Venue Review: El Barzon
At first glance, it might seem overly ambitious to offer both Mexican and Italian food in one small, southwest Detroit location where the proprietor and his wife are the only ones in the kitchen.
I'd probably have told Norberto Garita, a native of Puebla, Mexico, to stick to his native cuisine and concentrate on it.
But I'd have been wrong. Both facets of the menu are equally well-prepared at this bright, immaculately clean restaurant tucked just down the street from St. Hedwig's Church and around the corner from Michigan Avenue.
There's a simple explanation. For eight years prior to opening El Barzon late last year, Garita cooked at the elegant Italian restaurant Il Posto in Southfield, learning the intricacies of the cuisine.
So when he and his wife, Silvia Rosario Garita, decided to open their own restaurant, with his brother Augusto Leal as partner, he thought it would be a real waste of his experience not to offer at least some of the dishes he learned from Il Posto's former proprietor, Gianni Belsito.
Whether you order from the list of his native Mexican dishes, or the flip side where the Italian dishes appear, you can count on food that rises well above expectations at reasonable prices.
The Garitas prepare everything to order, from the mini-tacos filled with beef, chicken, tripe, tongue, steak, barbecued goat or Mexican sausage, each dappled with fresh cilantro and onions, to the house specialties of mole poblano (chicken topped with mole sauce made with dried chiles, tomatillos, anise, bread, banana and chocolate) and chicken pipian (chicken topped with green mole and pumpkin seeds).
First thing to the table, of course, is a basket of fresh, warm tortilla chips, with two house-made dipping sauces, the assertive red and the slightly less spicy green, both virtually addictive.
The snack comes in handy, because the hands-on style of preparation means that the chosen dishes won't appear on the table in a fast-food flash.
They will be, however, worth waiting for. The rich, dark brown sauce on the mole poblano, for instance, complex and flavorful; the enchiladas filled with meat or cheese handsomely presented with a pristine slice of avocado on top along with fresh lettuce and sour cream in subtle proportions.
Guacamole is another standout, pristine and well-textured. Refried beans, often forgettable, are creamy and delicate here.
The Italian dishes include strozzapreti (twists of house-made pasta) with a ragu of Italian sausage; fettuccine with Bolognese sauce; an excellent and authentic spaghetti carbonara made with pancetta and pecorino cheese; penne with a light tomato and vodka sauce; and zuppa di pesce (seafood soup).
The cuisine rates three stars, but because the amenities expected of a three-star restaurant haven't caught up with the food quality, El Barzon, named for a Mexican revolutionary song lyric, gets 2 1/2 .
Put this offbeat destination on your list of places to try.
Review El Barzon
3710 Junction St., south of Michigan Avenue,
10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.
10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.
9 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat.
9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Prices: A la carte tacos, empanadas, burritos, enchiladas $1.25-$3.99; tortas (Mexican-style sandwiches) $4 and $4.50; main dishes, with rice and beans, $8-$12; pizzas $9.95-$13; Italian pastas and seafood $8-$20.
Credit cards: MC and Visa
Liquor: Not yet, but a license is being sought
Wheelchair access: No barriers
You can reach Molly Abraham at (313) 222-1475 or firstname.lastname@example.org.