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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Paul: Baba ghanouge at Al Ameer
Marnay: Stuffed lamb at Al Ameer