Detroit Rock City…Motor City…8 Mile…er…that city that just went bankrupt. Detroit’s known by a lot of gritty, grimy, get-real monikers that don’t necessarily inspire one to sit down and eat, so it might surprise you to consider Detroit as a destination ripe with spectacular food. So true, Detroit has hit some tough times, but despite what their financial economics may currently look like, on a recent visit we found Detroit’s gastro-nomics to be flourishing.
There’s been no influx of James Beard awards or Michelin stars ushering in a brand new level of “Detroit Cuisine,” rather Detroit restaurants just have some plain and simple, damn good eats. And they don’t need some fancy award to prove it. Period. What makes the food of this town stand out, what ties it all together, are its roots, rich diversity and story of America. And here we have a top cross selection, not necessarily of the “nicest” places to eat (though some are here) but of the places that are the most “Detroit.”
So turn up the Motown and go to Michigan. Detroit Rock City needs some love and with seriously good eats like this, you’ll be giving it with a smile.
Just like a certain honey badger, the London Chop House don’t care. That is to say, its grandeur will take the city’s bankruptcy claim and flame broil it into a rich piece of red meat for indulgently eating. Located in the city’s business district, once you enter the windowless, subterranean steak house, you’re immediately transported back to a time when Detroit was the most important city in the country, and the elite needed just such a place to expunge the overflow of their wealth.
It’s Mad Men, Sinatra, Hefner and Jay Z all rolled into one. Opened in 1938, the Chop House was on James Beard’s top ten list by 1961 and landed on the Playboy Top 25 list in 1981, but was shut down from the late 80’s through the 00’s, only to triumphantly reopen with a modernized menu, by executive chef Robert Cherer (age 26) in February of 2012. The plush, swankiness of the whole place, matched by a throwback band playing classic hits, should instinctively make you want red meat. Especially the 24oz Rib Eye, 32 oz Porterhouse and Steak Tartare. All together. At once. Topped with the Crab Bisque.
2—The hamlet of Hamtramck
So, Hamtramck isn’t really a hamlet, even if we think that sounds nice. It is an actual city that’s 99% inside of Detroit, you know, just like how the meat is just about all inside the Pierogi. Indeed—Polish immigrants flocked to this place starting in 1910 when Dodge Brothers Motor Car Company opened up a plant there and made it one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the country.
As we visited, the reality of 2013 was apparent on it’s eerily quiet streets, though pierced, if for a few blocks, by a man following us playing the accordion as we walked down the main strip. So, the bustle is gone but the microcosm Poland is still here. You can find it at Polonia, once featured by Anthony Bourdain. Or Polish Village Cafe, originally a “gentlemen’s hotel” opened in 1925 with a polka hoppin’ basement beer hall that in the mid ’70s became a Polish restaurant serving home cooked classics. Now it feels like you’ve been invited into a locals house. Walking down the main strip, you pass Polish butchers and delis, like Srodek’s, where you can nosh on authentic polish beef jerky, quirky memorabilia stores like the Polish Art Center and our favorite—polish bakeries. Try the Chrusciki, which are like sugar, fried sweet cheese dumplings, at New Palace.
Hell, yes—this placed is called Pegasus, which to any lover of Greek Food is enough of a draw to at least look at the menu. Quirky nomenclature aside, this is the penultimate dining experience in Detroit’s historic Greektown. It has everything you want in this part of town—plastic roman ruins, resplendently potted vines, dishes that light on fire, accents, accents, accents and people yelling “Opa!!!!” every which way. After you’ve been stuffed on olives, feta, lamb, pork and Baklava, walk the rest of Greektown and may be try your luck at the casino.
Come, if nothing more than to marvel at the horsehair ceiling and meticulously restored Art Deco interior in one of Detroit’s most legendary architectural masterpieces—The Guardian Building. Stay in the gigantic chamber and sip some divine italian coffee, pastries and sandwiches. Maybe bring your lap top to get some work done or just read the paper.