The dining landscape is loaded with chain restaurants promising homestyle cooking and gracious service but delivering factory-farm foods from underpaid workers. Mainstreet values are being eroded by corporate interests, and finding a family-owned fine dining restaurant with roots in the community seems increasingly rare. That is why Knight’s is important, not only at the local but on the national level.
Founded in 1952 by Ray Knight, the Knight family businesses, consisting of three steak houses and a neighborhood grocery, have been serving Southeast Michigan for over sixty years. The family proudly declares a philosophy of providing customers with “good value, exceptional service and excellent food and drinks.”
The paneled walls of Knight’s on the west side of town have sheltered fond memories for generations of Ann Arborites. And while you won’t find a celebrity chef with a hot show on the Food Network, or some wild innovation in post-modern cuisine, you will find, in every bite, the antithesis of exteriority: soul. This is why the new Knight’s on the eastern end of Liberty Street is interesting; it’s a contemporary twist on a local classic.
The area surrounding the Michigan Theater is going through revitalization, with a few restaurateurs featuring “hip” and “ethnic” cuisine that appeals to the University crowd. And while I deeply enjoy innovative and international flavors, I also love a restaurant that serves up dinner and pie just like Grandma used to make. The new Knight’s is the go-to spot for anyone craving classic food and good value in a tastefully designed, contemporary space.
A gridded installation of portraits complements a space that typifies the current zeitgeist of restaurant design – elegant lines and simple colors. And while the space certainly feels fresh and contemporary, it retains the qualities of a classic bistro. White subway tile, a wraparound bar, “antique” fans, and little touches of turquoise paint are all elements of timeless design. And although the nostalgic composition explicitly aims for a retro-chic vibe, it does so without irony or superficial execution.
The interior of the new restaurant is not the only aspect that has been updated to satisfy customers of a new generation. The menu features an array of dishes appealing to older and younger tastes. While you can still order a Porterhouse and a pint of Guinness, customers can also dine on items such as gazpacho or hand-pattied black bean burgers, all while sipping Michigan micro-brews and local spirits. These are welcome additions for those who lack places to dine with their vegan companions. The seasonal fruit pie is still made at Knight’s HQ, and the All American Burger (still just under eight bucks) is cooked to perfection just as it was before – only now you can add a side of crosscut sweet potato fries to go with it.
And if the tasteful design, delicious food and well-framed view of the Michigan marquee across the street aren’t enough to make you a regular, the service will. The one thing that Knight’s does better than any other restaurant in town is provide excellent service. Just like the Knight’s of old, the staff at the new Knight’s is attentive and kind, knowing when to make an appearance at the table and how long to stay.
If the new Knight’s has any competition, it’s from the mother ship on the west side of town. And while I intend to regularly try the rotating specials at the Knight’s on Liberty with new friends, I eagerly await another family gathering for classic American cuisine at the Knight’s of old on Dexter Rd. Good drinks, good food, and good service at a fair price: you can’t go wrong.
Knight’s Downtown Steakhouse 600 E. Liberty St.Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104734-887-6899 www.knightsrestaurants.com Open Sunday – Saturday, 11am – Midnight