Venue Review: El Barzon
El Barzon could qualify as a hideaway if so many people hadn't managed to find it and recommend it to their friends since chef/proprietor Norberto Garita quietly opened its doors in 2007.
Beginning with just one small room, he later added a second much larger one, and when the liquor license came along, put in a two-sided bar with just eight seats. Now well under construction is the final piece of the dream the native of Puebla, Mexico, had when he left his cooking job at an upscale Italian restaurant in the suburbs to go out on his own.
It is a rear entrance that includes a spacious wood-beamed covered patio atop a granite tile floor — and the one thing people have been waiting for — valet parking. Starting on Aug. 15, if things go according to plan, that will be the main entrance, much like that of La Dolce Vita, another popular hideaway.
Tucked into what at first glance seems to be a small structure (it's bigger than it looks, however), El Barzon certainly can't boast a prime location nor a designer setting. It is just around the corner from Michigan Avenue on Junction Street in southwest Detroit, and yet many people who have to drive miles to get there have put it on their GPS.
El Barzon flies two flags, those of Mexico and Italy, and the bilingual menu is divided between the two. Diners may stick to one cuisine, or mix and match, choosing, say, carne enchilada de puerco (deliciously spicy, thinly sliced marinated pork) and teaming it with fresh arugula or Caprese salad, or pairing gnocchi in a four-cheese cream sauce with a couple of tacos. Tacos are still just $2.50, though other prices have ascended along with the amenities of white linens and handsome china and the scope of the menu that now includes such specials, on occasion, as Dover sole and branzino as well as osso bucco and veal chops. No dish, however, goes for more than $35.
In the early days, it was just Garita and his wife Silvia Rosario Garita in the kitchen visible through a window in the original small dining room. Now, a full staff prepares the dishes on the extensive menu with Garita functioning as executive chef, and most are available at both lunch and dinner, at two price levels. Generally, the dish served at lunch is $2 to $4 less expensive than the dinner price; but you may count on it being well-prepared and nicely presented by the courteous and well-dressed servers who take their jobs seriously.
Some favorites include house-made pastas such as strozzapreti (twists) with crumbled Italian sausage tomato sauce, as well as dried pasta dishes like the elegantly creamy spaghetti alla carbonara and penne with vodka and tomato sauce; from the Mexican side — which seems to have shrunk over the years — chilies rellenos, mole poblano and the delightful little tacos filled with beef, chicken, spicy pork, steak, goat or chorizo and topped simply with fresh cilantro and onions.
And don't miss the silky flan for dessert, a splendid rendition of the classic caramel-sauced baked custard, unless, of course, you opt for the tiramisu, an appealing and not overly sweet version of the Italian dessert.
The bar doesn't take a back seat to the kitchen when it comes to ingredients. There are a number of high quality wines, and margaritas come in several varieties carefully made with freshly squeezed fruit juices and premium tequilas.
Note that El Barzon will close for a two-week vacation July 30, reopening Aug. 15, to unveil its new entrance.
3710 Junction, Detroit
Call: (313) 894-2070
Rating: 3 stars
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; dinner 5-9 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m. Fri., 4-10 p.m. Sat., 3-8 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon.
Prices: Appetizers and salads $8-$12, tacos, tamales and sandwiches $2-$7, lunch entrees $8-$23, dinner entrees $11-$28 (with some specials higher), desserts $3-$7
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar, with an emphasis on wines and tequilas
Parking: Currently street. A parking lot and rear entrance are scheduled to be added as of Aug. 15.
Wheelchair access: No barriers