Dining Around The D: Bucharest Grill
Superlative chicken shwarma is what made Bucharest Grill a Detroit dining essential.
Contrary to expectation, the shwarma at Bucharest Grill is not a Middle Eastern specialty. Instead, owner Bogdan Tarasov said the grilled marinated chicken breast is a Turkish Empire import to his native Romania. Whatever its heritage, Tarasov’s grilled marinated chicken breast has received numerous accolades from local media outlets and enthusiastic customers.
Diner Jerry Krugel of Detroit admits to never ordering anything else but shwarma off the restaurant’s menu: “It is a succulent, juicy chicken sandwich with a great-tasting sauce.”
Bucharest Grill opened in December 2006 and spent more than nine years on Park Avenue, around the corner from Cliff Bell’s. After the building owner reclaimed the space for another purpose, Tarasov opened an 80-seater this year in the Rivertown District. The location on Jefferson Avenue is east of Chene Street, between the RenCen and Belle Isle Bridge.
Two smaller Bucharest Grill outposts were already in Detroit: the Milwaukee Junction location for 25 at 110 Piquette and a carryout in Corktown at 1623 Michigan. Bucharest Grill will move uptown with a fourth restaurant this year on Livernois, south of Eight Mile.
Tarasov, 40, was a canoeing/kayaking coach before joining a friend living in Detroit in 2001. Now married and an expectant father, Tarasov admitted, “I didn’t know the restaurant business, but knew I wanted a place that would be open a lot. I didn’t open to make money. I never knew how this [Bucharest Grill] would take off.”
When I went, my heart leaped with anticipation watching streams of diners drifting in and out of the Jefferson Avenue Bucharest Grill in an otherwise nondescript shopping plaza. I liked having free parking.
I noticed the menu was highly international with nothing particularly spicy.
“I’m from the Black Sea part of Romania, which has more of a Mediterranean influence,” Tarasov explained.
Simple salt and garlic are the two most frequent spices in combinations he developed for his own menu items.
“I’m the one tasting, and I have employees who follow the recipes,” he said. “We have a warehouse in Corktown where we make the sauces, and slice and marinate the meat,” he said. The meat is purchased from the Wolverine and Fairway packing companies in Detroit’s Eastern Market.
With such care, the food is noticeably handmade, not pre-made, at Bucharest Grill.
My co-diner was bowled over by the huge quantity of shwarma placed on her dinner-sized chicken salad, enough for a second meal. We shared a plate of excellent hummus, widely ringed with paprika.
I tried stuffed pepper for an entree more typically Romanian. After the delectable, sweet-and-sour “Jewish-style” pepper, this is my new favorite. The subtle sauce for the pepper’s blend of ground beef, rice and “Romanian spices” was not the typical tomato-dominant kind I don’t enjoy.
I was pleasantly surprised by my home-style potatoes. They consisted of thick-sliced potatoes, of course, but also sauteed carrots, pepper and onion. Get them! Muenster cheese or chicken shwarma can be added for an additional charge.
“House specialties” here include stuffed grape leaves (served with sour cream!) and Romanian sausage, falafel or chicken quesadilla, rib-eye steak, shnitzel plate and skinless sausage. Some “starters” are cheese pie turnover, chicken bites, eggplant dip and various hummus combos. The six “gourmet dogs” varieties begin with either knockwurst, bratwurst or kielbasa.
There are burgers and sliders featuring different proteins, eight salads and homemade crepes for dessert.
Young ladies take orders at a counter, tip jars beside them. A swarm of employees wearing black crew shirts are hard at work in the visible kitchen.
Bucharest Grill does a big carryout business, too. For example, a six-pack of shwarma costs $25.
Tarasov said he’ll stay a Detroit-based operation. “This is something just for Detroit. People from everywhere are coming to Detroit.”