A haven off Hall
A gem found among the strip malls, mall-malls, big box stores and chain restaurants
Published: January 11, 2012
13905 Lakeside Circle
Apps & sandwiches:
Amid the endless sea of strip malls, mall-malls, big box stores and chain restaurants that line Hall Road in Sterling Heights, there is a gem hidden in plain sight for the weary diner. Next to Lakeside Mall and tucked behind a Cheeseburger in Paradise, Sterling's Bistro serves up made-from-scratch food that offers a welcome respite from the chains.
Opened in March 2011, the restaurant's goal was to offer fresh food, reasonable prices and a friendly, "neighborhood" feel, something the owners felt was lacking from the area's dining scene. According to management (and verified by online reviews), response has been overwhelmingly positive, and the restaurant was at capacity both times we dined there.
Entering the bistro, patrons have a choice between a cozy bar area or the main dining room. The bar is outfitted with a small lounge area with an overstuffed leather sofa and chairs, and large high-top wood tables that can accommodate groups. Metal sculptures of Venus flytraps and pigs give a whimsical if goofy feel, while a copper-hooded brick oven lends warmth. In the dining room, modern paintings add bright pops of color.
Service is enthusiastic, but spotty in terms of speed. The staff we encountered was mostly young and inexperienced but hardworking and eager to please. On one occasion, the restaurant was understaffed and service suffered accordingly (we never got bread; drinks took too long), but the general manager stepped in to check on tables and assist the waitstaff.
The Bistro's menu is what I'd term "upscale American," with a few attempts at incorporating various world cuisines. In addition to steaks, seafood and a couple of token lamb and pork entrées, there is also a comfort food section with meatloaf, pot pie, mac 'n' cheese and the like. A variety of flatbread "pizzas" (the crust is more akin to a cracker) can be ordered as a starter or a light meal.
You could opt to make a meal out of the appetizers alone, which are well-priced and hearty. If you can get past the cutesy-trendy presentation of the meatball lollipops, you'll be rewarded with savory, juicy meatballs with fresh herbs and a melted-cheese center. They're served in a simple chunky tomato sauce, which you can sop up with the complimentary crusty bread. The homemade potato chips are another favorite — crispy but with just a little chew. Scattered with blue cheese, tomatoes and balsamic onions, they're an updated, more decadent riff on the potato skins of decades past.
On one visit, we took our server's recommendations for the miso-glazed sea bass and the herb-encrusted scallops. Ignore the somewhat unwieldy pile of raw vegetables on top of the sea bass; the fish itself is perfectly cooked with a lightly salty-sweet caramelized coating. It's served with rice and a lemongrass cream, which is rather heavy but pleasant. Our scallops were cooked properly, but buried in a sludgy, buttery breadcrumb coating, and overly rich from the two cream sauces accompanying them. In addition to lemongrass cream, the scallops are plated with a red pepper cream sauce labeled "romesco" (likely a misnomer; classic romesco contains nuts, garlic and vinegar). This was the only dish we found disappointing.
You can spend as much as $24 on a steak if the mood strikes, but from a value standpoint, the comfort food section of the menu offers the most promise. Boneless braised short ribs served over satisfyingly chewy rosemary pasta and topped with skinny fried onions hit the spot on a cold night. Upping the ante from what grandma might have made, the chicken pot pie replaces traditional velouté with a fontina cheese sauce. Served like a giant sandwich, chunks of chicken and vegetables swim in the thick sauce between two large squares of puff pastry. The vegetables are bright and colorful, cooked just past al dente.
In the midst of all this heavy food, don't neglect the salads. The bistro salad is a bargain at $4, with generous amounts of blue cheese, apples and nuts. The basic side salad is elevated from average via house-made garlic croutons and buttermilk dressing (all of the restaurant's dressings are house-made).
Due to generous portions and the filling nature of the food, we never made it past our entrées, but the restaurant does have a small dessert menu that continues the comfort theme with such items as bread pudding and apple galette. Desserts are not listed on the main menu, and neither of our servers offered — perhaps they're accustomed to customers refusing on the grounds of being too full — so you may have to ask.
The wine list carries several familiar names with nothing too exciting, but we did appreciate the choice of 3-, 6- or 9-ounce pours, allowing a lot of flexibility if you like to switch wines at each course. Beer drinkers can choose from the usual suspects — plus Bell's and Magic Hat. The specialty cocktail menu is vodka-heavy and seems tailored to the "tini" crowd, but with nods to the craft cocktail trend in the form of infused syrups, muddled fruit and such brands as Hendrick's and St. Germain.
Keeping in mind the bevy of chain restaurants surrounding them, the menu at Sterling's Bistro is priced to be competitive while maintaining a higher standard of quality, freshness and innovation. The result is an affordable, casual-fine-dining experience that, while not inexpensive, is an overall value when compared to the other options in the neighborhood.
Sterling's Bistro is open 4-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-midnight Friday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Saturday, and 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
> Email Noelle Lothamer