Monday, March 30, 2009


As the entrepreneur who opened popular eateries such as Chez Oskar, and Cafe Lafayette, in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, Charles Sorel knows how to create a successful cafe. Now, as Sorel moves forward with newly opened French bistro, Le Petit Zinc, in Detroit city, the question becomes whether his past success can be replicated here. If the plan is to continue serving simple and delicious French fare, from a quaint building on the corner of Trumbull and Howard, in hipsterish Corktown, I can't think of a reason why not. (The previous sentence could be misconstrued as sarcastic, and subconsciously maybe I meant it to be, but i'm telling you right now, it's not sarcastic...well, at least I don't think it is).

Le Petit Zinc's owner, Charles Sorel, was raised in Paris, and subsequently moved to New York City, when after September 11th, he, his wife, and three children moved to Brazil. They lived in Brazil for the better part of this decade until they chose to move back to the states, specifically to Detroit, which Sorel believes is the greatest city on earth.

Actually, I just made that up that last part. Sorel didn't say that. In truth, Detroit is the hometown of Sorel's wife Karima, and presumably she lured him back to her old stomping grounds in an act of defiance of which only we as Detroiters have the chutzpuh to even attempt to pull off. (I can relate).

From there, Le Petit Zinc was born. Small and cozy, the restaurant only seats 25 inside. The interior is painted with an array of colors ranging from yellow, to turquoise, and to green. Outside, the garden patio is an ideal spot to sip espresso and enjoy a crepe during the summer months. This is exactly what I did on an unusually warm day in March, as did Sorel, who sat next to me at an outdoor table and spoke in French to an acquaintance through a new model Macbook. In case you were not yet aware, yes, it's that kindof place.

Le Petit Zinc's menu ranges from light breakfast offerings to hot drinks, lunch, dinner and dessert. The simple breakfast at Le Petit Zinc might remind you of your time spent abroad, when a delicious toasted baguette and cup of espresso was the perfect start to the day. The espresso is excellent, and as one patron proclaimed, it helps heal the wounds left by the cheered opening and unexpectedly swift closing of Mercury Coffee Bar on Michigan Ave. earlier this year.

Lunch options at Le Petit Zinc include salads, sandwiches, and classic fare, all created with French influence. Seeing that I have a problem describing French fare with any semblance of eloquence, it's become readily apparent that reading Le Petit Zinc's online menu just makes more sense.

I can tell you that I was tempted to try almost every crepe on the menu. Possibly tapping into Detroit's French roots, crepes have now apparently hit it big in the Metro, with options such as Josephine Creperie in Ferndale, Crepes Cafe on Evergreen Rd. in Southfield, and Good Girls Go To Paris, a crepe stand across from the Metropolitan Building on John R near Woodward, which is already expanding with a new location in "Midtown," and another somewhere in the Pointes of Grosse.

At Le Petit Zinc, crepe options span both sweet and savory. I chose one filled with goat cheese, pine nuts, and spinach, which was extremely refreshing and not overly cheesed. In most cases, a bold decision such as using only a "normal human being" portion of cheese wouldn't be an act destined for praise, but in this setting, I found it spot on.

Meanwhile, while I've overly pandered to Charles Sorel throughout this post in light of his ambitious foray into the world of Detroit dining, in reality, all of us at Detroit Army get the feeling that he isn't too pleased with what the process of opening a restaurant in Detroit entailed. One could interpret Sorel's statements as evidence that if Detroit wasn't wifey's hometown, opening a restaurant here probably wouldn't be a top priority. This has nothing to do with the city itself, which Sorel genuinely believes has similar attributes to the home of his former New York City bistros, the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn, which emerged within the past few decades as a desirable locale after previously being left for naught.

Instead, its apparent that Sorel's frustration has everything to do with the long, and costly process with which he continues to deal, at the hands of government officials as he attempts to get Le Petit Zinc off and running. As of now, Sorel has been unable to obtain a liquor license for the restaurant, and while he still plans on securing one, he politely, but openly, questions why it will cost him approximately $30,000 dollars in all to receive approval from the city, when the same license costs $1,000 in Brooklyn. In fact, when Sorel spoke with the Detroit Free Press (R.I.P. tangible version 3/30/09 ), he stated that everything about opening a business in the State of Michigan takes longer and costs more than doing so in Brooklyn. Sorel though is quick to share that while the process hasn't been easy, city of Detroit residents deserve credit for their ongoing support, along with Phillip Cooley, most notably of Slow's Bar BQ fame, for helping him navigate the permit process.

All things considered, Sorel's experience is not exactly a ringing endorsement for Michigan business policies. Instead, it's an important message for state, city, and local legislatures, and one of which we as members of the Detroit Army should ensure they are well aware.

Detroit Army is proud that a man like Charles Sorel is willing to take a chance on a niche restaurant here in the midst of uncertain economic times. And yes, he still deserves major credit, even if it's possible that his wife forced his hand in moving to Metro Detroit in the first place. If that is what happened, Mrs. Sorel, Detroit Army can't thank you enough.

Below are photographs from my visit to Le Petit Zinc.

To view the entire Flickr set, click here.

Le Petit Zinc
1055 Trumbull Ave.
Detroit, MI 48216
(313) 963-2805
Le Petit Zinc

Detroit Army


Anonymous said...

Sounds like the city should be encouraging these types of establishments instead of making it hard for them! I would like to try "LE PETIT ZINC"

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?

BeautifulBlackAtheist said...

I LOVE Le Petit Zinc! The food is amazing and fresh! The only's quaint (i.e., small) so I arrive on Sundays at opening.

I'm glad to see such a gem hidden in Detroit :)

BeautifulBlackAtheist said...

Praise be to Le Petit Zinc! The food is always fresh and tastes amazing. The drawback, it's quaint (i.e., small) but if you don't have many in your party you should be fine. I like to go on Sundays upon opening.