FLINT, Michigan—Since 1980, Churchill’s Food and Spirits has remained a Flint staple on the downtown strip, with many in the community familiar with their large whiskey selection and craft beer. What they may not know, is that the menu is getting a face-lift for the first time in 20 years and taking a fresh, fine dining twist.
American Culinary Federation executive chef Tyler Hardisty talks about his new menu the way most artists talk about their work—referencing more to inspiration, style and substance than one might expect from an old pub in the Vehicle City. “Starting off, their old menu was changed once,” he said, “but the menu was just dated to ’80s and ’90s bar food,” Hardisty says. The Flint native and Powers Catholic High School alum wanted his menu to reflect the new vibrancy and buzz happening in his city.
The new menu specializes in foods made in-house and from scratch with an appreciation for high-quality ingredients. “There is a growing awareness for local sourced ingredients, with fresh food that makes you feel better,” he says looking around the bar. “People will still have that great tap selection at Churchill’s with that classic atmosphere, but I think they will be surprised with the combinations they’ll find from the tap to the plate.”
Among the new items on the menu: parmesan truffle fries, red pepper hummus, panko fried shrimp pasta, and creme brulee.
Located in downtown Flint on South Saginaw Street, Churchill's holds the distinction as being a downtown mainstay even before redevelopment started 15 years ago. For years, Churchill's, Halo Burger, and the University of Michigan-Flint pavilion offered the only eating options downtown.
“Flint is coming back. It’s on the ups,” Hardisty says. “It feels good to be a part of that, to be apart of my hometown’s comeback after all that everyone has been through.”
Hardisty’s relationship to food began 15 years ago, a time he says was a crossroads for him. “I was going to school and working, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I know I needed to find a career,” he says. “I ended up getting a few cooking jobs and after 10 years or so I realized if I wanted to get ahead I needed to go to culinary school.”
Hardisty enrolled at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, where he was able to really dig into his passion for cooking and culinary arts studying under five master chefs at Schoolcraft at a time when there were only about 60 master chefs total in the United States, he says. “There I didn’t just cut my teeth, they were sharpened, my whole view of the craft changed,” Hardisty says.
After graduation, he took a position as a sous chef at the Houston Country Club. There Hardisty worked for six years under certified master chef and executive chef Alex Darvishi, known for his mentorship of younger chefs and for winning seven gold medals in the Culinary Olympics.
Living in Houston gave Hardisty an opportunity to experience more food and fine dining trends. He enjoyed the fun, fresh, casual, and creative approach to food—“and that is what you’ll find here,” he says of Churchill’s.
When he and his wife had their first child, they decided it was time to come home. “We wanted to get back closer to family, and for me Michigan will always be home,” he said. “So I took a job at The Country Club of Detroit, where I worked under another master chef, Brian Beland, again as a sous chef, working mostly fine dining.”
Then after a second child came along, the family wanted to be even closer to their Flint roots. Longtime friends included the Gravanis family, which took over Churchill’s in 2015 from former owners Nadine Cook and Scott Richmond. The Gravanis family is also well known for their wide selection of taps at their bar in Burton, the Red Baron. “When they heard I was looking for a job, it was kind of a no brainer.”
And, so, here he is and proud to be here.
Churchill’s menu includes global offerings such as creamy blue cheese on chips, chicken tinga tacos or a sweet chipotle chicken, and calamari. All plates, big and small, are designed to be paired with the large selection of spirits, Hardisty said. “We are a bourbon bar, so we have a couple signature bourbon barbecue items,” he said.
His goal: “Bring higher-end dining to folks here in the city, to make it more accessible, more affordable, and bring a bigger range of options to folks who might not normally be able to experience that kind of food.”
Oh, and one more thing: “Surprising people, getting them to relax and really enjoy the meal. That makes people feel good, and if they walk out of here feeling good they’ll at least have another good experience to share about Flint.”
Special items to check out is the bourbon ice cream from Uncle Ray’s Dairyland in Fenton. The ice cream is made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, made exclusively for Churchill’s. Pair this with the housemade buttermilk caramel bread pudding, Hardisty suggests.
Churchill's Food and Spirits is located at 340 S. Saginaw St. in downtown Flint. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 2 a.m. Saturday.