Birmingham’s Townhouse Bistro has comfort class ...
... and a burger that reminds us of some Pulp Fiction dialog
Published: March 21, 2012
180 Pierce St., Birmingham
Townhouse is open
11 a.m.-2 a.m.
9 a.m.-2 a.m.
There's a well-known scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta questions Uma Thurman about her $5 milkshake. When it arrives, he swipes it from her so he can grasp why milk and ice cream costs so much. "Goddamn, that's a pretty fucking good milkshake," he says. "I don't know if it's worth $5, but it's pretty fucking good."
Such is the inevitable reaction upon the first bite of Townhouse's famous burger. At $19, you might initially wonder if it's hand-ground by white-gloved virgins using hand-forged blades. It turns out that it's "merely" ground in-house from 28-day-old dry-aged beef before being topped by bourbon glazed onions, accented with aged cheddar, and placed on a fluffy brioche bun.
Is it worth $19? I don't know — but it's pretty fucking good.
Served alongside some tasty fries, the 10-ounce patty is absolutely one of the best burgers to be found in metro Detroit: juicy, mildly sweet and perfectly cooked. And the toppings are simply delicious.
The burger typifies the restaurant's approach of preparing elevated comfort food. For example, consider the big poppers ($12), an interesting chile relleno-style riff on commonplace jalapeño poppers. In lieu of the tiny, spicier peppers, Townhouse uses milder poblanos stuffed with cheese, breaded and fried, and served atop a sweet corn salsa.
A trio of small dates stuffed with gorgonzola and wrapped in bacon ($14) is a flavorful way to start a meal, but texturally, they are rather one-dimensional, almost mushy. They also offer a steak tartare, a fried, almond-crusted manchego cheese, and a series of salads, including a roasted beet salad ($13) with a nice set of accompaniments: a goat-cheese-based cream, pistachios, orange and a nicely tart pomegranate vinaigrette.
Among the entrées, the burger is actually among the least expensive options. There's also a veggie burger ($14) and a beautifully plated take on fish and chips ($19), served over a mound of roasted red pepper coulis.
Fans of mac 'n' cheese will want to try Townhouse's version ($22) with smoked chicken. The smoke is potent, cutting ever so slightly the richness imbued by the combination of mozzarella and triple-cream Boursin cheese. Or if you happen to be a "meat and potatoes" guy, Townhouse offers what could be your perfect meal, a platter of tenderloin, potato gratin and green beans for $32.
Dessert is treated with the same eye toward straightforward comfort. On one recent visit, the offerings included a cheesecake brûlée, an "orangesicle parfait" and an apple cobbler, presented in a pan straight from the oven with a wonderful crusty top — easily suitable for sharing.
Should you go for lunch, you'll notice plenty of items from the dinner menu in more appropriate portions: A 7-ounce burger ($14) replaces the larger version. A market-priced lobster roll appears on both menus. And the salads and appetizers lists are the same. But there are also several other main plates, including pulled barbecue chicken ($14), a fried egg sandwich with bacon, cheddar and fig jelly ($11), and cod-filled fish tacos ($14) accompanied by a sweet-and-spicy corn salsa.
Brunch is also on the menu at Townhouse, and they do it in grand style with a series of big, rich dishes. There's some overlap with lunch — a couple of sandwiches, the burger, some salads — but breakfast lovers' eyes will be drawn elsewhere.
The fried chicken and waffles ($12) got our attention immediately. Topped with a small pile of tangy coleslaw adorned with bits of pickle, it's a unique, flavorful combination. The chicken, so often cooked to dryness in other establishments, was perfectly moist underneath its crispy exterior. Unfortunately, the waffles were quite soggy on one of our visits, but still, the mammoth plate, which also comes with fries, is worth checking out.
Those in the mood for extreme self-indulgence — even more hedonistic than the waffles — might consider the lobster Benedict ($18) accompanied with a jalapeño cheddar biscuit. Or should you seek to satisfy a sweet tooth, try the blueberry French toast ($12). With three thick, fluffy pieces of challah rubbed with a cinnamon sugar, a creamy mascarpone sauce and a smattering of blueberries, it's perfect for those who enjoy the starchier, sweeter side of a morning meal.
Townhouse serves Chazzano coffee in small French presses, nothing revolutionary but laudably superior to what many restaurants are serving. Adult libations are also solid but nothing particularly notable: The wine list is an odd juxtaposition of fruity supermarket-type wines by the glass and high-end bottles, mostly from California. The beer menu is solid, featuring such products as Short's, Hitachino, and Hacker-Pschorr — but the cheapest brews (e.g., Labatt's) are $5 each.
A surprising highlight was the cocktail program. They don't match the quality of the metro area's best cocktail bars, but they do make a damn fine Sazerac, and their citrus-based drinks, such as the Town Collins and the Basil Smash ($10) were tart and perfectly balanced.
Situated in a nicely decorated, tiny, L-shaped space, Townhouse is a bit cramped. During the warmer months, the large windows that span the front are opened, but during the winter, they're rather drafty.
Is Townhouse worth a visit? That depends on your tastes and your pocketbook. But it's pretty fucking good.
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