Detroit's Best New Restaurants of 2017
It was another interesting and exciting year for metro Detroit’s culinary scene. From unexpected shutterings (RIP La Rondinella) to an influx of burger spots, arcade bars, new breweries and restaurants, there was certainly no shortage of food news in 2017. And, while the industry shows no immediate signs of slowing down, six new spots stopped us in our tracks, serving everything from elevated bar fare to hot bowls of curry. During another impressive year for Detroit, these newcomers earned the title of the 2017 best restaurants -- an increasingly impressive feat in a rapidly growing space.
A new neighborhood favorite focused on decadent pub food and dip sandwiches
Nestled off of John R Road in Hazel Park, Joebar’s neighborhood vibe and communal seating were an unexpected addition in 2017, especially as this is owner Joe Vaughn’s first restaurant. As a renowned food photographer, though, it’s easy to see that Vaughn knows what makes good restaurants tick. Headed by executive chef Courtney Witter, previously of Mabel Gray, the menu features elevated bar fare and dip sandwiches and elevated bar fare that is anything but ordinary. Options like the famed Joe dip, made with tender, slow-roasted prime rib, caramelized onions, and house-made horseradish, or massive burgers specials made with brisket, chuck, and short rib, keep the “average Joe” spirit alive without skimping on quality. But that’s not all. On some nights, a second, “secret” dining space known as Frame hosts regular chef residencies, featuring notable names such as George Azar of Flowers of Vietnam.
Snout-to-tail butchering and subtle Irish influences at this highly anticipated opening
After months of anticipation, chef Kate Williams' first solo venture opened in late September, and the Corktown restaurant has more than lived up to the hype so far. Williams blends her Irish heritage with whole animal butchering and local ingredient sourcing for inspired, chef-driven dishes. Dinner service begins with a traditional Irish tea, followed by offerings like decadent tartars, whole roasted chicken, and seasonally rotating cuts of lamb. The location also touts a hefty beverage program, highlighted by sherry and sake on tap, rancio wines, and a proprietary Lady of the House gin. The former St. CeCe’s space has been completely redone, subbing out the old wood look for clean white walls and a warm, subtly feminine decor, which is more than appropriate given the concept and cuisine. From start to finish, Williams and her talented team have shown impressive attention to detail. Well worth the wait.
Coastal-inspired restaurant specializing in oysters and raw offerings
It’s no surprise Voyager was a seemingly instant success after opening in March. Headed by revered chefs Justin Tootla and Jennifer Jackson, the seafood-forward restaurant hits all the major points: fresh, flavorful, and inventive cuisine. Even with the closest ocean about 1,000 miles away, somehow this Ferndale serves seafood that solely tastes like it was just caught. Oysters are served from “tide to table” within 24 hours, even with well over a dozen varieties, and Voyager also prides itself on its sustainable fare, utilizing wild-caught and responsibly farmed fish. With so many offerings, including standouts like the chili crab spaghetti and rotating catch of the day, the menu can admittedly seem a bit daunting. However, the attentive and knowledgeable staff is more than happy to make suggestions. The restaurant rounds out the menu with a variety of seafood-friendly wines, various craft beers, a handful a craft cocktails like their signature mai tai, made with hazelnut orgeat syrup and tangerine liqueur.
Hole-in-the-wall serving seriously comforting Senegalese cuisine
The city’s (and arguably the state’s) only Senegalese restaurant is a welcome breath of fresh air, specializing in eclectic West African cuisine with menu standouts like whole chicken and fish, lamb shanks, and shawarmas. Served alongside massive portions of flavorful sides like yellow rice, couscous, and fried plantains, each meal is seriously comforting and well worth the slightly elevated price point. Maty's is deeply personal for owner Amady Gueye, who opened the place with money saved from odd jobs (including a stint as an Uber driver) -- it's named after his wife, Maty, and the couple run the kitchen alongside Gueye’s mother. For any other restaurant it'd be a hopeless cliché, but you really can taste the love in every bite here.
Japanese-inspired spot focused on noodle soups, rice bowls, and curries
While this Corktown hot spot technically opened right on the cusp of the new year, the restaurant truly found its stride in 2017 with a number of exciting updates and a continued commitment to making the most delicious food possible. Headed by chef and owner Mike Ransom, the Japanese-inspired eatery specializes in warm and comforting noodle soups, rice bowls, and spicy curries, with dangerously delicious shareable plates like the steamed edamame (served with chilis, lemon, olive oil, sea salt). The dishes are unapologetically untraditional, incorporating bold ingredients like rich smoked pork loin and barbecue-glazed eel, and in the last few months, the noodle house added a lunch service, extended dinner hours, and secured its liquor license. Diners can now choose from a curated list of beers, sake, and shochu, a popular Japanese distilled liquor. All in all, an impressive first year for a small noodle shop.
Cozy, casual spot for low country, Caribbean, and African cuisine
Headed by chef Maxcel Hardy, who's planning on opening three (yes, three) restaurants in the next year, River Bistro made a splash after opening its doors in August. While seating is minimal (the emphasis is on carry-out and delivery), the kitchen here is turning out high-quality, flavorful, chef-driven takes on soul food with African and Caribbean inspiration. Hardy's impressive resume has garnered him national attention, and for good reason -- he was first runner-up on the Food Network’s Chopped, with past clients including the prince of Dubai, the prime minister of Turks and Caicos, and former NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire, among others. Using his grandmother’s recipes (who was said to have cooked for some favorite Motown artists), he's created a inspired menu highlighted by familiar favorites like jerk ribs and chicken wings, and elevated by additions like house-made guava barbecue sauce. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for this audacious chef.
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