Thursday, November 7, 2013

Detroit Food City

When I return to Michigan, I always look forward to visiting my favorite restaurants. Old favorites provide the comfort of knowing that I will enjoy what I order and bring back memories of good times.

When I recently returned to Detroit, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone by visiting several restaurants in Detroit that I had not been to before and two classics that I had not been to in years.

Below are my favorites:

The Two Classics

The originals: Lafayette and American

During my first day in Detroit, I needed to visit American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. These are the two original makers of Detroit Coney dogs. A Detroit Coney is an all-beef hot dog topped with chili, mustard and onions.

These two competitors are next door to each other but have very different approaches to their business. American is a much larger restaurant with large windows and a much brighter atmosphere. Lafayette is a small, dingy dive. Lafayette's dinginess only adds to its authentic feel, while American feels more like a fast food chain on the inside. Its menu is much bigger than Lafayette's with items like gyros, a Greek salad, a taco salad and a chicken pita. I did not see a menu at Lafayette, but I understand that they only have Coney dogs and french fries (with or without chili).

As for the Coneys, I preferred Lafayette and its sweeter onions. I remember liking Lafayette better as a kid, but American was better than I remembered. If you are looking for more than Coney dogs, American is the place for you. The staff was friendlier, and the chicken pita my wife had was actually really good.

If I was taking a group out with a few people who do not like hot dogs, I would take them to American, but I would stop at Lafayette afterward and grab a Coney to go.

Superb Supino Pizza

Supino's Menu

I have heard a lot of hype about Supino Pizzeria since it opened near Detroit's Eastern Market in 2008. Like anyone with taste buds, I love pizza, so I felt compelled to taste Supino's famous pies.

Despite only being 5 years old, Supino feels like it has been there forever. The dull yellow paint on the window and door frames create a worn feel that fits the older brick building. The restaurant is tiny with only a few tables. My wife and I thankfully visited on a Tuesday right before the lunch rush began. When we walked in, there were no empty seats, but two fortunately opened up right after we ordered our pizzas.

If you want a private table for two, Supino is not the place for you. We sat across from each other at a long table with other diners on each side of us. The benefit of the close seating is being able to smell and see your neighbors’ pizzas sitting next to you and the realization that Supino makes every pizza perfectly. However, it did take some restraint on my part to not reach over and grab a slice from our neighbors.

The menu has seven red sauce pizzas and six white pizzas, or diners can choose their own toppings. My wife and I both ordered 12-inch white pizzas. She ordered the Verdure E Funghi (mushroom) pizza and I ordered the El Greco (Greek). My wife’s pizza arrived first, and we both dove in and were floored by the perfect thin crust, the fresh mushrooms and the gouda cheese. My Greek pizza was a flawless combination of feta, kalamata olives, spinach and red onions.

Supino's fresh pizzas

A great pizzeria makes its pizza with a strong attention to detail, and Supino does not neglect any details. The toppings are collected from Eastern Market, and their freshness is evident in their taste. The thin crust is not too crispy and not too soft. The cheese combinations were subtle but complemented the crust and toppings. My only regret was not ordering a slice with red sauce.

Next time I go to Eastern Market, I will definitely stop by Supino Pizzeria again. If it’s too crowded, I will get a pie or slice to go. It’s worth the wait.

Slows Converts a Skeptic

Slows with Downtown in the background. Photo by A. Burtka

Like Supino, Slows Bar B Q is relatively new to the Detroit food scene, but locals also repeatedly rave about its food. Opened in 2005, Slows brings real slow-cooked barbecue to Corktown as well as a large selection of craft beers brewed in Michigan. Despite the rave reviews, I did not believe it would live up to the hype.

As the former home of Tiger Stadium, the Corktown neighborhood, with its brick streets, holds a special place in my heart and the hearts of many Detroiters. The old ballpark on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull is long gone after closing in 1999, but the neighbrhood is reinventing itself. Slows has contributed to this rebirth by showing that a business can succeed in a stadiumless Corktown if it has a high enough quality product.

I conveniently found a parking spot directly across the street from Slows on Michigan Avenue. However, it took me a few minutes to actually enter the restaurant. The restaurant's large wooden door does not have an obvious door handle on it. Because it does not look like a main entrance, I did not try the door until after I had embarrassingly walked around the building and up and down Michigan Avenue looking for the entrance.

Upon entering, I found an interior full of wood and brick. In other words, it feels like a neighborhood bar should feel, nothing too fancy, but much nicer than a dive bar. A chalkboard over our table listed the beers that were on tap that day. I ordered a Cabin Fever Brown Ale from Michigan’s New Holland, perhaps because I felt like I was in a cabin.

Slows offers a menu full of traditional barbecue favorites, including several barbecue sandwiches. My family recommended three or four sandwiches, but when I order barbecue, I want a platter of meat. Slows had several options for me, and I chose the Big Three, which allowed me to sample the pulled pork, pulled chicken and brisket.

A platter of meat from Slows

Slows does barbecue right. The meat is not overdone. It is tender and delicious even without sauce. I did try the various sauces Slows has and enjoyed the apple and spicy sauces the most. Of the three meats, the brisket was the best, followed by the pork and the chicken. The brisket and pork are amazing, and I will dream of them until my next visit to Slows.

As for sides, we ordered a few sides, and the mac-n-cheese was outstanding, although it was tough to make a dent in the sides with the pile of succulent meat on my plate.

I was skeptical about the hype for Slows, but I am a believer now. I am not sure if I can handle the Big Three again though.

Woodbridge's Perfect Pub

Woodbridge Pub interior. Photo by A. Burtka

Woodbridge Pub opened in 2008 on Trumbull in a building that had been a liquor store but had been vacant for more than twenty years. Woodbridge is a wonderful neighborhood in Detroit, and part of the joy of dining at Woodbridge Pub was seeing the brightness and hope of Woodbridge surrounding the pub.

The restaurant was highly recommended by a friend of my wife and had many good reviews online. It was a weekday afternoon, and the place was almost packed. Art lines the walls of the restaurant, and the bar is bright and inviting. It was Detroit Beer Week, and the restaurant featured a Griffin Claw Brewing Company tap takeover. I ordered the Norm's Raggedy Ass IPA and enjoyed every drop.

For my meal, I ordered the lamb burger. It was cooked perfectly. The burger was juicy and was topped with tzatziki, feta cheese, parsley and pickled red onions. My wife ordered the Mahi Mahi burger, and the kitchen cooked the fish as expertly as they did the lamb. The combination of the sandwich's julienne carrots, cilantro and chipotle mayonnaise with the fish and brioche bun made this one of the better fish sandwiches that I have ever tasted.

Woodbridge Pub also serves larger entrees, soups, salads and appetizers, but we were getting stuffed after a wonderful culinary week in Detroit. The restaurant is not pretentious in its appearance, and the waitstaff is down to earth and friendly. It is a neighborhood pub that happens to serve delicious food that is not too greasy like many pubs' food. Woodbridge Pub primarily uses locally sourced food from sources, including urban farms, within five miles of the restaurant.

Woodbridge is a beautiful neighborhood, and it has a pub worthy to share its name.

Detroit is Delicious

Having not spent much time in the city since I moved out east in the late 90s, I was stunned by how much nicer Detroit is now. Downtown, Midtown, Corktown and Woodbridge are all vibrant testaments to those Detroiters who stayed during hard times and the many more who have moved into the city in the last several years to be part of something larger than themselves.

Detroit is beautiful. The food is just the icing on the cake.

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