When I visit the forthcoming Astoria Market and Cafe (5417 Detroit Ave.), a cadre of plumbers, electricians and fire-suppression technicians are wrapping up their work. Though this piece of property in the Gordon Square Arts District of Detroit Shoreway was purchased three years ago, it is only now approaching the finish line.
"We're almost there," says owner Steven Daniels.
Daniels and his partner George Kantzios are the proprietors of Agora Foods International, a direct importer of Mediterranean specialty items from Greece, Italy, France, Spain and other countries. Their products land on the shelves of places like Gallucci's, Heinen's and the Mediterranean Foods store at the West Side Market, which was opened in 1969 by a member of Kantzios' family. The 8-year-old import business originally was in Ohio City, but the owners were in search of a new home. That's when they landed in Gordon Square.
"We saw this building and we saw the potential," says Daniels. "We wanted to stay in Cleveland."
In the back section of the 25,000-square-foot complex, originally home to a Chevrolet dealership, there are multiple walk-in coolers filled to the ceilings with literally thousands of individual gourmet food products. Olives, olive oil, fine European cheeses, garbanzo beans, roasted red peppers, anchovies, salumi ... you name it, they got it. Many of those items will wind up in both the retail section of Astoria as well as on the menu of the cafe.
"When we were on Clinton Avenue [in Ohio City], people would come in and say, 'Hey, can I come through and go shopping?'" Daniels says.
"No" was always the answer. But come the middle of November, that answer will change to "yes."
The 3,500-square-foot front portion of the building, now illuminated by a fresh facade of expansive windows, will be divided into zones for market and cafe. The retail section will have a cooler filled with grab-and-go salads and sandwiches and a freezer stocked with frozen heat-and-eat foods. Large deli cases will offer bulk olives, cheeses and charcuterie, which will be cut to order on a jet black, whisper-quiet Berkel slicer. Also available on the ready will be hot soups and house-baked breads and pastries. Beer, wine and soft drinks will line the shelves of additional coolers and temperature-controlled bins.
The opposite side of the space is dedicated to the cafe, which features an expansive quartz bar, open kitchen and seating for approximately 75 guests. Originally, Tom and Joy Harlor of Le Petite Triangle Cafe were to manage the restaurant portion of the operation, but they are no longer attached to the project. Stepping in to fill those shoes is chef Cory Kobrinski, who comes to Astoria after working for five years at Russo's, the popular Italian/Cajun eatery in Peninsula.
"He's like the grandchild of Emeril, since his boss trained under Emeril," Daniels says of Kobrinski and his mentor David Russo.
At the young chef's disposal is a spacious new kitchen equipped with a double-decker pizza oven, char broiler, grill and combi oven. But what he's most excited about is the massive Mediterranean foods warehouse just steps from the line.
"It's like a playground for me," Kobrinski says. "I can go back there and pick and choose whatever I want. The sky's the limit."
Coming from Russo's, a restaurant adored for lively dishes like chicken etouffee and New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, the chef says the goal will be to take what he's learned in Peninsula and reshape it.
"It's a big project to take on, but I've had some good training from some great chefs," he says. "I'll take my technique and style from the Cajun-Creole background and fuse it with Mediterranean cuisine. Being a restaurant-trained chef I look forward to the opportunity to expand, gain knowledge and grow as a chef; to go outside what I'm comfortable with and make a name for myself."
Diners can look forward to tapas-style plates of charcuterie and cheese, lamb meatballs, specialty pizzas featuring cured meats and seafood rich main courses. In the morning, neighbors can pair their espresso or cappuccino with housemade scones and muffins. At night, craft beer and wine will flow until 10 or 11 p.m. Sunday brunch will run from midmorning until late afternoon. A 45-car parking lot, a rarity for the neighborhood, is just across West 55th Street.
For owner Steven Daniels, Astoria is an opportunity to jump back into the full-service restaurant game. Though he's been in the wholesale foods business for years now, his family ran the original Flaming Gyro shop downtown in the 1980s and he did most of the cooking years later at a family joint in New Jersey.
Look for Astoria to open before the end of November.