During a Detroit summer in the 1970s, I remember walking past firefighters at leisure outside the Detroit Fire Department Headquarters on Larned Street, across from Cobo Hall. The scene, of course, was transformed in an instant when the alarm went off. Then, loaded trucks with sirens wailing burst through the wide red doors.
Decades later, with Downtown Detroit making a comeback, a group of investors took possession of the historic former firehouse. Chicago-based Aparium Group, which specializes in historic boutique hotels, worked with local developer Walter Cohen and other partners to create the Foundation Hotel. The independent five-story hotel with 110 rooms and suites has won industry recognition since opening last year.
A big asset is the Apparatus Room, a cleverly repurposed contemporary restaurant-bar. Dining on Executive Chef Thomas Lents’ food in this sleek, sophisticated setting is like being “on vacation in a cool city,” said my dining companion, Shari.
The décor includes original terrazzo floor tiles in blue, terra cotta and gold and off-white subway-style wall tiles and three firemen’s poles. The buttery leather seating throughout the dining room is in earth tones, but green in the bar/lounge area. Among the custom light fixtures, I admired one with uneven white sails. Newspaper clippings about famous Detroit fires are beneath a glass-topped coffee table in the lounge. Also intriguing were two shadow figures on a wall by Detroit photographer Lisa Spindler.
Chef Lents was lured back to Michigan from his previous post at Sixteen, a 2-star Michelin restaurant in Chicago.
He creates separate menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the dining area. His all-day menu serves the bar/lounge.
At breakfast, Shari recommends buttermilk pancakes with fruit compote. Among the main courses on the dinner menu, I noticed Butter Poached Salmon, French Braised Veal and Smoked Grass-fed Flat-Iron Steak.
We enjoyed lunch. My chilled mint pea and asparagus soup was very flavorful. It had fava beans for thickening, with pea tendrils and chili oil drops on top. The chef may have rotated this soup off the menu by the time you arrive. He’s big into seasonal fare.
Next was the Foundation Club sandwich with roasted turkey, bacon, house coleslaw, fried sage aioli and cranberry sauce. Large, hearty and satisfying. Shari ordered Shrimp Roll BLT: chilled poached shrimp salad, smoked bacon, lettuce and tomato on a “New England” roll. I’d get that. Salads include Black Garlic-Kale Caesar and Recovery Park (a local source) Carrot.
Lents offers intriguing combinations of ingredients and preparations. No wonder his Chef’s Choice dining evenings sell out quickly. Call restaurant manager Bob Lambert if you’re interested.
Also worth mentioning are the signature cocktails and Michigan-made packaged and draft beer.
Real whipped cream accompanied my divine chocolate salted tart. You may not get my exact meal, but you’ll surely love what you get.