Food Fanatics Road Trip: Detroit

Is this Motor City worth the culinary hype?

Detroit is known as the motor city and the home of Motown, but it could also be called a Timex Town. It takes a beating but keeps on ticking, civic pride fully intact.

The proof is in the dining scene.

Detroit is undergoing a restaurant renaissance that’s well worth the visit. Young chefs are setting up shop, putting down roots, kicking ass and making sure you know their names. Neighborhoods once forgotten are alive again with gastropubs, hipster bars and thoughtfully plated fancy food spots that you’d pay a lot more to enjoy in other cities.

Take Phil Cooley, for example, who always seems to be betting on Detroit. Moving to Detroit in 2002, Cooley bought space in Corktown for his born-again barbecue concept, Slow’s Bar BQ, now a multi-unit hometown favorite.

The city is luring talented chefs who cut their teeth at Chicago “name” restaurants like Table Fifty-Two. Co-executive Chefs John Vermiglio and Joe Giacomino have been turning heads nationally since they opened their neighborhood joint, Grey Ghost, last year. Get a taste of their Midwestern roots with hearty butchery such as lamb kielbasa with caper, brown butter and saffron or the octopus corn dog with chipotle, avocado and cotija.

The Food Fanatics called out some places to headline a trip to Detroit, which promises to be an eye-opening journey into what’s new, cool and enduring. The Motor City isn’t your dad’s Detroit anymore. Here are some of the highlights.

Astro Coffee (Corktown)

Do you see a coffee bar in your future? Check out the specialty brews at Astro Coffee from roasters locally and all over the country, as well as bread from the infamous Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, MI.

Parc (Campus Martius Park)

With its glass structure, Parc puts itself on full display as part of the city’s revival. If thinking of a pasta program, get inspired by Chef Jordan Hoffman and his ways with flour and water or check out how his cooking reflects his Midwestern roots and childhood food memories.

Sugar House (Midtown)

Take notes at Sugar House, a pre-Prohibition joint run by native Dave Kwiatkowski who seamlessly blends classic cocktails with modern flavors. Try the “Twister,” a blend of Brugal rum, Rhum JM, Galliano, coconut, passion fruit, falernum, citrus and absinthe, or enjoy a classic Manhattan made with rye, Italian vermouth, maraschino and Angostura bitters.

Mabel Grey (Hazel Park, Michigan)

Opening a restaurant in Hazel Park, a blue collar suburb 10 miles north of Detroit, in a former diner sandwiched between a wrestling supply store and funeral home takes moxie. Chef-owner James Rigato shows how Mabel Grey exceeded expectations and then some.

Vincentes (Downtown)

As a downtown stalwart, Vincentes has endured the ups and downs of the city for 12 years, getting kudos for its longevity and putting Cuban food on the map before it was cool.


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Steven E. Grostick, left, and Randall Smith have a line into the Detroit dining scene. Connect with @ChefSGrostick on Twitter.