Just as the Ford Arts, Beats and Eats festival is always looking for new ways to improve and keep things fresh, so are the musicians, artists, vendors and restaurateurs invited to participate each year.
Take Cafe Muse, for example. The European-style restaurant at 416 S. Washington Ave. in downtown Royal Oak ended their existing dinner service on Aug. 9 so the current space could undergo renovations to augment the upcoming menu changes.
On Sept. 16, the current bar area of Cafe Muse will re-open as Dottie’s, an all-new casual, modern southern bistro.
Cafe Muse’s popular breakfast and lunch has not been affected by the changes and continues to be served seven days a week from 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m., throughout the transformation of the bar area.
Dottie’s, named after owner David Smith’s mother, will make its preliminary debut during the festival Sept. 2-5 featuring menu items such as chicken and waffles, and their popular seafood grits prepared by co-owner and executive chef Greg Reyner.
Festival-goers will also be treated to Cafe Muse’s biggest seller at the restaurant: a grilled cheese sandwich. But not just any grilled cheese sandwich, though, as indicated by their feature in Esquire Magazine (“the best sandwiches in America” issue), a feature on Oprah’s “Sandwich Showdown,” and recognition as “one of the perfect grilled cheese sandwiches in America” by Reader’s Digest.
What makes it so special? The sandwich is complete with harvarti, fontina and mozzarella cheeses, basil, grilled tomato, finished with a little locally-sourced honey.
“Both Greg and I feel that in order for a restaurant to stay fresh and viable you need to adapt to changing times…currently, we feel that there is an overabundance of restaurants featuring new American cuisine in the Detroit area,” he said.
Smith and Reyner, his partner, opened the restaurant 10 years ago as one of the first to offer the concept of farm to table.
“Now almost every restaurant offers some form of farm-to-fork cuisine. We’ve always wanted to be different. Greg has always had a love for southern cuisine, so we decided that bringing a more casual dining experience with a Southern influence would be a perfect change and a great addition to the current Royal Oak selection of restaurants,” Smith said. “Since it wasn’t what we originally planned for Cafe Muse, we thought a name change for dinner would be necessary, hence the creation of Dottie’s.”
The presence of Cafe Muse is one of the successes the festival can celebrate entering its 19th year. But also the large crowds they attract, earning top rankings for its juried fine arts show, securing top national entertainment, and providing unique interactive programs for the family are among its other successes.
Festival event producer Jon Witz expects around 350,000 people or more to attend over the four-day weekend.
When asked what is different about the festival this year, Witz said a downtown arts and beautification program called Meters Made Beautiful was added. Local artists were invited to paint around 70 parking meters inside the festival footprint for display.
There are several new restaurants participating this year including La Dulce, Woodpile BBQ, Cafe Sushi and Marconi’s Pizza. The festival’s national music lineup features Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Gavin Degraw, Our Lady Peace, JR.JR., Cole Swindell, The Ohio Players and Three Dog Night.
The festival has also expanded the Fifth Annual Family Days program presented by Kroger and the Autism Alliance of Michigan to offer a third day of free rides, admission, parking and lunch for 2,500 kids and family members.
“The festival is truly amazing for the senses, as you can turn a corner or take 20 steps, and catch a different smell, sound or sight throughout the event. There is something for everyone that is of high quality and often with good value,” Witz said, adding that a $3 or $5 admission fee, after 3 p.m., affords guests access to 50 entertainment acts per day, and a choice of 50 restaurants and caterers at reasonable prices at one of the top art fairs in the U.S.
“Another one of the great draws are the people itself and the large, diverse crowd that attends the festival, and it’s certainly our pride how the entire community is represented and enjoying themselves hanging out together in peace at our festival.”
Speaking of diversity, Witz said, “I know we have vendors, artists and musicians that are part of the LGBT community, and we feel that we’ve always presented a great cross-section of humanity at our event, and have attracted really diverse crowds.”
Cafe Muse has always had the support of the LGBT community. “Even though we have never promoted ourselves as an exclusive LGBT restaurant, we do get a lot of regulars from the community that dine with us,” Smith said.
Considering that the Royal Oak City Commission passed a human rights ordinance in March 2013, he said “we feel the area is addressing our needs,” though it would be “great to see more gay-owned restaurants and businesses in the city.”
And if not LGBT-owned, whether or not the establishment is LGBT-friendly can make or break a business in Royal Oak.
A few changes in ownership at Pronto! has caused some apprehension and concern about what used to be considered a pillar in the LGBT community.
And rightfully so, according to General Manager Martin Bell, who has been working hard to restore Pronto!’s reputation since joining their staff ten months ago. As a regular guest at the establishment for 15 years, Bell is deeply invested in Pronto!’s success on a personal level as well.
“We’re in the process of rebuilding,” he said. “We have made some great strides since previous restaurant partnerships got off track a little bit. Not everyone involved had the same level of commitment.”
The sit-down restaurant, bar, bakery, catering service, and corner store was started in 1991 by Jim Domanski, Tom Murray and Bill Thomas. Since Pronto! was first sold in 2014, Bell said the guest perception of the establishment shifted.
But with support from their core clientele, Pronto! is settling through the rumors and criticism to “polish ourselves” and move in a more positive direction.
“We are wholeheartedly committed to evolving with the local climate of dining in Royal Oak. We are adapting to the savvy, more educated diner without compromising our integrity,” Bell said.
The festival is a good opportunity for people to stop by Pronto! to witness some of the changes that are occurring, he said. The new chef has pared down the menu leaving room for their classics and the addition of seasonal features, which speak to the “fashionable food trends.”
As Pronto! approaches its 25th year in business, Bell teases that they are in the beginning stages of putting together an “exciting celebration” to mark the event. Stay tuned.