Detroit Recap

We just got back from Detroit and had a wonderful time! Perfect weather, lots of walking and biking and, of course, great food. Before we get into it, I want to give a special shout out to local blogger and Detroit native Lori Gardner, aka Beenthereeatenthat, for some amazing recommendations! Without further ado, here are our favorites:

boat

CHEAP EATS

Al Ameer: As soon as we landed, we took a taxi to Al Ameer, a Lebanese restaurant in Dearborn Heights. I knew that it had previously won a James Beard American Classic award and had received a shoutout from Eater national food critic Bill Addison. The restaurant is huge, almost like a banquet hall, but still has plenty of personality. As you can see, we ordered quite the spread: smoky, velvety baba ghanouge with housemade pitas and housemade labneh, falafel and stuffed lamb. The stuffed lamb dish had chunks of roasted lamb over a bed of seasoned rice and was topped with toasted pine nuts and herbs. If you ever make it to the Detroit area, Al Ameer should be on your must-try list. The stuffed lamb may have been one of the best lamb dishes we have ever had.

Al Ameer restaurant in Dearborn Heights: smoky, velvety baba ghanouge with housemade pitas and housemade labneh, falafel and stuffed lamb

Maty’s African Cuisine: Maty’s is Detroit’s only Senegalese restaurant, and it is doing a good job of representing the cuisine in the city. It’s a small place that does a lot of takeout but has about six tables for dining in. The first thing you will notice is the warm hospitality provided by the owner, Amady Gueye. He owns the restaurant with his wife and the restaurant’s namesake, Maty Gueye. One of our favorite bites was nems, or spring rolls. At first glance, they appear like traditional Vietnamese spring rolls. However, one bite reveals scotch-bonnet-laden hot sauce. Also excellent: a whole red snapper that is first fried, topped with a flavorful sauce and then grilled. That night, Amady let us know that the fish were smaller, so instead he served us two small snappers for the same $18 price. Both of us loved Bissap, or sorrel juice, that was housemade and flavored with hibiscus and passion fruit.

Maty’s African Cuisine in Detroit: nems sprint rolls, whole red snapper, sorrel juice

Coney Dogs: Similar to how Chicago has its Chicago dogs, Detroit has Coney Dogs. Coney dogs are hot dogs with mustard, raw chopped onions and a chili sauce. Like Chicago, never any ketchup! Even though there appears to be a New York reference in the name, it is an entirely Detroit tradition.

Detroit Coney dogs at Lafayette and American

Restaurants that sell the dogs are called “Coneys”, and we went to the two most famous ones: Lafayette and American. Conveniently, they are right next to each other so we were able to eat one after the other. The cash-only Lafayette has the most character – it looks like a lunch counter straight out of the 1940s. Meanwhile, American accepts credit cards and attracts more of a tourist crowded. When put head-to-head, though, American’s dogs had more of a crunch.

Paul eating a Detroit coney dogs at Lafayette

BIKE ROUTES

Detroit’s bikeshare system is called MoGo, and it is uses the exact same bikes and docks as Capital Bikeshare. We picked up bikes in Midtown, rode through Eastern Market and onto the Dequindre Cut, a transformative rail trail that is slightly below street level. Throughout the path, graffiti lines the walls and there are places to sit and relax. While the trail ends at the Riverfront, we continued east, through Elmwood Park and to the West Village. Almost the entire route is on calm streets. Most of the streets of Detroit, with the exception of downtown, do not have much traffic. Detroit has also done an excellent job of building protected bike lanes, making biking safe for all ages. We noted protected bike lanes on Cass Avenue, Michigan Avenue and Jefferson Avenue.

Paul at Detroit’s bikeshare system is called MoGo

WALKING ROUTES

The Detroit Riverwalk was our favorite walking route. On this warm summer day, the Detroit River looked like an azure walkway to Canada. Along the route, we found splash pads for children and shaded areas for sitting. The Dequindre Cut could also serve as a walking route. Walking would allow you to see the art at a more leisurely pace.

Dequindre Cut walking route in Detroit

FINE(R) DINING

Gold Cash Gold: a New American restaurant located in a former pawn shop in the booming Corktown neighborhood. Both the atmosphere and the effortless service reminded us Tail Up Goat, our favorite restaurant back home. Our best bite was the pea and carrot gemelli, with carrot top pesto, confit carrot and sugar peas.

