Detroit’s restaurant scene blossomed last year in a way it hadn’t in decades — and Selden Standard is #1.
A young cook stirs the glowing embers in the wood-fired grill and adds another log of Michigan hardwood to the flames. Nearby, guests begin gathering in the bar, their conversations blending with the staccato rhythm of cocktail shakers.
It’s almost 5 p.m. — time for dinner service to begin at Selden Standard in Midtown Detroit.
The kitchen’s daily prep is done: Hand-braided loaves of brioche rise in the pastry kitchen. Hanger steaks, duck sausages and glistening whole trout await the grill. And piles of delicate handmade pastas — from squid ink chitarra to celery root agnolotti — are ready for baths in boiling water.
Now it’s the servers’ turn to take the stage. “Lots of warm smiles,” chef-owner Andy Hollyday reminds them as he and co-owner Evan Hansen wrap up the nightly predinner staff meeting. They’ll be busy tonight: Thirty minutes after the doors open, the tables will be filled with guests from all over metro Detroit, eager to try the city’s hottest new dining spot.
Two or three years ago, few people would have expected a restaurant of this quality and style to open near a derelict corner a block from Cass Avenue. But Hollyday and Hansen believed so firmly in the city’s comeback, they bet their futures on it, turning a graffiti-scarred dry cleaners at Second and Selden into an oasis for food lovers.
Their timing couldn’t have been better: Detroit’s restaurant scene blossomed last year in a way it hadn’t in decades — and Selden Standard is the best of the best.
Seasonal, boldly flavored Selden Standard’s executive chef and partner Andy Hollyday, The black, white and cedar dining room and bar is a People dine at Selden Standard in Detroit. Many dishes will be prepared on a dual-grated wood-fired Many dishes will be prepared on a dual-grated wood-fired Cauliflower cooks in the wood-burning oven. Selden Standard’s executive chef and partner Andy Hollyday Sweet potato raviolis at Selden Standard. Squash flat bread at Selden Standard. Squid Ink Chittara at Selden Standard. Charred Octopus at Selden Standard. Selden Standard features a sophisticated craft cocktail The dining room at Selden Standard is lively and casual. The bar at Selden Standard is a popular gathering spot. Sous Chef Nick Elswick, left and executive chef Andy The restaurant seats about 85. A small chef’s counter overlooks the wood-burning grill The menu is hearty and seasonal but also balanced with Vegetable carpaccio salad at Selden Standard restaurant Cauliflower roasted in a wood-fired wall oven is tossed Fire-grilled quail are split and served atop chestnut A savory porchetta sandwich with arugula and garlicky Kale Caesar salad at Selden Standard restaurant in Beets roasted in a wood-fired wall oven are served Almond fig cake is served with persimmon compote and Selden Standard’s executive chef and partner Andy Hollyday Michael Goldberg garnishes polenta al forno at Selden Set within view of guests, the wood-burning equipment Set within view of guests, the wood-burning equipment Pastry Chef Sara Hackstock, from left Events Manager The kitchen is bustling at dinner time at Selden Standard Event manager Natasha Marin shares a smile with her Executive chef Andy Hollyday prepares a dish in the Dinners at Selden Standard in Detroit on Monday, Jan. Selden Standard’s executive chef and partner Andy Hollyday People dine at Selden Standard in Detroit on Monday, Executive chef Andy Hollyday, left prepares a dish
Hollyday and Hansen have given us a place that could shine in any city with its rustic, seasonal, handcrafted menu; carefully chosen beverages; personable service and unpretentious atmosphere.
It’s perfect for these times and this place and its well-deserved new title: the 2015 Free Press Restaurant of the Year.
They wanted a fun, relaxed place “with a kind of neighborhood vibe, where anyone could walk in and it would feel very warm,” Hollyday says. He made it a shared-plates menu — the kind that allows guests to order several things for the table and taste a variety of dishes.
The food, he says with characteristic understatement, would be “very seasonal and hand-crafted. Just honest, simple food.”
