Tag Archives: Detroit

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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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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