Standing outside of Gold Cash Gold restaurant in Detroit

Cocktails and pea and carrot gemelli, with carrot top pesto, confit carrot and sugar peas at Gold Cash Gold restaurant in Detroit

COFFEE SHOPS / BAKERIES

ASHE Supply Co.: ASHE Supply Co., off Grand Circus, is another place where you’ll receive genuinely warm service. We did not get a chance to order it, but they serve a “Matcha-Gato”: An affogato with the addition of matcha instead of espresso.

New Order Coffee Roasters: New Order has multiple locations throughout Detroit, although we went to the location in Midtown. While the feeling of the shop was a little sterile, we had excellent espresso and chocolate chip cookies to tide us over before our bike ride.

Paul drinking coffee at New Order Coffee Roasters

Sister Pie: We went to Sister Pie, in West Village, after our long bikeshare ride and found it to be a gem. While they make all different types of pastries and also is serious about coffee, pie is the star of the show. I devoured the marshmallow butterscotch pie, which had a “chocolate surprise” at the bottom – a thick chocolate crust. Marnay went the fruit route and had a slice of not too sweet strawberry rhubarb. We would definitely head back to Sister Pie on a return visit to Detroit.

Eating a marshmallow butterscotch pie and sweet strawberry rhubarb pie at the Sister Pie shop in Detroit

BARS

Two Saint James: Two Saint James is an enchanting distillery in the heart of Corktown, Detroit’s historically Irish neighborhood. The large, round bar had a partially opened front door, which gave us unfettered views of the setting sun. Through a back window, we could see the iconic Detroit Central Train Station.

Two Saint James distillery in the heart of Corktown, Detroit’s historically Irish neighborhood

Founders Brewing Company – Detroit: Founders, one of the country’s most noteworthy craft breweries, has its main brewery in Grand Rapids. However, in 2016 it opened a second, smaller facility in Midtown. We loved sitting on the back patio. The area immediately surrounding the brewery is still a bit deserted, but it’s clear that there is a lot of potential.

Detroit is definitely a city on the rise, which makes it especially intriguing to visit right now. We had a great long weekend and look forward to spending more time there in the future!

Marnay standing in Detroit, Michigan

Best Bite

Paul: Baba ghanouge at Al Ameer

Marnay: Stuffed lamb at Al Ameer

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New Orleans Recap: Part 2

We divided our New Orleans Recap into two posts. Click here to read Part 1 and continue reading to learn about the rest of our adventure!

Saturday

We woke up and grabbed a quick espresso at Merchant and then went on a very calm BlueBike ride through the western edge of the French Quarter and the Marigny to St. Roch Market, in the St. Roch neighborhood. St Roch (pronounced “Rock”) Market is amazing! It’s like a more relaxed (and slightly smaller) version of Union Market in DC. It has so many diverse food stalls, from local seafood to coffee to Vietnamese to Haitian.

St. Roch Market in New Orleans

I got a Roch Fizz from Coast Roast, which was espresso, vanilla syrup and soda water. It tasted like a root beer float without the ice cream! Marnay got a cold brew, great on this warm day. Both of us got our breakfast from the Daily Beet, a juice and breakfast food stand. We kept it light with avocado toast and an egg plate, since we still had a lot of eating to do.

St. Roch Market brunch at the Daily Beet in New Orleans

After eating, we walked through the neighborhood towards the banks of the mighty Mississippi. Finally! Somehow we had not seen the river since we arrived. We stumbled upon a food festival in a HUGE industrial building along the Mississippi that had a roof but no walls. The most welcome sight was a huge pot of crawfish being boiled (it was crawfish season), but we unfortunately were full and still had a lot of eating left to do.

We hit up the French Quarter, which was mobbed with tourists, as expected. We did get to watch the March for Our Lives protestors head down Decatur Street. Even though we were far from DC, it was nice to feel like we were participating.

New Orleans March for Our Lives in 2018

We grabbed BlueBikes by our Airbnb and biked through downtown and Treme and then finally, the Lafitte Greenway. Our destination was Parkway Bakery & Tavern, one of New Orleans’ most famous po’ boy joints. Our best bite: the crispy shrimp po’ boy, so fresh and covered in Cajun spices. Mmm! Afterwards, we sat on the banks of Bayou St. John, which we had biked along the day before. The weather was beautiful the whole time we were in New Orleans, and it was nice to see people having picnics along the water.

