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Atwater Detroit Tap House (Detroit, MI)

Halfway through our walk through Detroit, after Mexican Town, Cork Town, Downtown, and the River Front, we came to the halfway point of our walk in Detroit’s Rivertown neighborhood. Also known as the “Rivertown-Warehouse District”, for much of its history that part of Detroit was an industrial area situated between Downtown and the “Gold Coast” neighborhood of residences overlooking the Detroit River, with the Warehouse district anchored by the giant Parke-Davis pharmaceutical building (now “River Place”). Since the nadir of Detroit in the 1980s, that whole section of riverfront has seen a lot of development in fits and starts, including Rivard Plaza (now greatly expanded from recovered brownfields as William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor), Chene Park (now the home of the Aretha Franklin Amphitheater on the banks of the river), and, starting in the late 1990s, a surprisingly vibrant neighborhood of restaurants, clubs, breweries, and warehouses converted to lofts and condos. One of the earlier pioneers opening in this part of town was Atwater Brewing’s Detroit Tap House, and it continues to be a good destination when I’m in the city.

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El Rancho (Detroit, MI)

For this year’s “Death March” tradition of hiking approximately 20 miles through various urban areas, we chose Detroit. To start off the March, I decided we were going to rendezvous for breakfast in Detroit’s Mexican Town. Located on Bagley and Vernor Highway in western Detroit (just west of Corktown), Mexican Town has a tortilla factory, several bakeries, colorful murals, and a good dozen Mexican restaurants, and the area is one of Detroit’s ethnic neighborhoods that’s been able to maintain a solid cultural identity. Previously, I’ve had a few breakfasts at Taqueria Lupitas from 2011, but for this visit, I wanted to start a bit further west to see more of Mexican town, and also start on the early side. That lead us to El Rancho, which opens at 8am (most of the other Mexican places that offer breakfast open at 9am or 10am).

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Roast (Detroit, MI)

When we travel around with our friends for our annual “Death March” 20 mile hike, part of the tradition is going out for a big, lavish dinner the night before. In Detroit’s downtown, there are several great places to choose from for this (the automotive- and tech-industry “power dinner” is still a thing here), but I had long wanted to try Roast. I’ve always enjoyed Chef Michael Symon’s Cleveland-area ventures (Lola, Lolita, B-Spot, Mabel’s…), but I’ve wanted to visit Roast since it opened in 2008. At the time, downtown was just a little bit rougher, but starting to a pretty good resurgence, and Roast was a cornerstone of the renovated Book-Cadillac Hotel (now the “Westin Book-Cadillac”). While a bit cumbersome for our large group of 15 (why is it that most places now need contracts for large reservations? Are that many people flaking out in this modern era?), I managed to get a nice reservation of their private State Room for our gathering.

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Momo Cha (Detroit, MI)

With my yearly trips to Detroit, it’s been interesting to see that the Detroit dining scene is anything but stagnant; every trip seems to have a fresh set of new dining and drinking options opening up (and the occasional closures as well). Two relatively recently-opened venues (from different owners) have been trying variations on the “food court” model: Fort Street Galley and Detroit Shipping Company in which they construct a shared dining area with a lot of smaller kitchens and a cocktail bar, trying to appeal to the younger professional crowd while making some opportunities for new restaurateurs. In the former case, a converted Federal Reserve Bank hosts 4 restaurants. It’s been a bit shaky: in my three visits to Fort Street Galley, I’ve seen complete turnover of the food businesses, and the beer bar converted to a craft cocktail bar, but it does seem to continue to offer good food and drink. In the latter case, it’s been a bit more successful: the Detroit Shipping Company set up shop on Peterboro street, which in pre-Interstate Detroit was the center of the city’s Chinatown (there are a few subtle references to Chinatown remaining architecturally, and one restaurant, the Peterboro, is new but also recognizes the heritage). Detroit Shipping Company is named such because the venue is created from shipping containers, stacked up to make two multi-level dining areas, one inside, and one outside. “Shipping containers” sounds pretty industrial, but the overall ambiance is actually quite nice, and the dining areas nicely appointed. In the indoor food dining area, the periphery is surrounded by four dining counters (and one more upstairs); on my visit Brujo (a taco joint), Bangkok 96 (Thai), Coop Caribbean (Caribbean Fusion), -320 degrees (Coffee and pastries), and Momo Cha. While members of my party partook of all of these, I primarily focused on Momo Cha.

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Shield’s Pizza (Detroit, MI)

Well, from previous reviews of mine, I’ve covered the topic of “Detroit-Style? pizza more than a few times, most notably when talking about Brass Rail, or Via 313 (in Austin, of all places). It’s a real style, and one I rather enjoy as a variant of “deep dish”, but it has a quirk. Like I mentioned in my Brass Rail review, there actually aren’t all that many places in Detroit’s downtown or midtown to get a proper Detroit pizza. The canonical example, Buddy’s, started on 6 Mile, and is mostly a suburb chain, and Brass Rail is one of the very few places in downtown to experience it. But in Midtown, a recent change occurred: Shield’s Pizza returned to Detroit. Since I wanted to give several of my visiting friends a reasonably-authentic “Detroit Pizza”, we decided to give this new location a try.

