Almond-crusted salmon, Cajun shrimp and crawfish gumbo, and pesto-grilled rainbow trout with lobster saffron ravioli scallopini are just a few of the surprising culinary delights you will find at Pesto’s, a tiny restaurant located at the corner of Dye and Miller Roads. With seating for not quite 50 patrons, the restaurant celebrated its 20th anniversary on January 23. Owner and Executive Chef Rich Redmer worked in New Orleans restaurants for nine years before opening the Flint Township eatery, and he brought his flair for Cajun and French cooking with him.
The menu’s variety is a big customer draw, from Italian pizza and Stromboli, to sirloin pesto meatballs, crab-stuffed salmon and chicken piccata. A delicious assortment of homemade soups, sandwiches and salads rounds out the selection. “I like to be creative,” laughs Rich. “Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m going to make until I start cooking it.” While the end result is a surprise, the process is always the same: “I look for the freshest ingredients and make everything from scratch,” states the chef. The famous pesto sauce for which the restaurant is named is made with basil grown organically by one of the servers. Fresh food is prepared to order and special dietary needs are happily accommodated. The gluten-free menu items and oven-roasted vegetables are very popular, says Rich.
On Valentine’s Day, Pesto’s will offer special dishes such as crab-stuffed shrimp and heart-shaped pizzas.
Customers love the daily variety of homemade soups, especially the Cajun shrimp and crawfish gumbo, a spicy bowl of deliciousness. Enthusiasts for this specialty come every Saturday from as far away as Lansing for a bowl. The cheese-crusted French onion soup is also popular, as well as the shrimp bisque and chili. Willa’s Oriental Chicken salad is a favorite for mixed greens – topped with chicken, scallions, peanuts, tomatoes, parmesan, croutons and teriyaki sesame vinaigrette. Another customer favorite, the Chicken Waldorf salad, combines mixed greens, dried craisins, walnuts, and grapes into a chicken salad with raspberry vinaigrette. Claiming the top sandwich spot is the Pesto Slammer, with ham, salami, pepperoni, mozzarella, lettuce, tomato and olive dressing. The Honey Bear runs a close second, and is made with ham, turkey, bacon, Swiss, lettuce, tomato and honey mustard.
Folke and Sue Boman have been regular Pesto’s diners since the day it opened and they return every year on January 23 to celebrate. “I love it when Rich makes banana cream pie, and the éclairs are delicious!” exclaims Sue. “It’s a fun, friendly place.” Rich’s close relationships with customers like the Bowans are reflected in his menu choices. During the Christmas holiday, one customer requested a Leprechaun Reuben sandwich, and although it’s usually reserved for St. Patrick’s Day, Rich put it back on the menu. “We sold hundreds of them,” the chef laughed in remembrance. The regular menu is accompanied by a lunch special and dinner special menu that changes every day. “I don’t like to eat the same thing every day and my customers don’t either,” he explained. Rich even serves dishes that are not on the menu, such as a Coney dog pizza, if you know to ask for it.
A meal at Pesto’s is incomplete without a decadent house-made dessert, such as bread pudding with whiskey sauce, or Ghirardelli Chambord Chocolate cheesecake with Oreo crust. The Chocolate Peanut Delight is Texas sheet cake topped with Moose Tracks ice cream and Kahlua sabayon. The strawberry Napoleon is a mountain of puff pastry layered with vanilla custard, topped with fresh strawberries and a strawberry sauce. “Everything is made here, from the sauces to the bread!” exclaimed server Linda Holton, one of Pesto’s many long-time staff members.
Pesto’s daily lunch and dessert specials are posted online for the convenience of take-out and delivery customers. While the to-go orders keep business booming, there’s a special place in Rich’s heart for his dine-in regulars. “I have a very good and loyal clientele,” he says. “I want to thank them for 20 great years. I hope we’re here for another 20!” And Rich promises to continue doing what he’s always done – serve quality food with creative flair. ♦
Photography by Mike Naddeo