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By Sylvia Rector, Detroit Free Press Restaurant Critic
2:55 p.m. EST January 12, 2015

(Photo: McIntosh Poris Associates)

Restaurateur Jeremy Sasson has unveiled details of his planned 300-seat Townhouse restaurant at Woodward and Congress downtown — a project whose centerpiece is a 3,000-square-foot, all-glass dining space where guests will have the feeling of dining outdoors in the city year-round.

The greenhouse-like structure with a pitched, retractable glass roof and moveable walls will bring the city a new kind of dining excitement, he said. “We wanted to create a very vibrant experience — one that didn’t exist here,” he added.

In good weather, the roof and walls can be opened to create an open-air dining space serving lunch and dinner seven days a week. But even on cold or rainy days, guests will still be able to dine in comfort with an unobstructed view of the cityscape.

Sasson, who is financing the project himself, will submit his plans to the city in two weeks and, barring significant delays, expects to open the restaurant as early as May. He has already put the project out to bid, he said. He declined to say how much it will cost.

Located on the northwest corner of the One Detroit Center building, the restaurant will cover nearly 8,000 square feet and feature three main components: a bar area with “an old-school diner feeling” and U-shaped bar inside the building; the adjoining glass structure, standing on a wide, elevated, plaza-like area along Congress, and a traditional outdoor patio dining area.

The glass structure will be the restaurant’s main dining room and feature indoor-style furnishings and finishes, rather than rattan or other typical patio materials. From inside the restaurant, Sasson said, the glass room and the bar area will blend seamlessly into each other.

Sasson’s first restaurant — the small, smartly casual Townhouse in Birmingham — is best known for its lively street-side dining area, open spring through fall, and its $19 hamburgers, made with 100% dry-aged steak cuts and custom-baked brioche buns.

He’ll offer the same hamburger and bun downtown, he said, but allow guests to customize their toppings to potentially reduce prices. The menu overall ranges from steak frites, roast chicken and design-your-own salads to tacos, sliders, pastas and fish.

One new feature of the menu in Detroit will be what he calls a “modern American dim sum cart,” which will serve Townhouse-style food in small-plate portions. Its items will be available to guests immediately and directly, whether they’re at the bar or they’ve just been seated for lunch or dinner.

The concept is designed to “put food at your fingertips” as well as entertain guests with its constantly changing offerings. “People will always be wondering what’s on the cart this time,” Sasson said. Chefs will like it, too, he said because it will give them a bigger creative canvas.

Potential chefs are already contacting him for information about the project, he said.

Other features of the restaurant will include catering, private event spaces, an auxiliary prep and storage area on the second floor above the kitchen, and food deliveries to downtown offices.

Contact restaurant critic Sylvia Rector: 313-222-5026 and srector@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @SylviaRector.