by Todd Abrams
Like blossoms in the wasteland, Park Bar and Bucharest Grill, and their next door neighbor, Cliff Bell's, are bringing dining and entertainment traffic back to the section of Park Avenue near Grand Circus Park. But more than a just a beacon of hope in a downtown historic district that badly needs more redevelopment, Park Bar and Bucharest Grill simply make a fine place to grab a glass of draft Michigan beer and eat pork.
The minimal and inexpensive menu is a loose blend of Eastern European and Middle Eastern, with an emphasis on ground pork dishes. In fact, more than half of the menu items contain ground pork in some form or another. It's not exactly the lightest fare in town, but if you're looking to set a substantial base to pour drinks over or fill your belly before a game, it will do quite well.
For starters, dip your pita into an eggplant dip garnished with fresh tomato and onion or a bowl of hummus. Get cheese breaded and fried or stuffed into a pastry crust. Ground pork shows up in the form of skinless sausage or packed into four fat and moist grape leaf rolls glistening with a tomato-based sauce and resting alongside a liberal dollop of sour cream. Bean and chicken are the two soup choices.
For $7.75, you can get about 12 inches of house-specialty charred and pepper-spiced Romanian sausage with a side of refreshing cabbage salad in a mild vinegar dressing. Though not particularly groundbreaking, the sausage dish is notable for being served atop a mound of enough curly fries to satiate a defensive lineman, of which one or two are rumored to actually show up and play for the Lions this year.
Other house specialties include stuffed green peppers that look to be a larger version of the grape leaves. Grilled and marinated pork steak and pan-fried chicken schnitzel are served beside fries and a small salad.
If you're looking to go meatless, only one of four salads, the house salad, will work. There is a salad topped with ground pork meatballs and a hefty potato salad full of pickles, carrots and diced chicken. With its green pepper, tomato, cucumber and pita chips, the chicken shawarma salad might as well be called a fattoush.
For a little more than $4, order chicken, beef or vegetarian shawarma wrapped in a pita. A few cents more buy you the enormous Bucharest shawarma, swollen with chicken, cabbage, pickles, tomato and fries, dripping with a delicious garlic sauce. It's a triple-napkin wrap. Bring a pocketful of breath mints if you're club-hopping afterward. An extra $2 gets you that mound of fries.
One section of the menu is dedicated to "gourmet dogs." It's Bucharest Grill's exploration of sausage culture, ranging from the local Detroiter, a knockwurst with coney chili sauce, grilled onions and cheese, to the Berliner, a bratwurst covered in sauerkraut, onions and your choice of mild or spicy mustard. The Hamtramck is kielbasa with bacon and red cabbage. The Chicago comes with the requisite relish, dill pickle, tomato, sport pepper and celery salt. (We'll overlook the lack of poppy-seed bun.)
Then there is the ground pork patty sandwich served open-faced over a fried egg and Muenster cheese. (That ought to soak up some booze.) The sliders also seem to have some proportion of ground pork in them. Texturally, they feel like a breakfast biscuit sandwich but the taste is all-slider. House-made crêpes with chocolate or strawberry filling and an apple pastry finish the menu.
Though occupying its own small space under a neon sign, Bucharest Grill is integrated into the Park Bar. If you're not getting carry-out or the limited delivery service they offer, the bartender will take your order and deliver it next to your drink. With more than 20 taps, a good portion of which are Michigan brews, and a mellow vibe, it's a nice place to relax and take a meal.
Surrounding the circular bar, which is well-stocked with standard liquor, are unique tables and booths of padded wood. Built by local artisans, most of the fixtures are distinct. A few plants grow around the far edges. The soundtrack swings between hard and soft but is never annoying. There's even a touch of crunchy earth-hugger in the men's room where a flushless urinal with a painted-on housefly target hangs on the wall. Tall windows look out upon Park Avenue and an arresting Hygienic Dress League mural pasted on the street level façade of the old Charlevoix Hotel. One day the success of the Park Bar and Bucharest Grill may spread in that direction.
Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday. Carry-out, limited delivery.
Todd Abrams braves pork for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.