But his idea of “simple” is anything but simple to execute.
“Nothing here is done the easy way,” he says. In the kitchen, every shallot and garlic clove is peeled by hand.
“When we’re developing new dishes … I always jokingly say, ‘We’re going to do this the hard way.’ ” By that, he means cooking from scratch, without shortcuts.
So every day, pasta maker Chris Gilday cranks golden yellow dough again and again through a pasta roller into extra-thin sheets; measures and cuts them into long strips; pipes rows of celery root puree down the centers, and then folds, seals and cuts them into dozens of agnolotti that look like neatly wrapped gifts.
Hollyday’s no-shortcuts philosophy drives every part of the menu, from the desserts, rolls and breads baked fresh daily by pastry chef Sara Hackstock to the fresh sausages ground, seasoned and stuffed in-house. The kitchen churns butter for the bread, makes fresh ricotta for the roasted beet salad, pickles the vegetables and chilies that add spark to so many dishes, and creates the syrups and bitters for the bar’s excellent craft cocktails.
“We’re just starting to make our own cured meats, like pancetta, bacon and ham,” Hollyday says. “Everything is cooked to order, dressed to order, built to order.”
Even the cooking methods are more difficult at Selden Standard, where the chef insisted on a wood-burning grill and wood-burning oven. “Cooking with wood is more difficult because it’s never the same,” he concedes. “There are so many variables.”
But he has never forgotten the wood-fired food at Oliveto in Oakland, Calif., where he worked early in his career for Paul Bertolli, former executive chef of the legendary Chez Panisse.
“It always struck me how amazing the food was there — and how simple it was,” Hollyday says. “There was this other layer of flavor” that a real wood fire imparted.
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Winner: Selden Standard, Detroit
He counts Bertolli as one of his most significant culinary influences. From him, Hollyday learned the beauty of cooking seasonally, locally, simply and from scratch.
“That whole experience at Oliveto really shaped me,” he says.
He also saw that great kitchens could be calm — the way he likes his — and for the first time, he worked with significant numbers of female chefs. It’s no accident that “we have a large female staff here,” he says. “I think it’s nice; it balances things out.”
His other chief culinary influence was Food Network chef Michael Symon, who owns Roast at the Westin Book Cadillac, where Hollyday was executive chef for four years.
From Symon, Hollyday learned how to use acidic ingredients like citrus juices and vinegars to add balance to a dish and “make it sing.” Indeed, those bright acidic notes are one of his trademark touches.
“Mike Symon was all about rich foods, but he always had a complementing sauce or something to really cut through all that,” Hollyday says. “He probably affected my cooking style the most.”
In fact, Selden Standard might not exist if Hollyday hadn’t worked at Roast.
A Toledo native and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he never planned to end up in Michigan. But after cooking in France and returning to the U.S. flat broke, he moved in with his sister in Canton to figure out his next step.
He worked at the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn and a couple of other locations, but when Roast opened, he grabbed the chance to be a line cook there; within a year later he was executive chef.
To reduce his commute, he moved to Midtown Detroit, where he “quickly fell in love with everything about the city,” he recalls.
“I didn’t get it until I moved down here. The people, the spirit — there were a lot of things happening. I feel like Roast was a big catalyst for that — for good food and drink. It was something new and fresh.”
In that first year, he watched the Book Cadillac’s Washington block change from a place where he saw people using drugs on the streets to one where trees were being planted and people were walking about.
“Living here, I felt like I was part of some kind of renaissance of the city and food. It was exciting, and I saw what the hotel and restaurant had done. I saw the opportunity for that to happen in other places in the city.” After that, “I was 100% committed to doing something here.”
Hansen was looking for opportunities in the city, too. The former marketing director for U-M’s undergraduate programs, he had decided to pursue his passion for beverages of all kinds by opening “a rustic, shared-plates restaurant.”
By coincidence, he and Hollyday were separately vying for the same restaurant site, which neither got. But after meeting and realizing their goals were similar — even if their backgrounds weren’t — they teamed up.
