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Review: Antietam endures change, delivers on consistency



From the start, Antietam felt like a special place — with its magnificent Art Deco design, it took diners to a darkly romantic space. There was never any question about the execution of the menu. French-inspired with modern techniques, diners have been marveling at the food from day one. And cocktails have always been expertly prepared. All of which is to say, Antietam was placed on just about any food lover's restaurant list instantly.

The only trick: assembling the right crew to consistently deliver on the Eastern Market-adjacent eatery's popularity. In the two years the restaurant has been open, owner/artist Gregory Holm has had his share of challenges in keeping that ideal team. Call it a case of creative or professional differences, or perhaps it's just a part of doing business in a town that's barely starting to become a culinary destination, where talented chefs can practically cherry pick where they work.

Holm, a metro Detroit native who worked as a photographer in New York before moving into the role of restaurateur, has certainly been initiated into the tumultuous world of restaurants. When doors initially soft opened in the summer of 2014, Antietam was immediately lauded for its innovative concept. Weeks later, Holm's first chef and beverage director left, forcing him to re-evaluate his approach and hold off on reopening until later that year. Since then, the restaurant has received critical acclaim while struggling in the back of the house, with two more executive chefs exiting for other opportunities.

Now under the helm of executive chef Seth High, who's worked in kitchens including Antietam for the past two decades, that search for efficiency and expertise seems to have been found. He had played a role in the kitchen from the beginning, but left to fulfill a summertime work obligation in fine dining on Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts.

The Flint native, who's also made stops in New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and South Florida, tells us his approach in the kitchen is in delivering stability. Diners have already come to expect perfection from dishes like the brilliantly prepared terrine of oxtail, the decadent rack of lamb, the wonderfully tender sautéed chicken, or the delightfully sweet beet tart. And those items remain.

High doesn't abandon these favorites, but utilizes his time spent in New England by adding in a number of fresh seafood dishes. We find it, for example, in the starter confit pork belly and mussels, served with fennel, tomato, garlic, vermouth, and a crusty side of bread. The dish is harmonious with saltiness from the fatty pork, acidity from the tomato-based broth, and the meatiness of the mussels. Even after the meat has been devoured, you're left with plenty of juice, easily sopped up with the bread.

Then there's the simply yet beautifully plated wild Alaskan halibut, served with small potatoes, peas and cipollini, and oyster vinaigrette. Perfectly poached in olive oil, what you get is a silky, incredibly tender texture that maintains a pure seafood flavor.

Attention to detail can also be found in the house-made pastas, such as the crowd-pleasing pea agnolotti, a ravioli starter with roasted mushrooms, blistered tomatoes, crunchy asparagus, and bathed in truffle butter.

To keep things interesting, Antietam has introduced a weekend tasting menu with a multicourse rotation of seasonal fare. Found on a recent menu were offerings like a seared foie gras, hand-pulled mozzarella, and smoked pork tenderloin. Also available on weekends: An intriguing brunch menu featuring a variety of small bites like the smoked whitefish dip or house-made granola with Greek yogurt and berries. There are larger entrees, like the bananas Foster French toast that uses fresh challah bread, and the poached Eggs al' Antietam with the oxtail terrine, toasted brioche, Hollandaise, caramelized onion, and pimento home fries.

Perhaps what we love most about Antietam is that despite whatever drama may have unfolded in the early days, it's created a sense of community on a block that only a few years ago was short on the buzz of activity. On any given day, on top of the suburbanites who flock downtown for an epicurean field trip, you just might come across loyal followers like local writer Oneita Jackson, author of the Nappy-Headed Negro Syndrome, who can regularly be seen dining al fresco at the small round table on Gratiot. She tells us she loves that the spot is sexy, solid, and unpretentious — with great food to boot.

At a time when Detroit's restaurant scene is experiencing exponential development, it should come as no surprise that growing pains will follow. In recent years, we've seen establishments come and go within a year or so when their proprietors failed to strike the right balance of living up to the hype. After two years in the game, Antietam appears to have overcome its early hiccups.

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