There is art on every wall. When I walk in, the first thing I notice are the murals, photographs and paintings, all vibrating with life and bold colors. Although the restaurant is not serving dinner yet when I arrive, all three owners — Jared Baldridge and brothers Matt and Steve — are in attendance, busy setting up for the evening’s guests.
Matt, who is the chef, says the art on the walls are creations by his wife, his brother Steve and at least one from his stepdaughter.
“It’s important for us to be involved in art, and we will be having some other local artists contribute,” he says.
The Conserva Restaurant opened Dec. 10 last year and has enjoyed a busy first few months in Ferndale on Nine Mile Road. The dining area is intimate, with seating for up to 60 people with 24 more seats on the patio when the weather is warmer.
“I didn’t grow up in the kitchen cooking with my grandma,” Matt says. “I didn’t read read cookbooks when I was a little boy. It was more out of necessity at first, and then I decided that I really liked to cook.”
The original idea for the restaurant was a food preservation theme. Behind the bar would be the standard alcohol and beverages, as well as jars of anything and everything — pickled and canned items and different charcuterie techniques and desserts. Conserva would provide the bread, and the guests could select and build the meal experience themselves.
The space inside Conserva is not that big, putting some restrictions on the very small kitchen, so they pivoted away from that idea and shifted to a revolving, sharable menu of medium-sized meals.
Because of the small kitchen, the menu is short and tight, updated with new items weekly and with minor changes throughout the week. The high variety turnover on the menu creates a lot of intrigue for the guests as well as the staff.
Despite the changing menu, some favorites have emerged already. There is an octopus dish that has remained on the menu since the opening in December. There was also oxtail pasta that was very popular, and it will be returning to the menu soon.
“The best way to enjoy the menu is to order a couple of things and share them,” Matt says.
Conserva already has a following of mostly local foodies and many Ferndale residents. Being on Nine Mile Road just east of Woodward, tucked up under the Lofts on 9 Condominium Complex, Conserva gets instant patronage from the residents above as well as from the homes in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“The menu is designed by flavor profile and the weight of the dish,” Matt says. “On the kitchen side of it, the heavier items usually come out last because they take a bit longer to cook, and you want to finish with your steak not your beet salad. Sharing is the best way to go with this menu.”
The menu is nimble, brief and rich with flavor, featuring only eight to 10 items; while there is a 45-day dry-aged New York strip, there is also crispy chicken liver and champagne cream poached oysters on this week’s menu. The goal is to keep the guests and staff excited. The cocktails, beer and wine lists are all as enticing as the food menu.
The Conserva is a venue with the focused niche of a small footprint. With experience that grew at Cliff Bells in Detroit and pop-up dinners, Matt, Jared and Steve bring a variety of skill and knowledge to Conserva’s space.
201 E. 9 Mile, Ferndale