Elegance & Good Taste in Hamtramck
An early October sun is setting over the storefronts of Joseph Campau Avenue in Hamtramck. It’s Friday night, and small groups of people filter casually into Peter Dalinowski’s permanent pop-up venue, (revolver). A few guests carry their own bottles of wine as they are seated family-style around candlelit wood block tables. It’s the first seating of the season after a brief summer hiatus, and the anticipation is palpable.
Unlike most pop-up restaurants, (revolver) stays in one place, hosting a rotating cast of chefs and menus. Since opening in September 2013, the restaurant has hosted an array of well-known and emerging chefs, including James Rigato of The Root and Mabel Gray, Dave Mancini of Supino Pizzeria and Rebecca LaMalfa of Chicago’s Trencherman (Editor’s note: now named Trench).
Tonight’s featured chef is Brad Greenhill, the creative force behind Thai-inspired Katoi (Editor’s note: now named Takoi) . Soon to open in a permanent spot in Detroit’s Corktown, Katoi began as a stationary food truck on the property of Corktown’s Two James Distillery. Over the past year, Katoi has been operating in Ann Arbor as it builds out its Corktown space.
Greenhill was the first chef to cook at (revolver) and has returned more often than any other chef. In addition to the convenience of coming into a fully functional restaurant space, Greenhill says cooking at (revolver) helps him to grow his business.
“They have a built-in clientele,” says Greenhill. “It’s an opportunity to reach new people who may not already know about us, and it’s a good forum to experiment with new ideas.”
As the guests settle in, Dalinowski and Greenhill come out to welcome everyone and discuss tonight’s meal, which starts with a Tom Yum soup with prawn and mushrooms. Next up is a kabocha squash dish flavored with green chilies, coconut cream and crispy shallots, followed by pan-seared Brussels sprouts seasoned with tamarind and soy sauce. The main dish is crispy spare ribs glazed in fish sauce atop an apple-and-ginger salad. Dessert is a sticky rice ice cream accompanied by jackfruit gel and peanuts served atop a toasted bun. Sweetness and salt dance with one another through every course.
Dalinowski does no advertising; dinner announcements are made via an email subscription list. Most are sold out within hours. “It’s about as grassroots as you can get,” says Dalinowski. “The mailing list has grown to over 5,000 people who are the most hard-core, dedicated adventurous foodies.”
Dalinowski was excited about Detroit’s pop-up restaurant scene but thought it was often too chaotic. He had a vision to subvert the pop-up paradigm by combining a bit of the stability of a brick-and-mortar restaurant—a functional cooking area, bathroom and consistent service—with the creative ethos of the pop-up scene.
Dalinowski opened (revolver) with partner Tunde Wey on a shoestring. (Wey has since departed to open his own Nigerian restaurant in New Orleans.) The pair searched for a space in Detroit before settling on the location at 9737 Joseph Campau Ave. in Hamtramck. They were in the middle of a spartan build-out when city staff approached them about taking part in a citywide restaurant week.
“We weren’t ready at all,” says Dalinowski. “We thought we’d open once and go back to working on the space. So we bought a secondhand stove and freezer, some wire shelving, a bunch of IKEA plates and silverware from Target and, armed with that, we opened.”
In the day leading up to opening night, Dalinowski spent 14 hours hand-constructing wood block tables, one friend painted the (revolver) logo on the glass storefront while other another put some finishing touches on the paint job.
“Then, people showed up and we opened,” he recalls. “It was ridiculous.”
Those first restaurant week engagements, featuring chefs Ollie Honderd and Brad Greenhill, sold out. What was to be a one-night engagement turned out to be just the beginning; (revolver) has been open and selling out ever since. Finding chefs to participate in (revolver) has not been a challenge, says Dalinowski. Established chefs seek him out, eager for an opportunity get out of their kitchens and try new things. And they tell their chef friends about it.
“So many chefs I’ve gotten are friends of other chefs,” says Dalinowski. “And with new restaurants opening up in Detroit, many chefs want to do a night at (revolver) to preview their menus.” In the last year, (revolver) dinners have previewed the menus of star newcomers like Chartreuse, Wright & Company, Mabel Gray and Selden Standard.
As Dalinowski streamlines the work involved to run (revolver), he is beginning to turn his attention to other projects. He’s working with a chef in Chicago to replicate the concept there and has designs on other restaurant ideas to fill what he sees are many unfilled niches in Detroit’s restaurant scene.
As for (revolver)’s future, Dalinowski plans to leave Hamtramck; he’s eyeing spots in older suburbs like Hazel Park and Ferndale and in Detroit neighborhoods like Eastern Market. In the coming months, look for some variation on the five-course theme, such as a barbecue and vegetarian series, and more ethnic food.
“I want it to be different all the time,” says Dalinowski. “I’m not getting bored, but I’m getting used to it. I want to do new things.”
(revolver): 9737 Joseph Campau Ave., Hamtramck, 313-757-3093, RevolverHamtramck.com
Nina Misuraca Ignaczak lives, writes and eats in Rochester, Michigan.
This article was originally featured in Edible WOW’s Winter Issue in 2016. Learn more at ediblewow.com