Motown Foodie: Eating Well in the Motor City | Cooking With Jade

Motown Foodie: Eating Well in the Motor City

Motown Foodie: Eating Well in the Motor City

I grew up just a few hours’ drive from Detroit, but – shockingly – never made it up there as a kid. I think I’m going to make up for lost time, because I just took a quick trip to the Motor City and am super impressed with the food scene. Detroit is definitely a city on the rise: it played host to the NFL draft this year, which brought thousands of people into town. Hopefully, they ate as well as I did. Here are some spots you should definitely check out.

Detroit Michigan

Detroit-Style Pizza

I’m sharing my favorite recipe for Detroit-style pizza, but of course, there is nothing like eating this thick, square-cut pie, with its perfectly caramelized crust, in its birthplace. By all accounts, its specific birthplace is Buddy’s Rendezvous, which has been serving this now-iconic pizza since 1946. You can still have it at the original location, or at one of the many Buddy’s franchises scattered throughout Southeastern Michigan. And since every great local dish needs a good rivalry, there’s Loui’s Pizza in the suburb of Hazel Park. Founded by a longtime Buddy’s cook, some say Loui’s beats Buddy’s at its own game. I say try both and decide for yourself. It’s always funner that way!

Buddys Pizza Detroit

Middle Eastern Food In Dearborn

The Detroit suburb of Dearborn (home to the Ford Motor Company) is home to the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the U.S. Consequently, it’s one of the best places to try Middle Eastern food in the country. Al Ameer, on Warren Ave, has been a local favorite since 1989 (there are newer locations in Canton, MI and nearby Dearborn Heights). The menu is as massive as the space, but I recommend getting something with Al Ameer’s warm, fresh-from-the-oven pitas. One bite and you’ll see why the James Beard Foundation named this spot an “American Classic.”

Hamido, also on Warren Ave (and also with a location in Dearborn Heights!) is a more laidback Lebanese diner. Detroiters flock here for classic dishes like shawarma and kibbeh. Yours truly fell head-over-heels for their falafel. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Hamido can be counted on for a great meal any time of day.

Al Ameer Detroit

Exploring Detroit’s Black-owned Restaurants

Detroit – which has a higher percentage of African-American residents than any other city in the U.S. – has a long and deep tradition of Soul Food.  So of course there were many great Soul Food spots I had to try while in town. One popular spot for those in the know is a no-frills takeaway, cleverly called Greg’s Soul-in-the-Wall. They play a lot of the Soul Food hits here, from candied yams, to peach cobbler. They also serve a dish that is strictly Detroit: the “Boogaloo Sandwich” is a mess of ground beef, melted cheese, and tangy barbecue sauce–aka, “Boogaloo Sauce.” It started at Detroit’s iconic, but now closed, Brother’s Bar-B-Que in the 1960s. Chef Greg Beard is keeping that unique tradition alive, one sloppy sandwich at a time.

Speaking of BBQ, Joe Ann’s BBQ is a black-owned business that has been serving hungry Detroiters since 1951. That’s when founder Grace Owens first set up shop. Her daughter Joe Ann Procter runs things now, but Detroiters still swear by dishes like pigs’ feet, ribs, and barbecued shrimp. This spot serves up a delicious taste of Detroit history.

Luckily for me and my fellow plant-based dieters, the Motor City also has some great black-owned vegan restaurants. For a spot that serves up delicious vegan takes on traditional soul food dishes, check out Detroit Vegan Soul. We’re talking vegan collard greens, oyster mushroom po’ boys, and BBQ (tofu) rib sandwiches. I couldn’t get enough of this food while I was in Detroit. Nor could I get enough of Trap Vegan: a hip, funky vegan spot that reimagines fast food classics. Come here for plant-based burgers like the spicy “Soul Survivor,” or the barbecue-sauced “D. Boy.”  Trap Vegan’s motto is “Dope, Healthy, and Good AF.” I couldn’t agree more.

