Fast Casual Vegan Junk Food Is Now a Thing
It is the shawarma that launched a thousand kissless first dates, and it is the stuff of local legend. What started as a little carry-out counter in the back of Park Bar, Bucharest Grill has grown into a bona fide empire, with a second location open in Corktown and a third in the works at Piquette and John R. And it's all because of that vampire-killing shawarma, named one of the "Best Late-Night Foods in the USA" by Esquire.
Detroit-style deep dish pizza was born here in 1946. This style of pizza, as we all know, is superior to all deep dish pizzas in existence. As far as indigenous cuisines go, the coney might have better brand recognition, but Detroit deep dish is our true legacy.
The COLORS' slogan is "Just. Good. Food." but it's more than just that -- it's good practices. Opened in 2011, COLORS is an outgrowth of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC-Michigan), which seeks to improve wages and working conditions for Southeast Michigan's 134,000 restaurant workers. The COLORS mission is one of social justice: to support the community by providing jobs and employment training to students, the unemployed and underemployed, and returning citizens, while also supporting the local food system by working closely with Detroit growers and producers. The food is "healthy food," but not necessarily "health food" -- there is a good mix of vegetarian options along with "good fatty food," -- the kind that is locally and economically healthy, sourced from local growers and producers like D-Town Farms, Rising Pheasant, and Grown in Detroit.
A vegan soul food restaurant? In Detroit? Yes, and yes. A concept that sounded utterly at odds with itself ended up making it into the top four finalists of the 2012 Hatch Detroit competition and officially opened its doors in West Village in 2013. Not only is it Detroit's first and only vegan soul food restaurant, it's also (even still) the only completely vegan restaurant in the city -- places like Seva and Brooklyn Street Local are certainly vegan-friendly, but nowhere else is as committed to the plant-based diet as Detroit Vegan Soul. It marked a real shift in Detroit dietary perceptions (that we're all a bunch of fried-food fatsos too Midwestern to know what tofu is) and expanded Detroit's restaurant repertoire in a significant way.
It's hard to determine how much of the success of Green Dot Stables can be attributed to it being a development catalyst versus being the beneficiary of some extremely fortunate timing, but when Green Dot opened in 2012, the only time you had to wait for a seat in a restaurant in Detroit was during Detroit Restaurant Week, Roast's ridiculously wonderful weekday happy hour, and Slows on the weekend. Now, it is not uncommon to have to wait an hour for a table on a Tuesday everywhere you go, and that turning point happened with the opening of Green Dot, which was considered a Detroit dining destination by national media since day one, due to its cheap booze and inventive slider selections -- including organ meat specials.
Chef Norberto Garita is originally from Puebla, Mexico. He also spent eight years working at the famed Il Posto Italian restaurant in Southfield. So when he opened up his own restaurant at the corner of Michigan and Junction in 2007, he fused together his two primary culinary backgrounds in one glorious place called El Barzon. It's not "fusion" food -- it is one half authentically Mexican and one half authentically Italian. And at the time, it was one of the most widely-hailed restaurants in the city of Detroit, drawing in the "suburbanite" crowd from the poshest of Metro Detroit zip codes (image: Mercedi and Lexi parked on the street on Junction – a real thing that happened) to dine at what was, for a couple of years at least, a hidden gem and best kept secret of Detroit.
The Golden Fleece is one of the last remaining vestiges of the Greektown that was. While Pegasus Tavernas and New Parthenon are much bigger and "fancier," the Golden Fleece is an unfussy Greek eatery where the gyro meat is carved off a spit in the front and in full view of the restaurant, with late-night hours on weekends for your post-bar appetite, and has remained wholly unchanged over the decades. It has the most "Greek" character of the few remaining Greektown restaurants, and the old-timers eager to share their memories of Greektown debauchery in the '70s to go with it.
