Rock City has grunge rock appeal with its mismatched furniture, dim lighting, and unfinished walls decorated with pop culture pictures. Each table has mason jars of stainless steel utensils, chopsticks, clipboards for the menus, and a child-sized blackboard with the specials written in neon chalk. Even during the sludgy gloom of a Detroit winter, the Eatery still managed to fill seats on a Tuesday.
Nikita Sanches started selling his crazy flavored pies (as Rock City Pies) at Ferndale’s Rust Belt Market. I remember visiting the market and seeing a sign that said Green Velvet Jameson Pie (or something along those lines). The restaurant still maintains the pie standards that made the chef and owner of Rock City famous, with flavors such as the Bourbon Butterscotch Pecan Pie. The moist, cake-like bottom crust has spoiled me for life.
Sanches takes the same sort of inventive risks in savory dishes like his fiery kimchi brisket stew and his “Carrots,” which use carrot leaves to give a refreshing and concentrated carrot taste.
The cocktails are generously boozy. Some have names inspired by the liquors’ origins. The Journey To Mexico, with mezcal, mole bitters, agave and orange juice, was like a bitchy fuzzy navel. The strong and fragrant Peace In The Middle East hit all the right Arabian notes with arak, rose water, date syrup, and pomegranate molasses.
Their dinner and specials menu is constantly changing, but Nicole’s Poutine and the Mac and Cheese are mainstays. The poutine is deep-fried in duck fat and served with gravy, cheese curds, and a fried egg. Their Mac+Cheese is gluten-free and served in a giant edible Parmesan bowl.
Chef Nikita continuously pushes himself to try new things, like experimenting with charred flavors. You can find him grilling tongue on his cast iron yakitori as he develops new spring menu items.
Compared to when the restaurant first opened, he describes himself as “matured,” because the food changes in the menu are more focused on its clientele than his own culinary whim. Yet, he continues to humble what we think food should be, whether it is a carrot or a pie.
You can find Rock City Eatery at 11411 Joseph Campau Street in Hamtramck.