Behind the scenes of EYW’s Detroit food trip.
When I was asked to meet up with some clients in Detroit, I had a feeling a long weekend of EYW coverage would lead to some very good things. It was just a few years earlier that I had visited Greektown and experienced the famous “flaming cheese.” I knew there had to be much more than that to Detroit’s culinary scene, and I was determined to convince Laura to make it a serious destination for us. She began to research Detroit’s traditional foods, and slowly a list of musts became apparent that sold us both to the idea.
When you mention visiting Detroit to anyone, you get a “why would you want to go there?” look immediately. The city has lost its luster over the last god-knows-how-many years, and has earned a reputation as a desolate urban graveyard. And yes, when you travel throughout the city, there’s a lot of that: Boarded-up factories are abundant; once-glorious run-down houses and buildings (like the iconic Michigan Central Station, above) are ubiquitous on almost every stretch of the city proper. I couldn’t help but think of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward around every corner. It is visually horrific and photographically brilliant in a sick and twisted way.
But what makes our job so incredible is that we put together itineraries that focus on the best of what a city like Detroit has to offer. Because of this, we’re able to unravel, at least a bit, the heart and soul of a place, even when it’s hard to see on the surface.
Detroit has this heart and soul, plenty of it. Born-and-bred locals can drive down any street and remember details of the Motown era’s storefronts, and happily dine at old-school institutions like Buddy’s and Bates, relishing in their personal historical significance. The ethnic groups of Poland, Greece, and the Middle East (among others) still have their neighborhood pockets, and the food and traditions that go along with them.
On a cold winter’s day, we were shocked to see Detroit’s enormous Eastern Market, demonstrating the freshness of vegetables, eggs, breads, and sausages that are not only sold to shoppers, but are also used in restaurant kitchens across the city. Detroit, it turns out, has had a locavore movement for years, but doesn’t feel the need to hit you over the head with it.
What makes Detroit special to me, however, are the people we met during our eating and drinking journey. The locals who haven’t fled despite the economic hardships; people who are warm and friendly, realistic and proud; bar companions who’ve suffered and have seen suffering, yet over a delicious local beer will laugh and tell you about neighborhoods showing new signs of life.
In a city where you light cheese on fire with a jubilant “OPA!” I guess it shouldn’t be surprising to feel its strong beating heart at every turn.