The Apparatus Room at The Detroit Foundation Hotel
By Mary Noe
Detroit’s fine dining scene has never been more exciting, and award-winning chef Thomas Lents is doing his part to stoke Motor City’s culinary credibility. The Michelin starred chef – and Michigan native – has returned to “The D” to helm The Apparatus Room at the Detroit Foundation Hotel, named one of Time magazine’s “100 Greatest Places 2018” and one of the top luxury hotels in Detroit.
The Apparatus Room restaurant, bar, and lounge debuted last year in the critically-acclaimed luxury hotel that was once home to the Detroit Fire Department headquarters. Recognized on Conde Nast Travel’s ‘2018 Hot List’, Travel + Leisure’s ‘2018 It List’, and named ‘Best New Hotel’ by USA Today, the Detroit Foundation Hotel is at the epicenter of Detroit’s regeneration, and The Apparatus Room is leading the city’s culinary resurgence. Named for its original purpose to house fire engines and equipment, The Apparatus Room offers an exclusive – and popular – opportunity to enjoy a very special culinary experience in the heart of downtown Detroit.
With Chef Thomas Lents as Executive Chef, The Apparatus Room offers approachable fine dining with a hyper-local focus.
“I am thrilled to return home and join this exciting moment in Detroit’s story,” says Lents. “In many ways the growth of the culinary scene in Detroit mirrors the growth and transformation we’ve seen in the city as a whole. As a chef, I am eager to work alongside the local farmers and food purveyors to bring our menu to life.”
Unique Restaurant Experiences
Several restaurant experiences are layered within the historic firehouse walls of The Apparatus Room and I had the opportunity to enjoy some of them on a recent visit to “The D.”
During the day, the bar functions as a coffee counter, offering excellent drip coffee and espresso drinks from local partner Anthology Coffee, and fresh, baked in-house sweet and savory pastries. Full breakfast menu selections may also be ordered at the bar as well as in the dining area of the restaurant. Breakfast standout? Breakfast À La Françoise: a farm egg omelet with leek, comté cheese, and forest mushrooms, and a petite salad.
For breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, the busy main restaurant’s menu also features local and regional specialties with a Midwestern flair. Favorites include Michigan Tomato and Smoked Whitefish Salad (with lovage greens, pistachio, buttermilk, and horseradish) and local Utica Farms Stuffed Pork Belly (served “porchetta-style” with charred corn and summer beans). Foodies and Chef Lents fans may want to go directly to the “Chef’s Choice” option, which features shared-plate chef selections for the entire table.
Apparatus Room Bar and Lounge
The hip Apparatus Room Bar and Lounge features classic and local-inspired craft cocktails (featuring Detroit-based spirits) along with beer selections and a focused, refined wine list. An all-day menu is also available, handy if you’re arriving later in the evening or want to work in the lounge.
Best bar bite? Although I wasn’t in the mood for a hamburger, several people (from employees to patrons) recommended the House Blend Prime Burger, with double patty, American cheese, and grilled onions. It was simply delicious, and probably the best burger in Detroit.
For a more personal experience, enjoy a family-style ‘Chef’s Choice’ tasting menu in the Private Dining Room tucked off the main restaurant. This multi-course extravaganza is suitable for groups of eight to 30 people. The elegant space is muted with dark velvet curtains, and the long, generously proportioned dining table is spacious in depth and offers plenty of room for the family-style serving dishes to be passed and placed. Highlights of our meal were dishes featuring Heritage wheat bread with pimento cheese, and fresh oysters with a light watermelon vinaigrette.
For the ultimate interactive dining experience with Chef Lents, make reservations for the Chef’s Table, named ‘2018 Restaurant of the Year’ by the Detroit Free Press. This exclusive, communal, multi-course dining experience is limited to 12 diners each Friday and Saturday night, and is set in a private room overlooking the main dining room. Menus range from eight-to-12 courses and change monthly. This is where Chef Lents indulges his culinary creativity, as he and his team prepare portions of the menu in front of you to create the ultimate interactive dining experience. For an anticipatory virtual taste, check out this sample Chef’s Table menu.
Come for the Food – Stay for Everything Else
The Detroit Foundation Hotel property was developed by the Aparium Hotel Group, and The Apparatus Room was designed in partnership with Detroit-based McIntosh Poris Associates and award-winning Simeone Deary Design Group. The design team has done a masterful job reimagining the former firehouse space with interior design that reflects modern Detroit while honoring its historic past. The Apparatus Room was named one of the ‘10 Most Beautiful New Restaurants In America 2017’ (Robb Report), and has quickly become an inviting urban hangout and the social hub of downtown Detroit.
The space is roughly divided into two areas around a central bar, with a large lounge space on one side and banks of dining tables and banquettes on the other, flanked by an open kitchen. The generous central bar is rimmed with a waterfall of handcrafted lightbulbs suspended at varied lengths from the ceiling, casting a golden glow over the bar counter and into the surrounding space. The dining room area is also visually stunning, with gorgeous wood tables, seating upholstered in leather and velvet, dramatic lighting fixtures, and spaces designed for couples and small or larger groups. In the lounge area, pockets of comfortable seating, rich leathers, Persian rugs, worn hardwood flooring, original glazed wall tiles, and vintage mementos and photos of the original firehouse honor the building’s historic roots and meld seamlessly with pieces designed by local artists.
I recently visited the hotel’s buzzy lounge on a random Thursday evening, and it’s clear that The Apparatus Room has become a vibrant gathering space for locals, visitors, and lucky hotel guests. Live music pulled me into a diverse mix of folks enjoying ‘Foundation After Dark’, a weekly music series featuring some of the most talented Detroit-based musicians and artists. Young professionals, music lovers, and middle-aged couples (who regularly drive over the border bridge from Canada for dinner in “The D”) were enjoying the urban vibe and upscale but laid-back ambiance.
It’s easy to see – and taste – why locals and visitors alike consider The Apparatus Room the best restaurant in Detroit, and reservations are strongly suggested. Stop in for a hand-crafted drink or delicious, locally-sourced food, and enjoy the camaraderie of being at the center of Detroit’s rejuvenation.
To learn more about Apparatus Room at The Detroit Foundation Hotel, visit their website at https://detroitfoundationhotel.com/apparatus-room/.
From Santa Barbara to Barcelona, contributor Mary Noe loves to discover local food, culture, customs, and personalities.