Take a look at a lot of the trends permeating Detroit's creative dining scene – local sourcing, paying farmers up-front, unpretentious surroundings, comfort food, humanely raised proteins, fast-casual offshoots – and consider that all these trends were quietly adopted by Lorraine Platman before they were hip.
In 30 years, Platman has taken her Sweet Lorraine's Cafe and spun it into a mini-chain, and then extended the brand into a fast-casual franchise Sweet Lorraine's Fabulous Mac n' Cheez! (exclamation point included, naturally). Now she's on the cusp of joining the rush to open eateries in the area around Wayne State University, and her latest place sounds like a doozy. (More on that later.)
How did she become such an early adopter of up-to-the-minute trends before they prevailed? She says that, as a newcomer to the dining business, when she first opened her restaurant, she didn't know such things were unusual.
“I’ve been into grass-fed beef and buying locally since we’ve been in business,” she says, “because I didn’t know we weren’t supposed to do that. I’d go to the farmer’s market and ask people to grow me things, or make sure that I got the cuts of the garlic scapes and people looked at me like I was crazy. They didn’t trust so-called chefs. I’d pay up front for things because I wanted that when I wanted it.”
Platman, who still speaks with a slight English accent – her father moved the family to Detroit in the 1960s to work for Ford Motor Company – has also been among the first to spin a fine-dining concept off into simpler (but still “chef-driven”) fare. That started five years ago with her first Mac n' Cheez eatery. It's comfort food, of course, another trend currently reigning in local dining, from poutine to barbecue.
“We talked to people and when we said 'mac and cheese,' they smiled,” she says. “And we really wanted to open up something that makes people smile.”
The upcoming offshoot, on the southeast corner of Warren and Cass, will have more than gooey noodles to garner grins: There will be infused spirits, Michigan sodas made with cane sugar, and local beer on tap. (“Beer goes with everything,” Platman says, “especially for an English person.) These tweaks earn it a special name: Sweet Lorraine's Mac n' Brewz. The opening is scheduled for a few weeks from now.
In anticipation of that opening, Platman wanted to share some of the details on her upcoming special, Holiday Mac n' Cheez – as she says, “with all the fixings.”
She says, “I’ve got my aged cheddar cheese sauce – it's hot on the line – with hot twisted noodles, we toss those two together. And we’ve taken a combination of things that are on the holiday table –- applewood-smoked bacon, roasted chicken, fresh mushrooms, broccoli, breadcrumbs, dried cranberries, and some more cheddar cheese – and we put it under the broiler for one minute and it's served to the guest. So, basically, in two minutes, you get a hot, piping real food – no preservatives, no coloring.”
So add seasonal fare to all these hip trends? Platman laughs and says, “I feel like I’m sounding so damn trendy but this is all we’ve done, all the years we’ve been in business. And we’re just going to continue it, now that everyone else has found it.”
Sweet Lorraine’s Fabulous Mac Holiday Mac n’ Cheez with all the Fixin’s
(Not the official recipe; the official cheese sauce is a trade secret)
Macaroni cheese sauce
4 12-ounce cans evaporated milk
2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
3 ounces unsalted butter
4 ounces all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 ounces Parmesan cheese
2 pounds shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon dry mustard
Heat evaporated milk and stock. While heating, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour until combined. Pour heated milk mixture into butter-flour mixture slowly. Whisk until smooth and fully combined. Remove from heat and add remaining Ingredients with immersion blender until smooth. Yield 8 cups.
Boil two pounds of your favorite pasta until just cooked, drain well, and toss with the macaroni cheese sauce. Fill your heat-proof serving container with cheesy pasta, and sprinkle with 1 additional cup of extra-sharp cheddar cheese.
Fill your heat proof-serving container (any size that fits pasta, as long as it is heat-proof) with the cheese sauce and pasta, and sprinkle approximately one cup of extra sharp cheddar cheese over the top of the pasta before putting it in an oven preheated to 350 degrees, and heat until cheese melts. Assemble on your table with "holiday fixin’s" for your guests to top their bowl of mac and cheese with, such as:
• Diced all natural roasted chicken
• Crumbled bacon (our favorite is applewood smoked by Beeler's)
• Toasted bread croutons
• Dried cranberries
• Steamed broccoli flowerets
• Sliced white mushroom
Or any leftovers you have from your holiday festivities!