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Tuesday, April 13,2010

Lucky Bucket

CB's has weathered storms (and fires) on the road to success

by ALLAN I. ROSS

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In the 1982 Robin Williams film “The World According to Garp,” the title character is house hunting with his wife when a single-engine airplane crashes into a home they’re about to check out. The pilot’s fine; the upper half of the home is demolished. Instead of moving on, however, Garp tells the real estate agent that they’ll take it.


“The chances of another plane hitting this house are astronomical,” Garp says. “It’s been pre-disastered.”


At this point in the history of CB’s Bucket Bar & Grille in Williamston, an airplane crash would be a lark. Since owner Craig Banwell took over seven years ago, he has watched a kitchen fire, a tornado and arson devastate his establishment — in 2006, 2007 and 2008, respectively — only to watch it rise from the ashes and flood waters three times.


“It’s funny to say this, but each time we’ve had to start over, the end product has always been a little better than it was previously,” says Banwell. “I’m not saying I’d want to go through any of that again, but what we have now is the most beautiful this place has ever been.”


Indeed, the bar’s gorgeous bright burled cherry wood is a striking vision of artistic splendor, complementing the old-timey tin ceiling (a throwback to The Bucket’s late- 19th-century origins) and carved wooden tables and chairs.


“I’ve been all over, and there is no other bar like this in the United States,” says Banwell. “I’m extremely proud of what it’s become.”


And what has it become? For starters, a hot spot of gourmet American comfort food, microbrewed beers and live entertainment. Club Rumor’z upstairs is part of The Bucket, and (once the elevator system is complete) will provide overflow seating for crowds on busy nights. Rumor’z features live bands and DJs Tuesdays through Saturdays, and has been attracting clubbers from across the state.


General manger Marc Wolbert worked with Bucket chef Scott Turner to refine the restaurant’s menu, and he’s also the brains behind the avant-garde beer and wine list. The 12 taps feature the best microbrews from Michigan and from around the world, and Wolbert customized the wine list to provide the best value wines available — most for under $20.


“It’s
easy to make great food when you make it the way you want to eat it,”
says Wolbert. “And all the beer and wine has been handpicked by me to
match the tastes of our customers and the type of people we’re trying
to attract..”


This
month The Bucket is featuring Choklat Imperial Stout, a 12 percent ABV
behemoth from Southern Tier in New York. It looks and tastes like a
rich chocolate milkshake, but watch yourself: It sneaks up on you. The
aptly named Hopslam is a double IPA from Bell’s Brewery that’ll explode
your tastebuds with hops overload. But take care — you’re going to need
those tastebuds for dinner.


The
Coconut Shrimp Satay features six jumbo skewered shrimp, rolled in
coconut, pan-fried and served with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. The
Tuscan Chicken entr'e Sun. 10 a.m. to midnight is a massive all-natural chicken breast, prepared with artichokes, mushrooms, shallots, rago't sauce, and served over lemon couscous. It has a pleasant zippiness to it, and there’s lots of it.


Steak
aficionados should go for the Red, White and Bleu, a New York Strip
served with roasted red pepper coulee, boursin cream sauce and melted
bleu cheese. It hasn’t been officially added to the menu just yet, but
any self-respecting carnivore can order it any time, and keep the word
spreading.


“We’ve done some advertising, but our biggest
asset has been word-of-mouth,” says Banwell. “We’ve got businessmen in
suits sitting next to people with ripped-up jeans. This is a warm, fun
atmosphere that everyone seems to really enjoy.”


Wolbert
says the kitchen accommodates vegan and gluten-free diners, and he’s
also toying with the idea of having vintner’s dinners to pair food
items with wine selections. The
Bucket features half-off bottles of wine on Wednesdays, where the most
expensive bottle in the house is still less than $20, and there’s a
$10.95 brunch buffet on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., complete
with $3 Bloody Marys and mimosas.


Chance of being hit by small aircraft: minimal.


CB's Bucket Bar & Grille


132 W. Grand River Ave. Williamston (517) 655-1000 Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m. to midnight Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.


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