Parkway Bakery & Tavern crispy shrimp po’ boy in New Orleans

Dinner that night was at La Petite Grocery, the 2016 James Beard Foundation Award-winner for Best Chef South. We started the night with cocktails and blue crab beignets. Cleverly, the kitchen sprinkled the beignets with flaky sea salt in place of powdered sugar. For our entrees, we kept up with our theme of eating local ingredients and shared Gulf cobia with crispy skin and paneed rabbit, which tasted like rabbit schnitzel. We even got crème brulee with Louisiana sugar!

La Petite Grocery blue crab beignets in New Orleans

Our dinner was earlier than the night before, so we had time to do something else. The only question was: What to do? I had my mind set on going to a dive bar, so after a little online search we took a Lyft to Saturn Bar, in the Bywater neighborhood. Saturn Bar was ridiculously divey, but fun! It was full of mostly hipster-types but also a few crusty old men. Marnay and I both had a beer and shot and then called it a night.

Sunday

Sunday was unfortunately our last day in New Orleans, and our flight home was at 3:30 that afternoon. We woke up early so that we could make the most out of the morning and early afternoon. Since we liked it so much, we did a repeat of Saturday morning: Espresso at Merchant and a BlueBike Ride to St Roch Market. Marnay had an egg and biscuit platter from Fete Au Fete and I had an incredible Louisiana Crab Cake with Corn-Charred Cream from Elysian Seafood – so good!

roch breakfast 2

We took advantage of another beautiful day by walking around and then biked back to the Airbnb so we could pack and head to the airport. New Orleans is an incredible place to visit. I do not think we will ever forget our trip. I can’t believe it has taken us this long to get there!

Marnay and Paul in New Orleans, Louisiana

Favorite Place We Went
Paul: Lafitte Greenway
Marnay: St Roch Market

Favorite Bite
Paul: Louisiana white shrimp and tasso ham henican – Commander’s Palace
Marnay: Crème brulee with Louisiana sugar – La Petite Grocery

Favorite Drink
Paul: Bonded Sazerac – Cure
Marnay: Bandol Rose – Bacchanal

Insider Tip
Paul: RTA three-day unlimited pass
Marnay: You can experience the food and culture of New Orleans without needing to spend much time in the touristy areas.

New Orleans Recap: Part 1

Marnay and I just got back from an incredible Spring trip to New Orleans. It has been so cold here in the DC area (we had a snow day the day before we left!) so it was nice to escape to the sun and warmth. This wasn’t a relaxing by the pool vacation, though; this was a foodie exploration.

We stayed in an Airbnb in a high rise right downtown. I would call it the business and hotel district, just outside the French Quarter and the Warehouse District. That meant that it was centrally located, with easy access to public transportation and bikeshare bikes, but not as hectic as other areas. This is a good tip if you plan on using public transit on vacation: Most cities’ public transit systems are designed to start downtown and radiate through the city. (A hub and spoke system) That means that you would get the most “bang-for-your-buck” and have the easiest time getting around if you stay downtown.

Thursday

We landed around 6:30 on Thursday and took a Lyft to our place. It was beautiful! We barely dropped our suitcases off before heading out on our first adventure. New Orleans public transit (buses and streetcars) have a three-day unlimited pass that you can purchase on your phone. When you wanted to board, just show the driver your phone and you are golden. It makes using public transportation in an unfamiliar city so much easier. We took the 88 bus to Bacchanal, in the Bywater neighborhood, which a few days earlier had been named a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Wine Program.

Marnay and Paul at Bacchanal in New Orleans

At Bacchanal, every day feels like a back-yard party. First, you enter through the wine store, a wooden shack, where you can pick out a bottle of wine. Next, grab some wine glasses and head to an outdoor table to enjoy and watch live music on the stage. When you’re hungry, head over to the kitchen window and order from their selection of small plates. Grab a number and they will bring your food to you.

Marnay and I hung out at the standing room ledges, under a gnarled old tree and just to the right of the stage, drinking our bottle of rose from the Bandol region of France. Roses from Bandol are known for being heavy duty wines, earthy and almost like a red. It was a touch chilly for a late March night, so the Bandol rose was appropriate. To eat, we enjoyed radishes with whipped butter and crusty bread, head-on Gulf shrimp and praline pecan panna cotta. Amazingly, the kitchen was able to pace out our meal even though the place was so crowded.