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Eatóri Market (Detroit, MI)

Well, every year my group of friends descends on a different city for a ~20 mile march through town, with side explorations into the museum, food, beer, and cocktail scenes that the city has to offer. This year, our destination was Detroit (an old favorite of mine, and a frequent destination of mine for Robotics volunteering), and my long time friend and former college roommate Brian lives there as well. This visit, we started with a visit to a place I had enjoyed on my previous visit in April: Eatori Market. Located in the lobby of the Malcomson Building on Griswold with a nice outdoor patio space opposite Capitol Park, unlike a lot of places with “Market” in the name, Eatóri is actually a market, with a decent selection of high-end produce, pasta, sauces, and similar (mostly Italian) light groceries, and is probably well-received by the folks that actually live in the nearby buildings (Downtown Detroit may be reviving and even gentrifying, but it’s still a classic “Food Desert” with respect to groceries). But the front of the store is also a ~15 stool dining counter, a handful of tables, and some outdoor seating, providing a nice menu of light dinners, appetizers, and a good selection of beer, wine, and house-crafted cocktails.

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Selden Standard (Detroit, MI)

Like I mentioned in the previous review of Jacoby’s, Detroit has seen a lot of change over the years. Looking around downtown, one of the more significant areas of change in recent years is Detroit’s Cass Corridor. Running along the western edge of “Mid-Town” just west of Woodward Avenue, that whole part of town has had a huge makeover in recent years: when I first started visiting Detroit, up until the early 2000s, the idea of walking between the Detroit Institute of Arts and Downtown was “crazy talk”, involving walking through rather derelict parts of Brush Park or the Lower Cass Corridor (which, long ago, was actually Detroit’s Chinatown, centered roughly on Peterboro and Cass where remnants of Chung’s Restaurant and the On-Leong Merchant’s Association are still actually visible if you have an eye for detail). But by the early 21st century, decay led to wholesale clearing, and for quite a long time Mid-Town and the Cass Corridor were a handful of small businesses separated by vacant lots. But in recent years, the whole corridor has seen quite a resurgence. The building of Lil’ Caesar’s Arena, while unfortunately also bulldozing several historic properties, did stablize the region, and recent economic development throughout Midtown has led to a lot of new restaurants, stores, and even breweries showing up, and many of these new businesses are embracing the locality and trying to make Mid-Town a destination. One great example of this is The Selden Standard.

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Jacoby’s Biergarten (Detroit, MI)

If there’s anything that describes Detroit’s complicated history, the phrase “boom and bust” is it. Since even it’s earliest days as a fur trapping colony, it has had a cyclic history, with hallmarks including burning almost completely to the ground in 1805 (the source of its sometimes poignant “Resurget Cineribus”, “We will rise from the ashes” part of its motto), getting rebuilt as a modern metropolitan area, becoming one of the country’s largest banking and industry centers in the Industrial Revolution, having all that collapse in the Great Depression, rebounding again in WW2 as the Arsenal of Democracy, collapsing again in the late 1960s, slowly rebuilding through the 1980s and 1990s, getting hit harder than most in the 2008 mortgage crisis, and having a rather impressive recovery as downtown Detroit reinvents itself as a modern city. Unfortunately, those rounds of rebuilding and “urban renewal” aren’t without their costs: businesses close, their buildings go idle, and in many cases, the combination of economic depression and demand for sports event parking mean that many, many historic buildings and restaurants are now… parking lots. Really old, continuously operated businesses in Detroit are pretty rare. But a notable exception to this is Jacoby’s Biergarten, which has been serving up German food and beer for well over 100 years.

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Penny Red’s (Detroit, MI)

One of the more developments I keep seeing these days is the development of “food halls” and “beer halls” (such as the Market Hall Victoria in London that I detailed in my review of Gopal’s Corner) in which one or more bars and a handful of restaurants are combined in a large hall, reminiscent of the food courts of a classic US shopping mall, but including alcoholic beverages and a more curated selection of dining options. In the United States, this concept has been used a lot by the Galley Group who has opened “Galleys” in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit (with more coming in Chicago and Minneapolis), combining beer bars and cocktail bars with a handful of selected dining establishments that all bus your ordered food out to common dining tables. It’s a rather nice model. A more limited version of this opened this Spring in Detroit behind the new Shinola hotel at The Brakeman. Nominally a beer hall, the Brakeman also has two associated businesses attached to it: a cocktail bar inside the Brakeman, and fried chicken joint, Penny Red’s, the focus of this review.

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Cadieux Cafe (Detroit, MI)

It’s someone fitting that a few days after a write a tribute to Anthony Bourdain, I find myself writing up a spot that I first learned about watching his second show, No Reservations. Bourdain was actually quite a fan of Detroit, loving the people and the food. One of his quotes was “I’d love to be able to say that I came from Detroit. That would be like the coolest thing I could ever say,” and you could tell by watching his shows that he enjoyed his visits. And one of the places he visited and enjoyed was a quirky spot on the east side of town: Cadieux Cafe.

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