It's not that Joe Muer is, in itself, a spectacular restaurant. It is spectacularly expensive, but let's not confuse one with the other. It is, however, important to Detroit's ever-evolving culinary scene in that it kick-started a restaurant revivalist movement, bringing back to life the storied restaurants of Detroit's golden days, which now also includes a resuscitated London Chop House and Top of the Pontch. While it is still open to debate whether mid-twentieth century food has a place at the twenty-first century table, Joe Muer made a massive impact in 2011 when it reopened in a splashy new space inside the Renaissance Center.
When Anthony Bourdain visited in 2009, Detroit was feeling a bit attention-starved. Also restaurant-starved. So seeing one of our restaurants -- ANY of our restaurants -- on national TV was kind of a huge deal. (Flash forward a few years and Detroiters would become a bit less enthusiastic about Bourdainian coverage.) Polonia is an old Polish restaurant among quite a few other old Polish restaurants in the once predominantly Polish Hamtramck, and while everyone has a favorite (with all respect to Polish Village Café and the Polish Yacht Club), Polonia is arguably the most famous.
This year, Detroit chefs Marc Djozlija of Wright & Co. and Andy Hollyday of Selden Standard are semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation's 2015 Best Chef: Great Lakes award. So when was the last time a Detroit chef even made it that far? 1993. That chef was Jimmy Schmidt, the restaurant was the Rattlesnake Club, and that year he won. The city of Detroit has not seen – has not even been in the running for – a James Beard award since.
Roast's instant popularity signifies the moment in time when Detroit showed it was ready for a grown-up restaurant with contemporary sensibilities. That was late 2008, barely six years, yet an eternity ago. It kick-started the local careers of people like Andy Hollyday and Travis Fourmont, who were doing just fine before they set up in Detroit, but were a far cry from familiar names, especially since Detroit wasn't yet in the habit of buzzing about chefs and bartenders by name. It also got Detroiters eating bone marrow. Despite a slew of openings since then, many in the same modern-rustic vein, Roast continues to be a mainstay.
The permanent pop-up that has since inspired its share of imitators, (revolver) gives aspiring chefs a chance to test out their recipes and build a fan base, while also giving established chefs an opportunity to play in the kitchen.
Opened in 1890, Roma Café is Detroit's oldest restaurant. The fact that it is till a much-beloved icon after all of these years just goes to show that age ain't nothing but a number. The classic late-19th-century immigrant Italian eatery is every inch a taste of Detroit's history; it was even a favored haunt of Detroit's notorious Purple Gang. If you want to see the Sopranos side of Detroit's history, look no further than Roma.
Obviously. It might be fun to laugh at Slows and snarkily refer to it as "the most important barbecue restaurant in America" but, looking at the development it has spurned along the Michigan Ave corridor in Corktown -- and, yes, we can absolutely attribute everything that has happened on Michigan Ave in the last decade to Slows, period, the end -- who's laughing now? Every national food magazine and blog has at some point written about Slows, serving as the obligatory "Detroit really isn't so bad" introduction for many outside the city. Corktown is now a bona fide travel destination, popping up in guides from national travel and lifestyle publications like Fodor's and Martha Stewart Living. And what was the catalyst for all of this? Slows. Slows, Slows, Slows.
One pizza to rule them all, said Dave Sauron Mancini. Supino is hardly Detroit's only pizza game; it's not even Detroit's only significant pizza game. The popular pizzeria is a shift away from Detroit-style deep dish (which we love!) to a Neapolitan-style, utilizing locally sourced produce and proteins (which we also love!). It was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and made Mancini a late-'00s Detroit Restaurateur Hall of Famer, among the cohort that kick-started Detroit's current restaurant renaissance (including Slows). Mancini's La Rondinella, which will open in the space adjoining Supino, is one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in recent years. OPEN OPEN OPEN OPEN.
It started as a little pizza parlor opened by an immigrant Italian family in 1960 and grew into the restaurant it is today, featuring homemade food made from scratch with love in the Old-World Italian way. It is one of Detroit's oldest family-operated restaurants, and if it's good enough for Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali, it's good enough for you.
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