Although it’s unlikely anyone would ever walk here — an activity that would require a jaunt along the I-94 service drive — once inside, Brandon’s has the feel of a neighborhood place. And this is Detroit, where nobody walks to neighborhood places, anyway.
How can you tell when the clientele is made up of regulars? It’s something about their look of assuredness. The patrons at Brandon’s don’t look excited — or apprehensive — but they do look content. Everybody is cheerful.
Including me, glad to have found a spot to recommend to my East Side friends. Chef and owner Brandon Kahlich is serving a short but varied menu, with cuisines from England to Thailand represented. Mostly the dishes are American, and I liked best Kahlich’s way with seafood.
That would include two feathery crab cakes, crunchy outside but light as a cloud within. Kahlich serves them with a very mild tartar sauce, not enough to glop or overwhelm, and a squiggle of horseradish sauce. The crab cakes are also available on a sandwich for $11.25. Other starters include pizzetta margherita, coconut-crusted shrimp and veggie quesadillas.
Equally good, in their own way, are fish-and-chips, the chips being waffle-fries and the cod as crisp and fatty as if it came from a Liverpool pub.
Whitefish can be a bore, but not at Brandon’s. Lightly breaded, two large, curved pieces are enough for two. The side vegetables in a lemon-butter sauce are at their peak degree of tender-crunch. This state of perfection requires paying attention, especially when the list is as diverse as carrots, zucchini, red pepper, cauliflower, green beans and onions.
My final fish dish is linguine with shrimp in a lemon-pepper cream sauce, this time with yellow peppers. It’s tart-sweet, with just enough pepper bite.
I order wild mushroom and corn soup on two different nights and get two different soups, one sweet and one smoky. Both are good, with a thin broth and fresh wild mushrooms, baby portobellos and morels. Kahlich explains that between my two visits he’d improved the dish by grilling the corn and adding dried shiitakes.
If you’re not doing the crab cakes as an appetizer, pick Kahlich’s Mediterranean sampler. The hummus is lemony and the baba ghanoush smoky; faintly toasting the pita is positively the right choice. A cuke/tomato/red onion salad sets off the flavors.
Less successful is the port-wine marinated rib-eye steak my friend orders. Big enough for three hearty eaters, it requires far too much jaw action.
Oddly, the most disappointing dish at Brandon’s is Thai fried rice. It’s odd because Kahlich lived and cooked in Thailand for two years. But his mound of dark sticky rice has just one taste — medium-hot — and lacks the layers of flavor we’ve come to look for in the best Thai food. He also serves a chicken satay with peanut sauce.
Big sandwiches are available at dinner as well as lunch. They’re pricey but sound worth it — like a steak-and-cheese with caramelized mushrooms, onions and cheddar, for $12.
For dessert, a molten lava cake is flourless and flawless — a pudding, really. I would stick with raspberries as a topping, though, and skip the strawberries and blueberries. Those berries work better on the lemon custard/raspberry sorbet/vanilla bean ice cream bombe.
A very likable attribute of Brandon’s is the generous portions of wine. Although the house Merlot ($4.75) tastes cheap, a Blackstone Merlot from California was much better for just a buck more. The wine list spans four continents.
Kahlich favors microbrews from Motor City Brewing Works and Kalamazoo Brewing Co. on draught, and promises never to serve Bud Light.
The restaurant is quite small, aiding the neighborhood feel, with an exposed brick wall, green upholstery and shaded lamps in the dark wood booths. It’s an old-fashioned kind of clubby feeling, faintly pub-like. It’s easy to forget that the restaurant is attached to the Parkcrest Inn, an unlovely, fortress-like establishment perched above the freeway.
The unfortunate location is not keeping away the regulars, who fill Brandon’s on weekend nights. Reservations are advised.
Open for lunch and dinner every day.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.