Detroit Vegan Soul

For amazing African food, you have to hit up Baobab Fare. A husband and wife – Nadia Nijimbere and Hamissi Mamba – moved to the U.S. from the small African nation of Burundi and opened a restaurant that quickly garnered them huge accolades. In fact, the couple was recently named James Beard Award finalists for Outstanding Restauranter(s). The restaurant – which describes itself as “A Celebration of East African Food and Culture” – has plenty of great plant-based dishes. My favorite is definitely Intore–an aromatic eggplant stew.

Finally, I have to give a shoutout to “Watcha Wanna Eat,” Detroit’s first (hopefully first of many) black-owned food hall. It was a big event when husband-and-wife team Bobby and Gena Bailey opened the food hall on the city’s west side last year and they already have nine vendors. Whether you are looking for hibachi, pit barbecue, smoothies, or burgers, this sleek food hall has you covered.

Eastern Market

Every great city needs a great market and, in Detroit, Eastern Market certainly fits the bill. This 150-year-old market northeast of downtown is home to many vendors–from farmers, to chefs, to artisans, to jewelers, to wholesalers. Different days see different vendors and vibes. I recommend coming on the liveliest day: Saturday. Saturdays at Eastern Market see throngs of people and over 200 vendors selling everything from produce, to jewelry, to tacos. It’s also home to some awesome events, like Spring VegFest, a highlight for yours truly. One of my favorite things about the market is the Shed 5 Incubator Kitchen, which has helped launch countless restaurants in the Detroit area.

You should definitely check out the neighborhood around Eastern Market, as it’s home to some top-notch restaurants–many of them Detroit classics. For a true classic, check out Zeff’s Coney Island. “Coney Islands” are what they call chili dogs up here–a dish that Greek immigrants brought to the city decades ago. Coney Islands are about as ubiquitous and beloved as Detroit-style pizza, but Zeff’s can hang with the best of them. I recommend washing these bad boys down with a beer from Eastern Market Brewing Co. or a stiffer drink from nearby Detroit City Distillery

Eastern Market Detroit

Motown Pastries

Let me tell ya, Detroit’s pastry game is strong. This is partly due to the many immigrant communities that have long called Detroit home. New Palace Bakery in nearby Hamtramck (“Ham-tra-mik,” if you want to sound like a local) is an integral part of the area’s Eastern European community. This spot, which has been family-owned since 1908, specializes in Pączki: a kind of Polish jelly donut made from delectably rich dough. They also churn out  cookies, cakes, Polish breads, and plenty of other baked goods that represent the Old World and the New.

For a newer, but equally iconic bakery, check out Sister Pie, which opened in 2015. They do super creative, seasonal takes on classic pies. When I visited in May, the menu included tasty treats like a coffee chess pie and a salted maple pie. They also make creative cookies (peanut butter paprika, anyone?) and other imaginative pastries. Part of the reason this place is so good is that they buy their seasonal produce from local farmers. I can dig that.

Sister Pie Detroit

Finally, if you love the sweet potato as much as I do, you have to visit Sweet Potato Sensations, a Detroit staple since 1987. Husband and wife team Jeffrey and Cassandra Thomas elevate the sweet potato to masterpiece status. To be sure, they serve plenty of savory dishes, like chicken and sweet potato waffles, the “Jive Turkey” sandwich, and salmon croquettes. But, let’s face it, you’re probably here for the sweet potato pie. I suggest ordering several right off the bat. Unless you want to come back the next day.

I Didn’t Leave Hungry…

As you can see, I ate my fill of delicious food in Detroit, but I feel like I barely scratched the surface of what this great food city has to offer. I can’t wait to book a return, hopefully with Naveen and Zelda in tow! There are so many awesome spots I would love to introduce them to. And, as always, if you have any Detroit recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions on how we can improve it, please leave us a comment below. Also, make sure to check out other articles I’ve created or stories I’ve written about food culture – here.

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