A stretch of East Jefferson, roughly between Mount Elliot and Belle Isle, is slim on fine dining options. Farther east up the way sits the celebrated Rose's Fine Foods. Not too far is the burgeoning food scene in West Village. But here, you're hard-pressed to find much more than a Happy's Pizza, inconspicuous coneys, and a bait shop with less appetizing fare, suitable really only for the fish in the river.
So when partners Alicia Strong and Zamarr Woods announced the opening of the Bridge Restaurant inside the former home of the Sunday Dinner Co., buzz was hopeful that the area would experience a bright spot in an otherwise drab landscape. At first glimpse it appears to have accomplished just that. The space has been renovated in the style of an upscale lounge, giving the vibe of a swanky supper club, complete with tall, plush booths that sit atop a bridge facade that gives a perfect view of a small stage used for jazz and spoken word performances.
If you're lucky, you'll be seated by a young man named Daniel, whose bowtie and boyish charm will make you feel right at home. If you come on a Tuesday night, he'll highly promote the $2 martinis, offered in an array of fruity flavors like strawberry, peach, and classic green apple. You'll forgive him when, overwhelmed by a large party across the aisle, he forgets to touch up your water glass or bring you napkins. You'll feel at ease, nostalgic even, when the speakers coo with the sounds of 1990s R&B hits from the likes of Chaka Khan and New Edition, accompanied by the laughter of the large party and customers at the brightly lit and stylish bar.
This is the type of ambience you should come to expect at Bridge. In fact, it's even got a catchy slogan — "Where connections are made" — that nicely ties in the whole bridge and networking motif, reminding you that this is the new gathering place in the neighborhood.
Chef Jerry Nottage comes to Bridge from Detroit's Breakfast House & Grill (now Hudson Cafe), and is the person driving the design of the menu, described as "American with a twist." And if you take a look around many of the American eateries around town, whose menus are heavily influenced by the region's Greek, Mediterranean, and Arabic populations, the Bridge would fit right in. On Bridge's menu, you'll find three lamb options, including the lamb nachos, which swaps out ground beef, refried beans and tortilla chips for fried pita triangles, razor-thin slices of lamb with the near consistency of a shawarma, crumbles of feta, garlic Parmesan and fontina cheeses, grilled peppers, and tzatziki, making for a promising start to the meal.
The steak bites aren't what you'd expect in a starter. They're in small chunks of flavorful flank steak, accompanied with strips of colorful bell peppers, reminiscent of a fajita plate, sans the sizzling hot cast iron skillet. Use the steak bites to top slices of toasted bread with melted pepper jack cheese that go with them. Though it seems to be an unlikely, if not improvised creation, it's nonetheless a fun, light bite for a crowd ready for a night on the town.
The Bridge Burger, with its buttered, toasted bun, crisp strips of bacon, fried onion, sprinkling of fontina cheese instead of the standard slab of American, a swipe of Dijon mayo, and rich fat-to-protein ratio, gives an almost melts-in-your-mouth experience — a hard feat in an arena already saturated with burger options.
That, however, is just about where the innovation ends. The lamb chops, priced at $28, are more like lollipops, slim on its essential juicy, meaty core and too reliant on sticky balsamic glaze. When a dining guest asked for the chops cooked to the chef's preferred temperature, they came out well-done, almost blackened and lacking in that tenderness one would come to expect from the dish, thus suggesting either chef did not understand the specifications or he was not confident in the quality of the meat.
A veggie entree, featuring a medley of vegetables sauteed in olive oil and fettuccini noodles, seemed placed on the menu as the requisite "hey, I'm a veggie plate, I'm healthy" item, rather than an earnest attempt at providing a healthful, interesting vegetarian option. Equally uninspired was the "Brick of Belle Isle" dish, made up of a chili lime-rubbed grilled chicken breast, accompanied by red garlic potato mash and asparagus, a combination one would find at any suburban chain, not what one would want from a classy, urban environment like this.
The thing about this part of town is that it has experienced a number of starts and stops over the years, mostly having to do with the economy. The riverfront, especially surrounding Belle Isle, was once a playground for the super-rich. And before the economic crisis of 2008, a number of new construction, high-rise condos began dotting the riverside, hinting at the trimmings of gentrification. But along with the Great Recession, those hints never resulted in redevelopment and the area has instead been much like that missing link connection Midtown and Corktown — a pocket between the super-rich enclave of Indian Village and the up-and-coming hip neighborhood of West Village. If connected, the entire east side could realize much of the same regrowth that the city's center is experiencing now. What's missing are establishments where people can gather, have a cocktail in a beautiful, sophisticated ambience and a menu that inspires the senses. The Bridge has got most of that down. We would ask the chef not to be afraid to show us what you love to eat.