Hansen had no restaurant experience, but he did have business, management and beverage knowledge. Hollyday thought he was just the kind of partner who could give the restaurant stability and structure — not to mention a great beverage program.
The wine list features bottles that represent good value and pair well with food — as do the craft beers — and the craft cocktails are creative and original. All in all, they help set the mood for a great meal.
Dining at Selden Standard is relaxed and unpretentious. Guests gather nightly at the long cedar bar at the entrance to wait for a table; it’s the first area to fill up and often the last to empty.
The adjacent dining room is sleek and modern with dark gray walls, a polished concrete floor, wood-topped tables and banquettes and gunmetal-gray steel chairs. Slender Edison bulbs hang in rows from the open ceiling. White subway tiles lighten the look behind the bar and around the kitchen entrance.
At the back of the room, a cedar-topped chef’s counter stands in front of the wood-burning grill and oven, giving diners there a front-row seat on the cooking action.
Selden Standard attracts all ages and types of diners, but they seem to have one thing in common: a lively interest in food. It’s a sociable place where people seem to enjoy striking up conversations with folks at the next table, asking “What’s that dish?” or “Have you been here before?”
First-timers should consider ordering four or five dishes for two, choosing some from the “vegetables and such” section and some from the “meats and fish” group. Shared plates are priced and sized to let diners taste several things. Small individual plates are provided so everyone can take some of all the dishes; it’s a bit like dining family-style.
The “vegetables” column (most, $7-$12) includes some of the best things in the house. Be sure to try the mellow, fire-roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, Stilton and walnuts, and the tahini-sauced cauliflower with lemon, cilantro and pickled chilies.
Among the 14 meat and fish choices (most, $14-$20), be adventurous and try the charred octopus with a palate-awakening salad of fennel, citrus and olives. If that’s too daring, the pastas also are delicious. The pork shoulder confit with spaetzle, red cabbage and apple mostarda strikes a great balance between fat and acid. Likewise, the grilled quail with chestnut puree, pickled cranberries and grilled radicchio is classic Hollyday: seasonal, rustic, balanced.
He and Hansen are grateful for the reception they’ve received from diners and thankful for a staff that has stepped up to meet the high demands. “It’s the staff that makes this place go,” Hollyday says.
They’re focused now on tweaking and improving — but one issue, at least, is behind them.
“We got a lot of comments from people saying, ‘You’re crazy to open a restaurant on this corner,’ ” Hollyday remembers. But he knew otherwise. He had seen change come to corners elsewhere.
“If you’re doing good things,” he says, “people will come and find you, even if it’s a little off the path.”
SELDEN STANDARD: IF YOU GO
3921 Second, near Selden, Detroit
Cuisine: Seasonal New American cuisine with European and Mediterranean influences. Locally sourced ingredients and all-from-scratch preparations. Lunch, brunch, dinner.
Format: Designed to encourage shared-plate dining — meaning many dishes are served in smaller portions so guests can order multiple items and share them, if they wish. The concept lets diners taste several different dishes without over-ordering. Small “share plates” are provided.
Prices: Dinner: Vegetables, salads, flatbreads, etc., mostly $7-$12; meat and fish dishes, mostly $14-$20; desserts $6-$10. Lunch: salads, sides, soups $4-$9; sandwiches and main plates, $9-$18. Brunch: Sweets and sides, $4-$10; other dishes mostly $8-$13.
Hours: Dinner, 5-10 p.m. daily. Bar, 4:30-11 p.m. daily. Lunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Brunch, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Special features: Patio in summer. Communal table in dining room seats up to 16. Private event space seats 36. Free parking on street.
Reservations: Available in limited numbers to allow for walk-ins.
Additional info: Dress is casual. House-made bread and butter are available at dinner on request — as the menu notes. Portion sizes vary; feel free to ask servers for guidance. Sound levels can be high but don’t prevent conversation.
Detroit Free Press, February 6, 2015