Few restaurants this year were as hyped as Solstice. When Deagan’s Kitchen and Bar closed in June after 13 years, West Side diners mourned the loss of a happy hour hot spot that managed to do what so few restaurants can: appeal to the masses. Soon, that sadness was replaced with celebration at the news of an all-star group of owners taking over the prominent Downtown Lakewood space, including chef Cory Miess and bartender Eric Ho of Birdtown’s celebrated Viking bar, LBM. The new spot, Solstice, opened to fanfare in mid-September. But despite showing plenty of promise, so far the Detroit Avenue eatery seems to be struggling with a bit of an identity crisis.
“I don’t know that we have a specific concept or cuisine, necessarily,” says co-owner and executive pastry chef Annabella Andricks. “We want the menu to be inviting and the atmosphere to be
Right now, unfortunately, that lack of concept is evident. At times, a dining experience meant to be eclectic and inclusive, feels like a dizzying, discombobulated trip around the world. Miess and Ho assembled a seven-member, Avengers-style supergroup of owners with various food service backgrounds: Andricks of Dramatic Snax; general manager Andrea Tsiros and social media and events manager Rachel Rosen, both former employees of Deagan’s; front-of-house manager Bradley Kaczmarski; and bar manager Ben Lebovic, a one-time LBM employee. But is seven people too many cooks in the kitchen to claim an evident independent identity? “We all have a specific role to play,” says Andricks.
The team put its own time, energy and elbow grease into making a few major renovations, including beautifully restored floors and painted ceilings. A lush, nature-themed mural by artist Mike Sobek decorates one of the walls. Still, walking into Solstice feels a lot like walking into, well, Deagan’s. Its signature 30-seat bar still takes up half of the 130-seat space, and the neon sign bearing Solstice’s colorful logo seems incongruous against the dark, wooden tones of the largely windowless haunt.
Meanwhile, the menu is both reminiscent of Deagan’s and not at all. Correctly assuming they’d retain some of the old restaurant’s customer base, Miess structured Solstice’s offerings in a similar way, which means more small plates and appetizers than entrees, and leveled-up bar snacks like stuffed jalapenos and deviled eggs.
“We wanted to keep [Deagan’s] spirit alive but branch out a bit,” Miess says.
The result is a mishmash of cultures, flavors and cooking styles that also cater to vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diets. Miess clearly relishes the chance to go beyond LBM’s limited menu, pulling from the depths of his repertoire to feature dishes ranging in influence from European to Caribbean.
“I tried to streamline it so it wasn’t too all over the place,” he says. “That said, we still have a fair amount from tons of different regions.”
A dozen globally inspired small plates include Asian-inspired mushroom spring rolls, Middle Eastern-style curried freekeh and carrots roasted with akvavit, an herbaceous Scandinavian spirit. There are multiple French options, like mussels and a rich cassoulet of chicken and lardons, but there’s also a cozy, spicy Trinidadian curry of chickpeas and potatoes. One of the menu’s biggest wins is the gougere sliders ($15), a trio of light-as-air French pastry puffs that serve as the bun for salty speck, creamy gruyere and tangy pickled spinach with a perfectly balanced mustard compound butter.
The crab cake ($25), a latke-like dish that literally came to Miess in a dream, is special, too. A thin, wide crab cake is paired with a crispy potato pancake and served over a bed of Cajun corn maque choux. Much like Solstice itself, the dish aspires to be everything all at once — tender, crispy, savory, sweet — and in this case, it really works.
Unfortunately, the misses really miss. The calamari ($14), is perfectly breaded but nearly flavorless; the Indian-
inspired spinach and artichoke pakoras ($12) are promisingly crispy but too dry to be palatable. Frustratingly, Solstice’s portions are so big that the disappointments cast a shadow over the meal, resulting in leftovers you hate to leave but don’t want to finish.
Nothing eases the blow of an inconsistent dining experience like strong drinks and tasty desserts. Each night before the start of service, Lebovic whips up five-gallon batches of 11 classic cocktails like negronis, Manhattans and cosmos, a more efficient prep that leads to extraordinarily consistent (and extremely boozy) sippers. Andricks’s desserts, which will soon be available to go, are delightfully indulgent, especially her huge, shareable s’mores tart ($10), topped with a bourbon marshmallow and torched to order.
A few months after opening, Solstice is still grappling with its identity. It’s similar enough to Deagan’s to feel familiar, but not yet different enough to feel wholly new and independent. With such a talented crew behind the scenes and a new menu launching just before Christmas, it offers lots of hope — but for now, little guarantee.
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