The Brush Park spot aims to be your friendly neighborhood restaurant.
By Dorothy Hernandez
Photography by Viviana Pernot
As an aspiring chef, Aaron Lowen packed his bags for New York to attend the famed Culinary Institute of America and never thought he would come back to Metro Detroit.
He saw “the glitz and glamor of New York” and thought he had to go to a big city to pursue a career in food, says Lowen, 27. His passion for food started at a young age. Growing up in a Jewish family in Farmington Hills, he remembers food being at the center of family gatherings, which helped foster his love of and interest in cooking.
When he got to high school, that love of eating had turned into a passion for cooking. He did a culinary program at North Farmington High School, which had a partnership with Oakland Schools Technical Campuses. He competed in a culinary competition, where he met chef Zack Sklar, an up-and-coming restaurateur at the time who had gone to the Culinary Institute of America. So Lowen took off for the Empire State.
Today he’s a part of a different empire — he’s the operating partner for Empire Kitchen and Cocktails in Brush Park in Detroit. The restaurant comes at a time when the city is getting national attention for the restaurant boom happening in the downtown core. More than two years ago, Empire owners Michael Abrams and Brian Adelman showed the space to Lowen, who was working for Sklar’s catering company as director of operations at the time. “I knew that it was an unbelievable location,” he says, adding that Little Caesars Arena was under construction nearby. “You could see the life that … this location could bring. And I wanted to be a part of it.”
Longtime friends Adelman and Abrams own 32 Five Guys Burgers and Fries locations in Michigan, but they wanted to branch out and “be part of what was going on in Detroit,” says Adelman, a doctor who attended medical school and did his residency in Detroit.
Since opening in May, Empire has had its share of ups and downs, but Lowen is dedicated to the vision of the restaurant.
“We wanted to be one of these new restaurants that could be part of the framework of this neighborhood, of Brush Park for many years,” rather than something trendy, he says. As the restaurant on the first floor of The Scott apartment complex, “we wanted to be a place that the residents could come downstairs two or three times a week, and one night just have a quick and easy salad and a glass of wine. Or come down on a Saturday night on a date and get a higher-end experience.”
Some dishes that became quick favorites include the dry-rubbed chicken wings, the sautéed bronzino, burger and chicken sandwich — food that’s comfortable and approachable, Lowen says.
Lowen plans to change up the menu to reflect the seasons. This fall, some seasonally inspired dishes to look out for include a pork chop entree and mussel appetizer.
As for the other part of the restaurant’s name, the cocktails feature fresh ingredients such as juices and infusions made in house. The wine list ranges from reasonably priced to high end, Lowen says, in an effort to appeal to a wide range of patrons.
Adelman says they wanted to build a place for neighbors as well as people coming downtown.
“If you’re wearing a jersey, you can come on in. If you’re wearing a suit, you’re going to the theater, you can come on in,” he says. “You’ll feel comfortable either way.”
Braised Pork Chops with Fall Succotash
Berkshire Pork Chop
12-14 oz. Berkshire pork chop
Barbecue spice rub (Empire uses Detroit 313 BBQ spice)
Rub pork chop with a small amount of olive oil and then dust all sides of the pork chop with the barbecue spice. Grill pork on both sides and cook until almost cooked through. Pull off the grill and let rest. This will finish the cooking process and let the juices redistribute though the meat.
3 oz. haricot verts or green beans
1 oz. julienned red peppers
1/4 cup sweet potato
1 teaspoon chopped Garlic
1 strip bacon
Salt and pepper
Blanch the haricot verts and sweet potato until soft. In a hot pan heat a small amount of olive oil and render bacon. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Toss in all vegetables. Cook until tender and season with salt and pepper.
Sweet onion relish
1 Spanish onion
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 thyme sprig
Julienne onions. Combine all other ingredients in a pot and cook until syrupy. Strain the liquid and cook with the onions until tender.
Watch SEEN in the Kitchen to see how to make the recipe:
Empire Kitchen and Cocktails
3148 Woodward Ave., Detroit