The eye-catching cobblestone exterior of the squat one-story building on Grand River is one of a kind. Inside is a surprising kitchen headed by proprietor Max (Maxcel) Hardy, a celebrity chef who has returned to his place of birth. I suspect that many Detroiters don’t realize that the proprietor of the new spot is more famous in New York and Miami than he is in his hometown.
Since graduating from culinary school, he has been personal chef for the NBA’s Amare Stoudemire, co-authored a couple of cookbooks with another on the way, and become involved in the I am Hope Foundation, helping a grade school in Kenya.
Walk into River Bistro and it doesn’t take long to realize although it is modest, it has a certain chic. The 16-seat spot has just two communal tables, each seating eight, and on one wall a blackboard artistically lettered with the menu of Caribbean/southern dishes, such as jerk ribs and chicken wings, as well as less familiar dishes like rock shrimp fritters, and maple and garlic salmon. Because of its size, much is carryout.
Those who decide to take a seat should not be in a hurry. This is not fast food, but carefully and individually prepared dishes, each nicely garnished with such accompaniments as the slightly sweet island slaw, crisp plantain chips, house-made pickles or the chef’s barbecue sauce. The meaty jerk ribs are not as spicy as might be expected, but rather savory and meaty, requiring a knife and fork. The soft dish towel napkins are essential with this dish, and also with the chicken wings that also have the house sauce, and are one of the niceties here.
At brunch on Saturday and Sunday, turkey gravy and biscuits, sweet potato waffles, ribeye steak and eggs, and honey lavished chicken are especially popular along with skillet-fried fish and smoked cheddar grits. All the brunch dishes are $13.95.
The chef says he is already preparing to add some fall dishes to the menu, including braised oxtail, curried goat and some savory stews.
Mango or raspberry lemonade, pomegranate tea and ginger beer are the drinks.
Hidden away in the back with a separate entrance is a private dining room where Hardy presides over a chef’s table designed for each particular client, giving him a chance to branch out of the set menu.
River Bistro is the first of three restaurant concepts planned by the chef. Up next will be Coop, a rotisserie chicken concept on Cass at Peterboro, and then an African-inspired spot in the new arena neighborhood, quite apt for a basketball fan like Hardy.
18456 Grand River, Detroit
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Lunch dishes $8.95-$13.95, sides $4, dinner entrees $10.95-$16.95, desserts $4-$5, brunch Sat.-Sun. $13.95
Credit cards: All major
Noise level: Low
Parking: Attached lot and street
Wheelchair access: No barriers
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good ★★ 1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding