CHELSEA, Mich. — Step into the Common Grill, located on shop-lined Main Street in charming, historic downtown Chelsea, and you’ll be in a place that echoes tradition, with its brick walls, wooden tables and three-sided bar with a view of the kitchen, a chalkboard listing the specials of the day, striking stylized murals, and photos of the past.
But the restaurant’s food is deliciously innovative and contemporary, with a menu that includes Salmon and Ahi Tuna Tartare Tacos and Goat Cheese Ravioli, for example, as well as the Fish Crudo of the day, Jumbo Lump Crab Carbonara Pasta, and much more.
Address: 112 S. Main St.
Category: Upscale casual.
Menu: Lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, with Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Monday.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average Price: $$-$$$
Credit Cards: MC, V, D, AE
The Common Grill, which has been welcoming diners for more than 25 years, is under the direction of Craig Common, the proprietor and executive chef. He is the author of The Common Grill Cookbook and Return to the Common Grill. The self-taught chef was honored in 1994 with an invitation to prepare a dinner for the members and guests at the James Beard House in New York, and was a semifinalist for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef of the Great Lakes category in 2011. His attention to detail may contribute to his success, because on several visits he was seen in the kitchen, looking over the plates before they were brought out to the tables.
On a recent lunchtime trip to the Common Grill, one dining companion ordered the Shrimp and Lobster Fettuccini ($18), with generous amounts of the seafood and a smooth Red Bell Pepper Cream Sauce. “They didn’t skimp on the shrimp and lobster,” the companion said.
My order began with a cup of silky lobster corn chowder ($6), followed by the Blackened Steak Salad ($18). Portions of steak topped a bed of mixed greens and cherry tomatoes, followed by fried onion rings, cornbread croutons, and a buttermilk-bacon ranch dressing. The steak, greens, and dressing were delicious, but one small complaint: The combination of fried onion rings and cornbread croutons came a little too close to overwhelming other flavors.
Dinner a few evenings later was terrific, beginning with an hors d’oeuvre of calamari ($12) for two of us as we waited for another companion to meet us. When he did, he asked for half a dozen of oysters on the half shell ($15); seafood is well-represented at the Common Grill.
It was a Lobster Fest night — 1.25-pound servings of fresh Maine lobster were offered during September — but instead one of us chose the Pan Fried Walleye ($28), which he described as cooked just right, moist, with mild flavor, sauteed in a hazelnut crust that was lightly seasoned. It was served with wild rice pilaf and sauteed spinach, which was a nice counterpoint to the broiled cherry tomatoes, a colorful presentation. The portion of fish was OK, he added, but he would have preferred one more filet.
Next came the Mixed Grill ($31) for those who can’t make up their minds, another dinner companion said. It included a grilled chicken breast with a mango pineapple salsa, four barbecued shrimp wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon, and a 4-ounce grilled filet cooked medium as requested. All of it had good flavor and maintained moisture despite the smaller portions. It was accompanied by white cheddar mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus, all in all a great combination of flavors.
She enjoyed her meal, but was longing for the Common Grill’s fried chicken, which was not on the menu. It usually included two boneless chicken breasts, crunchy and drizzled with honey, she reports, with great mashed potatoes, pan gravy, and green beans — comfort food in portions that always required a doggie bag.
The Grilled Beef Tenderloin Medallions ($34) in red wine jus with grilled portobello mushrooms, the above mashed potatoes, and herb-roasted carrots was a flavorful combination. On the side was the restaurant’s delicious Tuscan Pear Salad of bibb lettuce with honey pears, sugared walnuts, gorgonzola, and herb-balsamic vinaigrette.
The desserts were the sweet stars of the evening — the Peanut Butter Pie ($7), with its chocolate cookie crust and chocolate drizzle, took care of the chocoholic among us. And the Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake ($7) with a drizzle of hot fudge sauce and a scoop of house-made vanilla bean ice cream was well worth waiting for.
Chelsea is west of Ann Arbor, about an hour’s drive from Toledo. One of the city’s attractions is the renowned Purple Rose Theatre Company, which presents new and classic American plays; The God of Carnage just opened.The popularity of the Purple Rose can make it difficult to dine at the Common Grill before the curtain goes up, and reservations are available for parties of six or more, so smaller parties could try to shorten the wait time by calling at 3:30 p.m. on the same day and ask to be added to the call-ahead list.
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