Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The 5 Days of DRW: Cliff Bell's

All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

One of the new faces of this year's fall edition of Detroit Restaurant Week is Cliff Bell's, Detroit's premiere jazz and supper club - or, rather, supper and jazz club.

"Detroit Restaurant Week is an opportunity for us to be recognized as a restaurant, not just a jazz club that has good food," says Executive Chef Matt Baldridge. "This validates us as a restaurant. I hope this gets us out there to people who haven't been here yet."

Grilled salmon with spaghetti squash, shaved radish, pumpkin seeds and champagne cream sauce.

Baldridge has been with Cliff Bell's since they first opened their kitchen three years ago. But despite how long they've been at it, it seems a lot of people still aren't aware they actually serve fully coursed-out menus. They serve lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, and also have a killer happy hour. The menu is updated 4-5 times per year in order to stay seasonal and offer the best ingredients available at the time, highlighting fresh, local flavors.

"We try to find the best product available," Baldridge says. "We let the product itself stand alone. There aren't 22 things on a plate; just good, clean flavors."

Butternut squash gnocchi with walnuts, brown butter and fried egg.

The menu is entirely Baldridge's creation. Before Cliff Bell's, he had worked at the Rattlesnake Club on and off for seven years (his last title there was Chef de Cuisine under Jimmy Schmidt). At Cliff Bell's, he has absolute creative control over the menu. "[Owner Paul Howard] lets me do what I want. There's a lot to be said for that; it keeps me here!"

Cliff Bell's is a modern American supper club. Located in an Albert Kahn-designed building, the original Cliff Bell's opened in 1935 - the namesake lounge of one Cliff Bell, a man who opened and operated over a dozen speakeasies during Prohibition. The gorgeous mahogany-and-brass jazz club was shuttered in 1985, but reopened again in 2005 thanks to the efforts of current owners Paul and Carolyn Howard and Scott Lowell. The fully-restored nightclub underwent its final rounds of renovations eight months ago to celebrate their fifth anniversary (a fully-restored Steinway piano will be the final touch), with plush cream and maroon upholstery, expansive murals, and a glittering mosaic showcasing their name.

The interior retains all of its former art deco glory, and is well-known as one of the most popular entertainment spots in Detroit featuring world-renowned jazz acts, electronica and techno, funk, and other eclectic events like burlesque performances and the NPR-darling storytelling series The Moth.

But now, finally, Cliff Bell's is also gaining a reputation as one of the best restaurants in Detroit. "We're upscale without the pomp and circumstance," Baldridge says. Think roasted salmon belly nicoise and oxtail osso buco with savory brown rice pudding, but all of it in a very comfortable, casual atmosphere sans the white linens (and oftentimes with live and loud music). The kitchen stays open until 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, so other industry folk (restaurant and music alike) have a place to go for a fantastic meal after work.

Cliff Bell's is the ultimate collision of class and comfort, a classic watering hole with hand-crafted cocktails and stunning decor where you're just as likely to run into a group of men in business suits as you are a pack of scruffy hipsters. Black and white, old and young, professionals and artists - Cliff Bell's is that rare breed of place where ALL people of Detroit come together on common ground.


Butternut Squash Gnocchi
(Prepared with walnuts, brown butter and fried egg)
Tellicherry Peppercorn-rubbed Beef Carpaccio
(Served with wild mushrooms, radish and frisée)
House-smoked Pork Belly
(Served with fingerlings and apple sauce)


Zinfandel-braised Beef Short Ribs
(Served with roasted beets, matchstick potatoes and horseradish cream)
Grilled Salmon
(Served with spaghetti squash, shaved radish, pumpkin seeds and Champagne cream sauce)
Maple-cured Chicken Breast
(Served with roasted root vegetables and herbed spaetzle, finished with chicken jus lié)
Roasted Vegetable Pot Pie


Vanilla Crème Brûlée
(Served with fresh berries)

Cliff Bell's on Urbanspoon