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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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A&L Ham Palace (Detroit, MI)

A good discussion of Detroit’s culinary history has to include not only the Coney Island and the unique square pizza, but it’s also got to talk about ham. You see, back in the mid-20th century, much of Detroit’s burgeoning workforce needed quick, cheap, and nourishing meals to sustain them through their work day. The many “Coney Island” restaurants that are still common throughout the metro area were one answer to that, but in the middle of the 20th century, the many factories of Detroit and Dearborn lead to another style of diner appealing to the blue collar worker: the Ham Palace, and instead of the typical Greek owners of a Coney, a ham palace is generally owned by Eastern Europeans such as Albanians or Poles. The concept is simple: your basic diner, but instead of focusing on Coney dogs, the star of the menu at a ham palace is ham: one of more large ham roasts sitting in the kitchen, with thick slabs cut off the bone to order. It makes for a great centerpiece to both breakfast and lunch menus: a ham platter for breakfast, a ham sandwich for lunch, or a nice pea soup made from the trimmings. Starting in the middle of the 20th century, a good number of factories around the area had ham palaces, ham sandwich stands, or even places that sold entire roasted hams to go (indeed, the famous “Honey Roasted Ham” company started in a modest building, existing but vacant, on Fenkel Road in northern Detroit). At one time Dearborn even had over a dozen such establishments, but as the auto industry and the area’s fortunes waned, these businesses started to wane as well. That said, there’s still a good number of them in existence, like Lile’s Sandwiches in Dearborn on Michigan Ave (in a true nod to multiculturism, it’s actually a ham sandwich shop nestled in among several halal Middle-eastern places now), or Mike’s Famous Ham Place about a mile to the East in Michigan. Or, for this visit, I was looking for one of the places still named as a “Ham Palace”, A&L Ham Palace on Fort Street.

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Grand Trunk Pub (Detroit, MI)

Continuing with the side topic of Detroit Architecture, I rather like some of the little bits of older Detroit that are still around. One block “south” of Campus Martius Park is a mixed block of old four-story buildings that’s dwarfed by the huge Z-shaped First National Building on twos sides, and the Vinton Building on the other, but the rest of that block is vintage 1870s buildings left over from a much earlier Detroit area (a similar out-of-time block can be seen in the nearby wedge-shaped Flatiron Building, which I visited in 2011 for my Greenwich Time Pub review). Originally a jewelry store (home of the famous Traub Bros. jewelry company whose “Orange Blossom” vintage jewelry is still quite valued), this spot then for decades was a ticketing office for Montreal’s Grand Trunk railroad, selling tickets for the nearby train at Brush Street Station (long gone, razed in the early 1970s to make room for the Rennaisance Center, although the eagle-eyed pedestrian can see lots of little bits of evidence of the track’s existence between downtown and the Dequindre Cut rail trail). The age of the automobile ended the Grand Trunk’s operation in the 1930s, and the impressive ticket counter was repurposed as a bar for the nearby Metropole Hotel. Over the next few decades it changed hands several times, and when I first encountered it, it was “Foran’s Pub”, and since the early 2000s it has been Grand Trunk Pub.

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The Apparatus Room (Detroit, MI)

While I rather love Detroit architecture, Detroit has a bit of a mixed history with historic preservation, with it seeming that historic buildings that fell onto hard times having roughly equal chances of getting refurbished, left to rot, or getting turned into yet more surplus parking lots (with the exception of game days, the city has one of the largest parking surpluses I’ve ever seen). One of the more impressive buildings that was always a bit of a concern has been the old Detroit Fire Headquarters, across the street from Cobo Hall. Actively used as a fire station until the early 2000s, by 2011, the building was only used for administrative purposes, and by the end of 2011 the administrators moved out as well. In 2013, the building was one of many across Detroit that the city was attempting to sell during its bankruptcy, and it sold to a group of investors in 2013. After several years of planning and renovation, it opened in 2017 as the Detroit Foundation Hotel, and the old garage bays that, way back in the day used to hold the fire fighting apparati, re-opened as The Apparatus Room.

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Dilla’s Delights (Detroit, MI)

After a brief detour back to Lebanon to write up Muriel’s Donuts for donut day, I’m returning to my Detroit-area reviews, and, interestingly enough, staying with the donut theme for another review. My whole reason for being in Detroit was volunteering at The FIRST Robotics Champsionships, and that event had portions scheduled at both Cobo Hall and Ford Field, and I ended up walking between the two more than a few times. So, when I was given a box of stuff over to Ford Field, and then asked “hey, can you grab some donuts or snacks for the guys setting things up?” my immediate answer was “I’ve got this!”. I was sure of this, since I knew my route will take me right by Dilla’s Delights.

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Supino (Detroit, MI)

While my reviews of Brass Rail and Via 313 covered the basic concept of “Detroit-Style Pizza” in detail, that doesn’t mean that every place in Detroit serves up pizza that style. There are many places around the Detroit area serving up traditional, round, Italian-style thin-crust pizza done well. Indeed, at several of the breweries I visited, I asked people where their favorite pizza was, and there was a general consensus around one place having the best overall pizza in Detroit, and that was Supino.

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Dime Store (Detroit, MI)

If there’s ever a sign that an area is on the upswing, it’s when it starts to pick up some good, delicious breakfast joints. It wasn’t all that long ago that almost all of the options for a decent breakfast in downtown Detroit had the words “Coney Island” associated with them, or you had to nervously wonder if the in-house breakfast at your hotel was halfway decent. But in relatively recent history, more than a few decent breakfast options have become available: the Hudson Cafe, the Parks and Rec Diner, and Dime Store all being locations that were on my radar, and since my walk to Cobo Hall took me right by the Chrysler Building (formerly the “Dime Bank Building”), I figured it would be a good opportunity to stop in and check out Dime Store.

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