If the renown of Dusty’s Cellar doesn’t precede your
visit, its name might give the impression that a visit to a second-hand
store is in the works.
What you’ll discover, though, along with vintage wines and a unique gourmet boutique, is some of the finest dining around town.
And in this area, where many restaurateurs purposefully
avoid such a classification in fear of missing out on a buck, Dusty’s
holds its head high.
Our experience began with the apparent maitre d’ asking if we had made reservations for our early Thursday evening visit: Reservations,
it turns out, are advised. The gentleman’s superciliously raised
eyebrows met our response that no, we had not made reservations, so a
seat at the bar or on the heated, enclosed Leelanau Patio was offered.
The patio was quieter than the main dining room, and we
happily settled into patio’s cool, metal mesh chairs and began to
peruse Dusty’s leather-bound menu.
Table service is well executed at Dusty’s. Clad in
all-black, the serving staff is friendly, knowledgeable and purposeful.
Our server’s timing was spot-on throughout the evening: He answered (or
found answers) to our questions about the food, made gentle
recommendations and appeared only when necessary — a skill many
over-attentive servers never master. The pacing was superb.
We started with an avocado and jicama spring roll ($10). An
interesting attempt at fusion came with a fresh, cumin-seasoned slaw,
and my thinking was that it would be a light start to the heavier
entrées we ordered.
While the creamy texture and natural oil of the avocado
got lost in the slightly over-fried spring roll, and the jicama did not
impart the fresh crunch I had hoped for, the dish did come with a
delicious, delicate house-made citrus marmalade. In the end, this appetizer’s fantastic parts just didn’t come together as a whole.
The meal brightened quickly with our salads, which were
fresh and full of flavor. My companion chose an anchovy-filled caesar
and I had the romaine wedge with bleu cheese dressing. With
my salad, tomatoes and red onions mixed into the background, the fruit
adding a touch of sweetness that helped balance the bitterness of the
cheese and toasted walnuts. The walnuts and bleu cheese, forceful
flavors individually, played well, both demanding attention but not
overpowering the other.
The porterhouse with mashed potatoes and vegetables ($34)
was the evening’s special. Cooked exactly to order (in this case,
medium rare), the porterhouse, with tenderloin on one side of the bone
and short loin on the other, was alternately elegant or rustic,
depending on which side a cut was made. Like the T-bone, it’s a fun cut
The potatoes — fluffy, with a hint of garlic — green
beans and petite zucchini and carrots rounded out a dish beloved from
Texas to the Upper Peninsula.
We went with the maple-glazed quail ($23) for our second
entrée. Crispy skin held the glaze, but the sweet maple mixed
beautifully with the simple pretty, burnt-orange-colored squash that
served as a bed to the dish. The stuffing in the bird — a mixture of
wild rice and (the menu claimed) spicy chorizo that tasted more like
smoked ham — was a tad strong solo, but when combined with mouthfuls of
the subtle gaminess of the quail, with its dark, juicy meat, the dish
came together nicely.
After two full meals, a heavy appetizer and salads, dessert might be eschewed. But at Dusty’s, with a staff attuned to letting diners dine at their own pace, there is no hurry.
Even after we had plenty to eat, dessert was going to happen.
The key lime pie ($6), our server told us, was the only
non-Dusty’s creation on the dessert menu. No matter. Served with an
ever-so-tart raspberry sauce, the mildly acidic pie, velvety in texture
and just a touch sweet, paired well with a cup of fresh coffee ($2.50).
What stood out from the final dish, though, was a small
touch, a little detail: white chocolate mousse accompanied the pie. The
star-shaped dollops, mild and milky in flavor, were silky smooth,
melting in the mouth and disappearing into little daydreams. Their
impressions let go begrudgingly, leaving nothing but a happy little
smile; a fine flourish to an excellent evening.
Dusty’s is the kind of place a penny-pincher might balk
at, but what’s refreshing is that you get what you pay for — great
service, fine food and a relaxing evening. That’s not an easy find, especially for the budget-conscious.
If you’re looking for fine dining that caters to you
without one-size-fits-all, scripted service, Dusty’s Cellar is waiting
for your reservation.
1839 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday; 7 a.m.– 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday