The fertile minds at Sage Restaurant Group aren't afraid to take creative risks. That's why each of the eight restaurants it operates across the country seems so unique, even though all perform the identical function: be the default breakfast-lunch-dinner option for the hotel to which it is attached. Their latest stunner: Toasted Oak Grill & Market in Novi, MI.
Sage doesn't do stuffy, big-ticket hotel restaurants, period. And it won't settle for operating one of those deadly, zero personality eateries found in so many hotels nationwide. Instead, the Denver-based company puts a wildly imaginative spin on each project's food and design. “Our mission is to create a memorable culinary occasion complete with a locally infused vibe,” says Sage c.o.o. Peter Karpinski. “We have achieved that by uniting local talent with high-quality local products.”
None of its singular installations is having more of an impact than Toasted Oak Grill & Market. It opened last April in Novi, MI, a far western suburb of Detroit.
No, you won't find Detroit on anyone's hot list of places to open a restaurant right now, let alone Novi. However, careful analysis of the town's income and demographics shows that Sage found a dandy site.
The hotel to which Toasted Oak is attached, the revamped Baronette Renaissance Detroit-Novi, enjoys a strong flow of travelers generated by the area's many corporate offices, while the expos and events at the nearby 250,000 sq. ft. Suburban Collection Showplace produce plenty of visitors during non-business times. Immediately next door is another traffic generator, the 200-store Twelve Oaks Mall.
Sage leverages two current restaurant trends at this location: local sourcing and food halls. The dining room menu features Michigan-centric ingredients prepared in a style Toasted Oak dubs “American brasserie cuisine.” The market echoes these themes, with its array of gourmet food items, house-made charcuterie and an extensive wine selection. The wine sells at retail; the corkage fee in the dining room is $7.
Nationally, a handful of restaurateurs have found success by putting edgy restaurants in hotels (see story on page 28). But perhaps only Sage would dare put a restaurant/market like this one inside a 155-room hotel in Novi.
One key was hiring Steven Grostick, a chef with Michigan roots who could pull it all together. He worked with Bryan Polcyn at local standout Five Lakes Grill in Milford, winding up as executive chef. “Our passion for local ingredients was the driving force in creating Toasted Oak's menu,” he says.
His brasserie-style offerings begin with six small plates, including bacallà croquettes ($9) and grilled house-made kielbasa ($7). Mussels get three different treatments (mariniere, catalogne, dijonaise) for $12 apiece. There are eight options on Toasted Oak's “market plates” section, including a terrine of the day ($10), smoked salmon rillettes ($10) and an array of charcuterie plates and cheese boards ($13/$24).
Guests can also choose from six grilled pizzas (country ham and prosciutto, $13) or one of the six options on the soup and salad portion of the menu (pickled spring beets, $8).
The entrée list features eight items from Toasted Oak's wood-burning grill (steak frites, $25) plus another eight choices ranging from pan-fried lake perch ($21) to smoked BBQ beef brisket ($16).
Seven tasty side dishes ($5-$7) round out the menu. If you've ever been stuck in a suburban hotel with a mediocre restaurant, you realize what a godsend a contemporary brasserie operation like Toasted Oak can be.
That's the “Grill” part of Toasted Oak Grill & Market. The “Market,” says Karpinski, features “value-driven wines and house-made charcuteries. Also available are artisanal farmstead cheeses, unique condiments, special Michigan products including items from Faygo and Sanders, gourmet sandwiches, grilled pizzas, to-go deli items, fresh flowers and gifts for the discerning gourmand.”
It's a terrific option for hotel guests not inclined to partake of a sit-down meal in the dining room, and it gives Toasted Oak a strong second source of revenue. From the hotel operator's point of view, an operation like Toasted Oak provides a huge point of differentiation the minute it opens its doors.
“Sage Restaurant Group redefines the standards by which new restaurants enter the marketplace,” says Toasted Oak operations boss Theodore Oresky II. Big words — but this restaurant backs them up.