New Orleans Bacchanal Bandol Rose wine with radishes and Gulf shrimp

The atmosphere was amazing. The back yard at Bacchanal really felt like a chill outdoor party. Even though it was crowded, we never felt overwhelmed and could have hung out there for hours. Alas, it was getting late and we needed to get some sleep for our first full day in New Orleans.

Friday

Good Morning New Orleans! We slept well and woke up ready to explore. The high-rise condo building we were staying in had an excellent coffee shop named Merchant on the ground floor. I really needed a pick-me-up, so I got a double espresso; this ended up being my daily New Orleans morning tradition for the rest of the trip. We took the 48 streetcar through Mid-City and up to City Park, which I would compare to Central Park in New York or Druid Hill Park in Baltimore. We were not only checking out the park for its natural beauty – we were in search of beignets. We found them at Morning Call, a New Orleans institution. It is a casual sit-down place, but they had no problem with us ordering only beignets.

The beignets were hot and fresh and there was sugar on the table so that you could dust just the right amount on top. Of course, I got a café au lait with that famous chicory coffee. It was a lot of work to put the powdered sugar on ourselves, but it was worth it!

Morning Call beignets in New Orleans

After eating, we slathered on sunscreen and picked up Blue Bikes (New Orleans’ bikeshare system) and biked on along Bayou St John to the beautiful Lafitte Greenway, which looked like a highway for bikes, it was so straight and flat. Our destination: Willie Mae’s, the legendary fried chicken spot. We went in knowing that the place would be jumping (there’s always a long line) so we did not mind when we had to wait outside for 40 minutes. Once we made it inside, we were starving. I will skip to the good part: the fried chicken was amazing, the best we had ever had. The secret was the spicy wet batter, which lingered under the skin. Even the white meat was tender and juicy, which I find is rare in fried chicken. Willie Mae’s was incredible!

Willie Mae’s fried chicken in New Orleans

After eating all that fried chicken, we took the streetcar home and took a nap. But when we woke up, we had plenty of time before our 8:30pm dinner reservation at Commander’s Palace. We walked over to Compere Lapin, located inside the boutique Old No. 77 Hotel in the Warehouse District. Besides being a name of the restaurant, Compere Lapin is also the name of a traditional Caribbean tale involving a mischievous rabbit. We only came for drinks, but they were two of the more visually stimulating drinks we have ever had: One is in a copper bunny and the other has a bunny stenciled on top!

Compere Lapin cocktail in a copper bunny and a bunny stenciled on top

We unexpectedly still had some time before dinner, so we took a Lyft to Cure, one of the best cocktail bars in the country. At Cure, we did “the Sazerac test”. Their bonded Sazerac is $20, while their regular Sazerac is $6. We ordered one of each and tried them side by side. The verdict: The $20 Sazerac is worth it! While the $6 is a steal, the bonded Sazerac had incredible depth of flavor.

Bonded Sazerac at Cure in New Orleans

Commander’s Palace is one of New Orleans’ oldest old school restaurants – it’s been open since the late 19th century. It’s also one of the few restaurants in the country that requires jackets for men. The chef continues to serve classic Creole food that pushes boundaries while celebrating the past. Our best bite was the Louisiana white shrimp and tasso ham henican with okra, pepper jelly and a Crystal hot sauce beurre blanc, one of their signature dishes. When we were finished, we used the crusty bread the scoop up the pepper jelly. Keeping with the Creole them, we also ordered the crawfish tail gnocchi, which came with a whole crawfish on top. We rounded things out with the Commander’s Bread Pudding, “The Queen of Creole Desserts.” Hoo boy, did it taste like whiskey!

Commander’s Palace in New Orleans

Note: We divided our New Orleans Recap into two posts. Click here to read Part 2!

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana

We were feeling adventurous on Sunday so we spent the day biking and walking around Rockville and Gaithersburg.  We used Bikeshare to go from the Rockville Metro to the Medical Center area then explored Downtown Crown.  Downtown Crown is an award-winning New Urbanist community in Gaithersburg, located near the Washingtonian town center.  All the biking and walking that we did got us hungry, so when 5:00pm rolled around we were ready to eat.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana is the new Neapolitan pizzeria from former Oval Room chef Tony Conte. Although he has a fine dining background, he opened the pizzeria so that he could be closer to his family in Gaithersburg. We chose to sit at the chef’s counter right in front of the Marra Forni oven.  Marra Forni ovens, which are made in Beltsville, MD, are internationally known as probably the best Neapolitan pizza ovens in the world.  The menu and kitchen are small, meaning that the restaurant has a short and simple list of small plates, pizzas and desserts.  It also means that the restaurant can focus on what it does well.  And Inferno does a lot well.

