Sunday, August 31, 2008

Seldom Blues Gospel Brunch, Detroit Michigan

Sure I can eat a lot and sure I love food....I mean, I used to be 280lbs....but still, buffet tends to mean low quality and I'm not a low quality kinda guy. The last buffet I dined at? Either Bellagio or Paris in Las Vegas. With that said, when I heard that there was an upscale, white-tablecloth soulfood brunch buffet with included Gospel/Jazz performance at Seldom Blues, I had to check it out.

Arriving at the beautiful Renaissance center in the midst of Detroit's Jazz fest was quite interesting despite the continued I-75 construction disaster....I've honestly not seen Detroit so busy since the Superbowl was in town. The riverfront was beautiful and the vibe was great while parking was ample despite the huge numbers of people in town.

Finding our way to Seldom Blues we were quickly seated at an excellent table off to the corner of the stage by the incredibly gracious staff and after a quick trip to the restroom to wash up (A restroom attendant? Stylin!) the food-fest began. Southern Chicken, Cornbread, Sweet Potato Muffins, a Southern Waffle station, Bread Pudding, Cornmeal Oysters, Mac n' Cheese....there was no doubt I was going to leave stuffed.

Before getting into the food, I must say the music was fantastic as the Michael McDonald lookalike played everything from Miles Davis to Luther Vandross flawlessly on the Sax and managed to sound Bluesy with his vocals without sounding cheesy. Twice he left the stage to personally serenade Birthday parties and an elder couple enjoying their anniversary stood to dance. The restaurant itself is equally impressive with a great view of the river, multiple
divided rooms for private parties (there was a group there mourning the loss of a loved one in one room and a wedding party in another,) and the buffet layed out in sections of mains + sides, salads + breads, desserts, and the waffle station in the kitchen. Now onward to the food.

First off, everything was beautiful, fresh, and high quality....better than even the best Vegas buffets in quality and presentation. Skipping over the salads (I eat 2-3lbs of veggies daily, a day off is okay) I grabbed a cornbread and sweet potato muffin, two southern fried chicken breasts, and a scoop of 4-cheese macaroni. The chicken was juicy, crispy, and tender with a perfect good as any fried chicken I've ever tasted and definitely on par with Roscoe's "famous" version in LA. The cornbread was relatively standard, perhaps a little too finely ground, while the sweet potato muffin was wonderful with a lot of density and even more flavor. The showstealer of the plate, however, was the Mac n' cheese with its thick cheesy topping and perfect creaminess. No oily residue from any of the items was noted, a great indicator
that the ingredients used were of good quality.

Plate number two was a trip to the waffle station....or should I say sundae station? Hand poured buttermilk waffles were made to order and toppings included three butters (plain, banana walnut, and mixed berry), 5 types of fresh fruit (apples, bananas, blueberry, raspberry, strawberries), whipped cream, walnuts, and Michigan Maple syrup. Feeling gluttonous I opted for the berry butter, whipped cream, nuts, syrup, and blueberries, raspberries, and
strawberries. Perfect. The butter was fantastic and should be served everywhere, the berries were fresh, and the waffle....lets just avoid the Roscoe comparison and say its was better, and vastly superior in flavor and consistency to the ones served at Detroit Breakfast House as well.

Plate three entailed handmade garlic creamed corn, more mac n' cheese, cornmeal oysters, roasted fingerling potatoes, another cornbread, and a biscuit with country gravy. The corn was a tad garlicky, even for myself while the potatoes were excellent in taste, texture, and saltiness. The oysters were appropriately briney yet perfect in texture and not overtaken by the batter. Finally, the gravy was decent and thankfully light on the pepper, but
that biscuit was transcendent.

Plate four, not yet full enough for dessert, I opted for another piece of chicken and 1/2 a waffle, this time with the almond banana butter, whipped cream, walnuts and syrup. Another hit. In addition I tried the jalapeno cheddar grits which, while good, were a little too runny for my taste. Again, however, looking at my plates, no grease at all.

Plate five was two small plates of desserts from which I ate 1/2 of a peanut butter macadamia nut cookie, a thin slice of carrot cake, and a sizeable scoop of bread pudding. While the carrot cake was delicious and the frosting perfect, I'm not a big carrot cake guy and gave most of the slice to my dining companions while focusing my attention first on the remarkably crisp yet buttery cookie and the remarkable bread pudding. Normally buffet bread pudding is pretty mediocre, but this stuff was better than any I've found at a restaurant menu in the midwest. Cubed brioche, cherries, cranberries, raisins, butter, bourbon, and cinnamon all melded to form a very complex flavor that bested any cinnamon roll and despite being kept in a serving tray, no aspect of the pudding was too dry or too wet. Wonderful execution, worthy of a menu anywhere.

Not quite stuffed I opted to try the cherry cheesecake in addition to another helping of bread pudding and a small lemon meringue. The cheesecake was excellent with a good balance of density and flavor, but being stuffed I only ate a very small part of what I took. The meringue was quite good, albeit too dense for my level of satiety. The bread pudding? Well, I was willing to feel stuffed for that.

All told, the meal was quite delicious and everything was of the utmost quality. The flaws of Seldom Blues Gospel Brunch, however, are twofold. One correctable, the other perhaps me being cheap. First of all, the price is not cheap. While we were quoted $34 on the phone, the actual price was $38 per person. Taking into account the quality of the food served its not a "bad"
deal, especially with the live (and excellent) entertainment and great view, but a $38 buffet in Vegas usually entails a variety of seafood (yet certainly not the best quality.)

The bigger issue was the service. While everyone was quite cordial, it took my sister nearly 45 minutes to receive hot tea and my mother almost 30 to get cold tea....and refills were scant. There was the excuse of "being busy," which is certainly true, but like Breakfast House the management needs to have more servers if this is the case. In addition to this gripe, I must admit I was a tad annoyed (despite being quite full) that despite saying they serve from
11:00-4:00, they began titrating down the dessert table at 2:00. When we arrived, a fine looking white cake, chocolate cake, and Turtle Cheesecake were all available, yet by 2:00 none of these were around and the dessert table looked like it had been ravaged by a tornado. For the price and quality of the food, more attention to detail would be a vast benefit.

All told, I had a great time and the food was stellar, but likely not worth the price for a repeat visit. Browsing the evening menu, perhaps adding the crabcakes and froglegs, salmon, calamari, etc would make the price more fitting, or perhaps simply hiring a few more servers would make things run a bit more smoothly. I realize this buffet is a new concept for the restaurant so clearly it will need a little fine tuning, but for now I'd say it is good with room to
be great.

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