by Elissa Karg
The New Center Eatery concentrates on serving breakfast and lunch to white-collar workers who toil in the office buildings along West Grand Blvd., home to some of Detroit’s most fabulous architecture.
It’s a neat little place that seats about 50 comfortably, if not too many babies and their accoutrements are in attendance. A couple of infants on a Saturday had our server taking indirect routes to reach our table. The space is attractive, with hardwood floors and tropical silk flowers. High-tech lamps hang from two tracks; some of the glass shades are cobalt blue, others white. The walls are sponge-painted yellowish gold and hung with a collection of bright abstract oil paintings, which are for sale. Even though the dishes and silverware are disposable, it feels like you’re eating in a trendy little art gallery.
The menu is extensive enough to provide variety even if you partake most days of the week. The hot item seems to be fried chicken wings with waffles ($7). It’s a combination I’ve never seen before, but it was definitely popular on the morning we were there. Later I asked several people who had grown up in the South if they had ever heard of the dish. No one had. Chamika Cannon, co-owner of New Center Eatery along with her spouse Johnny Cannon, explained it with one word: “L.A.”
Born and raised in Detroit, Cannon was introduced to waffles and chicken wings at a place called Rosco’s in Los Angeles. It’s a dish that seems to have an audience in Detroit too. A huge Belgian waffle is surrounded by four chicken wings, with a big scoop of butter topped with a luscious red strawberry.
Another unusual breakfast item is a salmon fillet on top of rice or grits. Also for breakfast: omelets, pancakes, french toast, waffles, steak and eggs.
Lunch offerings are divided between simple sandwiches and salads and more elaborate entrées. Sandwiches, grinders and burgers and salads are in the $6-$9 range. But if it’s a special day, or if you have a long lunch break, look to the section of the menu titled “Entrées” for chicken Marsala, fajitas, jerk-dusted baby back ribs, lemon-garlic shrimp and more. A side salad of diverse baby greens comes with.
We tried the chicken wings as a lunch entrée, served with waffle fries. For $7, we got six big meaty wings, lightly battered, crisply fried. A corned beef sandwich was piled high with lean, shaved meat; my co-diner pronounced it “almost good enough for New York,” with a coleslaw that has a kick, and a kosher pickle. The onion roll, however, was more of a glorified hamburger bun.
It’s always risky to order chicken Marsala ($15) in a place that’s serving mostly waffles, chicken wings and sandwiches, but try it we did. The baked skinless-boneless chicken breast was a bit dried out, as if it had been waiting for some time to be married with its “wild mushroom Marsala sauce” (I saw only garden variety button mushrooms). It was served with some nicely made garlic mashed potatoes, and a great big branch of broccoli.
I liked better a vegetarian entrée of pasta marinara. Green and yellow bow-tie pasta was smothered in a smoky tomato sauce, tossed with grilled eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and tri-colored peppers. The vegetables retained their crunch, which assured me that, regardless of the winter weather, these vegetables had never been frozen.
Chamika Cannon says that the restaurant, which opened in May, hit the ground running. Lunch is the busiest time; after school lets out, a younger crowd shows up.
There’s a small parking lot next door where parking is $2 per half hour. No liquor.
Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.