It’s no secret that Windsor’s neighbour, Detroit, has been experiencing a cultural and culinary renaissance for several years, and the trend did not slow in 2015. The city continued to grow, as more restaurants put out gourmet, complex dishes, and more bars put out daring cocktails or delicious local brews. Detroit is ripe with both nationally known hotspots, and smaller, more locally renown gems. Here’s a short list of recommendations for your next visit.
BEST BREAKFAST – Rose’s Fine Food
With all due respect to Parks & Rec, a fascinating spot that opened in the spring, Rose’s, located several miles east of downtown, still has it beat. Try an enormous hash made from local root vegetables and potatoes, served with house-made noodles. The hot milk options – turmeric is my favourite – provide a really interesting liquid companion to delicious home cooking. As a bonus, Rose’s is famous for paying their employees a living wage and also giving back to the community: ten per cent of all gratuities go to a rotating local charity every month.
BEST DELI – Russell Street Deli
Get here quickly, because this tiny gem tucked away in Eastern Market is only open until 3 pm Monday to Saturday. It’s a quaint little deli that serves up all the classics with Sy Ginsberg beef and local, fresh rye. What separates Russell Street from other delis, though, is it’s best-kept-secret-status menu for vegans and vegetarians. The meatless Reuben and the TLT, the latter of which is fully vegan, are both as good as the real thing.
BEST PUB – Ale Mary’s Beer Hall
Located a short jaunt outside of Detroit, in downtown Royal Oak, this place beats the beer mammoths like HopCat for a few reasons. Firstly, the food is top-notch every day, with the kitchen also teaming up with breweries monthly to compose set menu beer dinners. Secondly, although the draught selection is a quarter the size of HopCat, it’s much more carefully chosen, with rare European pours complementing the usual terrific Michigan options. And finally, you can discuss how great the place is by chatting with your neighbour: an enormous wooden table intended for communal seating spans the length of the room.
BEST SUSHI – Noble Fish
Once again we venture out of downtown Detroit to the sleepy town of Clawson, just a few miles north of Royal Oak. Noble Fish is a hipster’s paradise. It’s a tiny sushi bar located in the back of a Japanese grocery store, with a maximum capacity of about ten people. Go to the back of the store and turn left to find the adorable alcove. The experience is not much: there’s no service and unusual, kitschy fan art adorns the walls, but what separates Noble Fish from the imitators is the freshness and variety of fish. The smart move is to try a platter of nigiri to appreciate it best. Decadent, delicious, fatty, thick-cut mackerel is a must.
BEST HAPPY HOUR – Roast
One of two Michael Symon Detroit-area operations – the other is a burger joint in Royal Oak – is famous for all the wrong reasons. The dinner menu is just a shinier version of what you’d find at The Keg, with the thoughtful side options being really the most interesting part. But the happy hour bar menu is downtown Detroit’s best bargain and most sought-after late afternoon hangout. From 4-6 pm every weekday, you can enjoy the cheapest wine and draught pour specials you’re likely to find. And you’re not getting OV or boxed wine, the selection is high quality and changes daily. As a bonus, the burger available only on the happy hour menu is one of the best around. Bar seating only and no reservations, so arrive promptly, thirsty, and hungry. There’s no topping three glasses of French sauvignon blanc and a great burger for $25.
BEST CONEY DOG – Lafayette Coney Island
The Shelbyville to Lafayette’s Springfield, American Coney Island, is four times the size, much more open, with an overall experience that’s exponentially smoother and easier to dive into. But who goes for a Coney dog hoping for any of that? Lafayette is so packed and so narrow that even the most adventurous and drunk diner would be concerned about the fire hazards. You’ll seat yourself, if you can manage a spot, and likely have no idea what’s happening for several minutes. Eventually, though, someone will growl at you, and you’ll realize what an institution you’re experiencing. Order quickly and order a lot. Something about the chili separates Lafayette from the pretenders.
BEST COCKTAIL BAR – Standby
While the original cocktail mecca, Sugar House, stands tall for rare spirit selection, Detroit’s newest hotspot, open now for just under two months, has it beat for creativity and breadth of house-made drinks. Standby is located in an alley – look for the big red door – just off Woodward in the heart of downtown Detroit, and while it features a food menu with a handful of unique offerings, the drinks are the main reason to go. Gin lovers and haters alike must try Snake in the Grass, a neon drink densely packed with flavour, aided by the celery bitters and nitro-muddled mustard greens. All quirky ingredients made in house.
Marvin Shaouni c/o Facebook.
BEST OVERALL RESTAURANT – Selden Standard
This Cass Corridor killer opened in 2014 and hasn’t slowed down. It gets all the hype among amateurs and veterans alike, and it’s hard to dispute any of it. All of the small plates are so fastidiously crafted, with the vegetable-based dishes being just as inventive and flavourful as the fish or meat. The drink selection is relatively small, but curious and very satisfying. The menu changes often, but what’s most remarkable is the atmosphere of the restaurant. Somehow, Selden manages to put out the best, most aesthetically pleasing dishes in the city, in an atmosphere that’s the least pretentious you’ll ever see. It’s not stuffy, you’ll feel as comfortable and casual as you would at your favourite neighbourhood pub. Wear a t-shirt or a tuxedo and you’ll fit right in. It’s a great representative of where Detroit has come.