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Let’s be honest... If you think about planning a food oriented trip, Michigan might not be your obvious first pick. We, however, discovered that Detroit has a thriving restaurant selection and other food oriented activities.
Our first destination was Ann Arbor, just 40 minutes off Detroit. The home of the University of Michigan, with only 150,000 citizens, it boasts an outstanding 300 restaurants in a 20 miles radius. Walking downtown, I did not see any “big chain” fast food restaurants and only one Starbucks. This is usually a good thing when you are a foodie.
In all of the eight restaurants that we visited in Ann Arbor, even the gluten intolerant member of our party never had a problem finding great food. Vegetarian options were always readily available.
Speaking of vegetarian, Seva was our first destination. Located at 314 E. Liberty, Seva offers a completely vegetarian menu since 1973, before being vegetarian was even a thing. I must admit that my general idea of a vegetarian restaurant is a granola-joint offering a “salad bar” or some other shady stuff filled with tofu. Don't get me wrong... I love my meat, but if anything could turn me into a vegetarian, it would be Seva. I was really impressed with my plates of Thai salad, pesto pizza sandwich on a rye bread and enchiladas calabaza. Don’t hesitate to try it out for a new experience, even if you're not a vegetarian yourself.
Since ethnic restaurants are very rare where I come from, I was very pleased to have a taste of Ethiopia at The Blue Nile restaurant (221 E. Washington). The experience is very traditional, as you sit on tables that are very low and you eat by pinching your food with pieces of injera (yeast-risen flatbread) instead of using utensils. Amazing.
With dishes from Central Europe (Poland, Hungary and Austria) and a decor to match, Amadeus (122 E. Washington) is another great place we enjoyed. Who does not love Polish sausage? And why have I never tasted a strawberry soup before? So many questions.
Located not too far on West Washington, Frita Batidos is nothing like I ever experienced. Chef and owner Eve Aronoff brings together two classics of Cuban street food: the frita, a burger filled with spicy chorizo (they have other choices of meat too) and fries in a soft egg bun, and Batidos, a tropical milkshake that can be served with rum. You will not regret trying it.
For a less formal lunch, go just a bit further at 211 West Washington to try out Mark’s Cart. Sit on a picnic table to enjoy a meal from one of eight food carts. The offerings range from Mexican food, southern barbecue, artisan grilled cheese, Indian, wood-fired pizza, Asian and more. We were all particularly impressed with our plate of shanu chaat served at Hut-K Chaats, a super healthy and amazingly good meal. And to go along your nutritious food, why not try a beet lemonade? Yes, I said “beet lemonade." It is good, it is healthy and it is offered at The Beet Box cart, the pink one at the very end.
Café Zola was our breakfast destination the next morning. Also located on W. Washington, Café Zola is a hip place for all kind of people. My breakfast was filling and delicious. Look at those waffles!
Located in the Kerrytown district near the farmers market, Zingerman’s Deli was our destination for lunch. It is truly a magical place to eat. My corn beef sandwich on Jewish rye bread and the old pickle that came with it were fantastic. It is not a fancy five-course meal restaurant, but it is definitively a place you should try to enjoy great food and peruse all the other products they sell in the grocery section of the premises.
We left The Campus Inn, that was conveniently located within walking distance of all the restaurants we tried, to head out to Detroit.
Our first stop in the "Motor City" was for a nice dinner at Pegasus, a Greek restaurant located, believe it or not, in Greektown. Imagine all the (nice) clichés you associate with a Greek restaurant and they can be applied to Pegasus: abundance of food, nice flambé ("hopa! Hopa!"), great salads, lambs, the whole nine yards.
In Detroit, the tiny Russell St. Deli is located in the Eastern Market. The small restaurant can holds less that 40 patrons and you should arrive early because it is common to see a long line forming outside on the sidewalk. Something that you might like (or not), they have long tables and maybe you will end up eating with other people that you don't know. Nice way to make friends! If you can't stand waiting, at least stop to buy their homemade jams.
Since we were in the Eastern Market, we explored the area with great amusement. There are so many things to see, so many things to taste, so many things to smell that you let your senses guide you around the shops, the stalls and the vendors to the enjoyment of your nose and your mouth. We rarely see these kind of places anymore, all are lost to the gentrification of metropolitan downtowns.
Hamtramck, a suburb of Detroit, has a huge population of Polish immigrants and this is reflected in the local food industry. For a taste of Eastern Europe, go to Joseph Campau Street to try out the bakery and the meat market, then go up to Yemans Street at the Polish restaurant. Delicious.
The pinnacle of our trip was most certainly the London Chop House located in the business district, a restaurant that first opened in 1938 (they closed for a few year and just reopen in 2012). Be ready to be transported to an old era, in a very old school and dark environment, all wooden, with a trio playing some jazz and crooners classics. Wear a jacket and maybe a tie, and enjoy one of the best meals around.
My Bourbon-brined pork loin was just perfect, and so was my cheesecake trio. And how better to finish this amazing meal than with a 12-year-old Macallan scotch? This was a night to remember.
Since you will probably want to take your very own photo of the vacated Grand Terminal Station, one of the most famous buildings in Detroit, why not stop at Slows Bar-B-Q, just across the corner? My huge portion of pulled pork with my side of mac and cheese were both excellent. Also try the waffle fries, you will not regret it!
Michigan, I will miss you.