“Make no little plans,” Chicago architect Daniel Burnham was known for saying. “Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”
Louis Maldonado is certainly listening. On Valentine’s Day weekend, Maldonado launched regular service at Dixboro House, the ambitious restaurant in the multimillion-dollar Dixboro Project on Plymouth Rd.
The opening came two years after Maldonado arrived in Ann Arbor, after answering an ad in a trade publication placed by Sava Farah, then head of SavCo Hospitality.
Now, Maldonado is Farah’s partner in the renamed Pulpo Group and oversees all the dining at her restaurants, including Aventura on E. Washington and Sava on S. State, which is closed for an extensive renovation (Observer, February).
Dixboro House, however, is where Maldonado will make his biggest mark. In a newly constructed glass-walled “barn,” he is aiming high in food, service, atmosphere, and price.
After practicing on a series of special dinners, Maldonado launched Dixboro House with a prepaid tasting menu at $185 per person. To kick things off, the Valentine’s Day weekend menu included caviar, lobster, and Wagyu beef.
He expects the menu to change every three to four weeks, depending on the season and the culinary direction he decides to take. Come spring, look for a vegetarian course and caviar, shellfish, and lamb. The menus’ common denominator will be bounty: he says each will include at least four highlighted ingredients and two to five preparations of each, with the average meal involving fifteen dishes.
While tasting menus have been in vogue in big-city dining for years, the concept has been less common in Ann Arbor, which favors a more casual approach, even in expensive places. Maldonado isn’t bothered. Though about a third of diners are coming from wealthy Detroit suburbs such as Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills, Maldonado says locals take up the majority of seats.
“People like different,” he says. “People pay for different.”
Dixboro House is open Friday through Sunday, for dinner only. Maldonado expects to serve just eighteen to twenty people at a time, with a first seating beginning between 5:30 and 6 p.m. and the second at 8 to 8:30 p.m.
He places a major emphasis on staff training. When I visited in mid-February, employees were attending a preopening seminar. Many have no previous food-‘service experience, which Maldonado says he prefers, because they have nothing to unlearn before he can teach them his own approach to service.
In fact, Maldonado hopes Dixboro House one day will become a recognizable credential on an employee’s resume, much like restaurants run by Daniel Boulud in New York and Thomas Keller, for whom Maldonado worked at the French Laundry in the Napa Valley before branching out to run his own kitchens in the Bay area.
He doesn’t see a comparison between his previous locations and here, though. “Ann Arbor is its own thing,” Maldonado says.
Dixboro House shares its site, which Pulpo calls “the Dixboro Project,” with the Boro, a casual restaurant and bar, and the Boro To Go, featuring baked goods and carry out. Although Maldonado and his pastry chef wife Annemarie (Observer, April 2021) are enjoying the area, there’s one drawback: Maldonado has had trouble finding suppliers for the top-quality fruits, vegetables and proteins he wants to serve.
Long-term, he thinks he’ll have to grow his own produce or find farms willing to raise items for him. Luckily, Maldonado can spread purchases across the Pulpo Group restaurants, including Sava, expected to reopen by spring. “It’s going to be the spot” for parents, students, and others at U-M, he predicts.
For now, though, his main focus is on Dixboro House, which already makes an architectural statement. Driving by late one February night, the lights were on inside the soaring barn, which glowed like a beacon at the bend on Plymouth Rd.
Dixboro House, 5400 Plymouth Rd., (734) 669-3310. Dinner only, Fri.-Sun. Closed Mon.-Thurs. thedixboroproject.com