We have a format when we go to Neapolitan Pizzerias: one to two small plates and then one pizza.  It’s a format that we have stuck with almost everywhere, including some places reviewed on this blog.  Blown away by the pizza options at Inferno, however, we decided to do the once unthinkable: order one small plate and two pizzas.  The small plate we ordered was prosciutto Americano with melon caponata, slices of cantaloupe and an herb salad.  The herb salad in particular was fantastic and included peppery, flavorful arugula.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana: Prosciutto Americano with Melon Caponata

We were torn between three different pizzas and trying to decide which to get.  We were about to abandon the corn and shrimp sausage when our server stepped in and strongly suggested that we get it.  Boy, are we glad that we listened to her.   The shrimp sausage pizza came with corn, basil and smoked parmesan and was incredible.  It definitely seems like a pizza that would be best in the summer time, because of the fresh sweet corn.  The smoked parmesan had a ricotta-like taste and consistency.  As we were eating, I actually thought it was ricotta.  The shrimp sausage was a bit lighter than traditional pork sausage and the corn brought a pleasant sweetness to round things out.  I honestly cannot pick my favorite topping because they were all in perfect harmony.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana: Shrimp Sausage Pizza

Our second pizza was the DOC Margherita, with the traditional Neapolitan ingredients: buffalo mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes and basil.  The char on the pizza from the Marra Forni over was out-of-this world.  For a traditional Neapolitan pizza like we had, you want a lot of char.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana: DOC Margherita

We were certainly full from our two pizzas, but we could not leave Inferno without getting dessert from the soft-serve machine.  The soft-serve of the day was sweet corn with blueberry compote and crumbled cookies.  A sweet way to end an excellent meal.

Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana: Sweet Corn Soft-Serve with Blueberry Compote

Best Bite
Paul and Marnay: Shrimp Sausage and Corn Pizza

Address
Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana: 12207 Darnestown Road, Darnestown MD 20878
Closest Metro: Shady Grove, then taxi or Uber

Whaley’s

Marnay works near Farragut Square and I take the MARC train to Baltimore, so the perfect spot for us to meet after work is Union Station.  On a beautiful Wednesday, we met up and went to Whaley’s in the Navy Yard by the fastest and easiest way possible…Bikeshare!

Whaley's Navy Yard

Whaley’s is a raw bar and seafood restaurant  from the team behind DGS, appropriately set on the Anacostia waterfront.  I have been really into Italian apertivos lately, especially since I started reading Spritz by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau, so I ordered an Americano.  An Americano is made of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water. Marnay got House Cocktail #2, which is a refreshing combination of gin, yellow chartreuse, tarragon, cucumber and lemon.

We sat at the large wrap around bar, near the very prominently displaced raw bar.  Whaley’s is rather small on the inside, although there appears to be just as much outdoor waterfront seating as indoor seating.  Tempted by the aforementioned raw bar, we got poached Gulf shrimp from Alabama as well as 6 local oysters from New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland.  We rarely see oysters from New Jersey around here, so I was excited to try them.

Whaley's raw bar

No exaggeration, these were the best oysters we have ever had.  They were perfectly shucked with absolutely no grit and chilled to the perfect temperature.  The shrimp were huge and  buttery and something I would get again without hesitation.

We still haven’t gotten to my favorite dish!  We ordered the crispy fried squash blossoms, filled with the same shrimp and placed on top of a swipe of ginger aioli.  The blossoms are then topped with chives and esplette pepper.  The squash blossoms actually come from the same town in Alabama as the shrimp.

Whaley's squash blossoms

Whaley’s is very new and we noticed a few hiccups, mainly with bartenders not remembering how to make drinks and servers not sure where to bring plates.  These were minor and they did not directly affect us, we just could hear a lot from our perch at the bar.

I recommend Whaley’s if you are in the mood for quality raw seafood at reasonable prices and an A+ view.  We will be back!

Best Bite
Paul: Squash blossoms
Marnay: Oysters

Address
Whaley’s: 301 Water Street, SE #115 Washington, DC 20003
Closest Metro: Navy Yard