake off the autumn chill with a cup of the cauliflower and gruyère soup; the cheese adds the right amount of umami without being too rich or filling. A mushroom soup was similarly well-balanced with a deep mushroom flavor, though we would've enjoyed some actual pieces of mushroom in it.
Chef Josh Taylor, a 20-year restaurant veteran who has worked locally in Ann Arbor's Isalita and Mani restaurants, has come up with a lunch menu that's fun, creative, and varied. We were instantly drawn to the duck Reuben and Korean BBQ sandwiches, both of which pair rich meats with tangy pickled vegetables. The duck Reuben, despite using confited duck leg (basically, meat cooked in fat) is less greasy than most of its corned beef counterparts. The Korean barbecue sandwich could stand having a bit more meat on it for the price, but the flavors are spot-on, the bulgogi-style meat slightly sweet and garlicky.
Vegetarian sandwiches are similarly well-prepared; choose the razor-thin sliced beets and goat cheese with a butternut squash schmear (if you're not vegetarian, you might want to consider adding bacon for $2, as we did) or the house-made veggie burger, earthy-tasting with chewy whole grains — barley, I believe — for textural appeal.
We weren't particularly in a salad mood on any of our visits, but the sweet poached pear, with charred fennel, pepitas, goat cheese, corn bread croutons, and bacon vinaigrette certainly sounds appealing. We did try a house side salad, which has a pleasantly light and lemony dressing. Add this or an order of crispy, herbed house-cut fries to a sandwich for an additional $2.
After enjoying several lunch items, breakfast was a letdown. A friend ordered a build-your-own omelet that was served missing its hash browns (for the persnickety, she asked that I note they are cubed potatoes, so technically not hash browns) and minus the avocado she requested. My salmon eggs Benedict was barely lukewarm when served, and neither my English muffin nor the one on my friend's plate seemed like they had seen a toaster. The idea of the dish — spinach, red onion, smoked salmon, and capers topped with a poached egg and hollandaise — sounds like a winning combination, but the temperature was off-putting. To top it all off, the hollandaise, which should've been rich and tangy from egg yolks, butter, and lemon, was pale white, gluey, and flavorless, almost like Alfredo sauce.
Another huge issue at Dime Store that needs attention is service. Although the three different servers we had were all very pleasant and friendly, it's simply not enough to take an order, drop off the food, and call it a day. Service was consistently poor, with drinks rarely to ever being refilled, no one checking on us after food was delivered, staff who were unable to answer questions about the menu, and empty dishes not being cleared (this is especially annoying, given the tiny size of the tables). We were left scratching our heads when one server brought two new glasses of water instead of filling from a pitcher — not a problem, except he then left empty-handed while the first two glasses and other used dishes cluttered up the table. We had to get out of our seats more than once to ask for condiments, water, etc., while servers chatted at the counter. Whether these failures are due to lack of effort, experience, or training, I'm not sure, but much of it boils down to common sense and paying attention.
With any luck, Dime Store's service-related problems will be remedied with guidance from management, and much of the food is good enough to warrant giving the restaurant a chance anyway. If you're the type whose meal is easily ruined by bad service though, I'd opt for carryout. As for breakfast, we don't know if the kitchen was having an off day or if we just chose the "wrong" items, but for now we're more inclined to just stick to the sandwiches we initially enjoyed. — mt
A note for imbibers: Dime Store will be getting a liquor license in the near future.