Today we’re launching EAT THIS CITY, a new Uproxx series in which premier chefs tell us where to eat when we’re in their town. First up: Detroit!
Over the past few years — buried by high rents and intimidating mortgage rates — many young creatives have dreamed of packing it up and moving to Detroit, where they seem to be giving away real estate. Some intrepid folks have actually made the move, and (as often happens in creative “it” towns of the moment) a hopping food scene has developed.
One such bold spirit is Marc Djozlija of Wright & Company — recently nominated for the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Great Lakes Region, 2015. Though Djozlija is a Detroit native, he booked it out of town as soon as he turned 18, and started his career with Wolfgang Puck. After an 11 year stint in Las Vegas, the Wolfgang Puck crew told him they wanted to open a restaurant in Detroit. At first, Djozlija couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to build a restaurant in his hometown (who would come?), but once back home, he quickly decided there was no place he’d rather be.
Wright & Company is a relatively new restaurant on the scene, and Djozlija and his partner, Dave Kwiatkowski, maintain that the downtown joint is a “gathering place” as much as a restaurant. They wanted a spot where people could drop in on a regular basis — not just for special occasions.
The menu consists of “composed small plates,” craft cocktails, and international beer and wine. They encourage family-style eating so that you can try a range of items — like the burrata cheese with stone fruit, maple, arugula, and sesame brittle; or braised oxtail with Parisian gnocchi, tri-color carrots, and fresh horseradish.
When waxing philosophic about his city, Djozlija tells us that in Detroit, if you put good food on the plate, people will come. Here are his choices for the best restaurants in Detroit in 15 different categories, so you, too, can eat like a star chef in the Motor City:
Supino Pizzeria in The Eastern Market
Great thin crust pizza that the owner Dave Mancini took two years to perfect. Inspired by New York style pizza, they are sparely topped so you get to enjoy the flavor of the dough as well as the sauce.
There is a large Latino population in southwest Detroit and this small Mexican restaurant is by far the best. The menu is more than your typical Mexican fare with several steak dishes and fish entrees mixed in with great guacamole made table-side and incredible Queso Fundido.
Ronin in Royal Oak
We do not have very many Asian restaurants in Detroit so we will go just outside the city to Ronin in Royal Oak. Great small plate menu in a cool/hip atmosphere and the best sushi in the area. Since there is not much good Asian food here, we will be opening an Asian restaurant in January called The Peterboro, which will be in the area of Detroit where China Town used to be.
Note: As one of the best new restaurants, Djozlija says they will be playing with traditional Chinese dishes: Almond Boneless Chicken (which was apparently invented in Michigan!), sexier spring rolls, and scallop crudo with bean paste are a few items to look forward to.
As I mentioned earlier, we have a large Latino population and in the middle of the area is a taco truck called El Rodeo on 24th Street and Vernor. Quick, easy and delicious. My go to dish is the al pastor burrito with everything on it.
Astro Coffee in Corktown
I’m not a big eater of sweet food, but when I do want something I will go to Astro Coffee in Corktown. Jessica Hicks along with her husband Daisuke Hughes have a great coffee shop with a rotating selection of pastries and savory food. I love the scones with house-made jam. Also, they make a great egg sandwich.
Celebrity chef, Michael Symon, has an upscale steak house called Roast in the Book Cadillac Hotel. It is more than a steakhouse though, with house made pasta, craft cocktails and a rotating “Beast of the Day” that is cooked on an open spit for your viewing pleasure. Goat, suckling pig, and lamb are all in the rotation.
Hamtramck used to have a large Polish population — one of the restaurants that stood the test of time is the Polish Village Café. Located in the basement of an old house, it is like going to your grandma’s house for Polish food (especially due to the fact all the cooks are older Polish ladies). Potato and cheese pierogis, dill pickle soup, and stuffed cabbage are my go-to dishes, especially the stuffed cabbage, as they taste almost identical to the stuffed cabbage my mother makes for me.
This restaurant could have fit into several categories (fine dining, brunch, date night, restaurant run by a friend). This is, in my opinion, the best restaurant in town and the numerous accolades that they have achieved shows that I am not the only one that feels that way. With that being said, Chef Andy Holliday has half of the menu dedicated to vegetarian food, changing that portion of the menu seasonally. Sweet potato agnolotti, grilled scallions with romesco sauce, and vegetable carpaccio are always in my rotation when I dine there.
Located in an old building that looks like a castle, Parks and Rec serves innovative takes on breakfast items. They are not afraid to push the boundaries with interesting ingredients. They share a kitchen with Republic, their sister restaurant, which specializing in nose to tail dining.
Smoked leek strata, eggs en cocotte with bacon jam and the corn cakes are my personal favorites. I like the fact that they offer some of the dishes in smaller portions so that you can try many things. Be prepared to wait though, as their 32 seats fill up fast.
FOOD IN THE CITY
Detroit has a love affair with the Coney Dog — hot dog on a steamed bun with chili mustard and onions. There are several places that make great dogs, but the two most famous are American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. They are located next to each other with an ongoing debate as to which is better. I prefer Lafayette as the chili is a little less sweet. They are open late on the weekends and it is the go-to place to eat after the bars close.
ODD CULINARY EXPERIENCE
We do not have many “odd” dining experiences in Detroit, but we do have a large amount of pop-up dining that is happening on a regular basis. That being said, Salt and Cedar is a print shop that has a hidden room where they have a long communal table and a kitchen where guest chefs host dinner parties.
Tucked away in an obscure location in Eastern Market, it is definitely a unique dining space.
The London Chop House was the quintessential dining experience in Detroit for many years, as it opened in 1938. The restaurant closed in 1991 and was revived in 2012. Think old-school leather booths, big red wines, dry aged steaks and the best steak tartare around in an underground dining room. It exudes old Detroit money. Bring your checkbook as it is pricey, but well worth it. After dinner, head upstairs to their cigar bar for a little cognac, a nice Rocky Patel cigar and maybe even a game of pool.
Nemo’s for a cheeseburger and fries
Two blocks from my house is the legendary sports bar called Nemo’s, near the old Tiger Stadium site. The burgers are some of the best in town and when I’m hung over, I walk down the street, polish off a couple of them and then I go back home for a nap.
Works every time.
Although it is in the suburbs about 15 minutes from downtown, this upscale Italian restaurant run by Luciana Del Signore is my wife’s favorite place to dine (after Wright and Company, of course). Freshly made pastas, veal saltimbocca, and other upscale Italian specialties like whole branzino are served with extra care and attention to detail that elevate them above other restaurants.
RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND
Detroit is a small town inside a large land mass and the restaurant community is pretty tight. There are chefs already on this list that I would consider good friends. Andy Hollyday from Selden Standard, Dave Mancini from Supinos Pizza, etc. The one person that has not been mentioned since there wasn’t a category for him is Brian Perrone, the chef/owner of Slows Barbecue.
Not only did Slows start the buzz of the restaurant resurgence 10 years ago in Detroit, Brian is one of the first people I met in town and he has been a good friend and a great restaurateur. I have always been a fan of his restaurant.
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier-level chef in a different city sharing their hometown eating tips!