Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Eating BIG in Detroit

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

-Classic Motor City Eating Establishment's

It's time to spend another day eating like a King in a classic Midwest city and Detroit is where were headed. Classic old school America and a very undervalued place to visit is what I consider the D to be. Especially for us Chicagoan's who's pro sports teams make annual visits to Rock City. How about them Detroit Lions? They might be back and around for a while. Then theres the Tigers too. Calvin Johnson might give Justin Verlander a run for best in state athlete by the time this season is done. Big things going on in sports and as always food. I spent a night in Detroit this past June. I tried to do it up like a 'local tourist' and came out loving the city even more than I already did. I can easily foresee it being in my regular weekend vacation rotation with its close proximity to Chicago.

Strolling Greektown

The night we spent in town was a fun one. With the Tigers playing a home game and it being a hot night people were out and about in Greektown. We didn't get in until about 7p, so the first order of business was dinner and then some drinks which is how we ended up in Greektown and thus stopped into a Greek restaurant for some eats. The cop we talked too about where to stop in at and get some good Greek food told us 'The Golden Fleece' was one of the two or three good Greek spots left in the area. You dont have to trust your local cops as far as them doing their job is concerned but you can always have confidence in their knowledge of local food stops.

An old Greektown favorite

Good place, I liked what we ate. Nice location too right across from the casino. Both affordable and filling. We tried the marinated (cold) octopus, saganaki, fried calamari and I went with the combo plate of gyros and souvlaki. No gyro cones from Chicago companies used here as you can see in the pics below, they use their own homemade blend which is cut into larger chunks. The meat was excellent and the pork souvlaki was also very tasty and well charred but a little on the dry side. I went with the rice with red sauce atop it instead of the fries and that was the right call, just regular frozen fries. With Comerica Park and Ford Field not far away, this is a nice place for dinner with the group before or after a Lions, Tigers or Red Wings game.

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Getting Greek with it for dinner

After a big dinner we went out on the (Greek) town. We hopped around first to a popular Irish bar and after that stopping in at Cheli's Chilli. It's a typical Wrigleyville atmosphere with the Tigers doing well this past summer. Nothing great but they were the only place around to serve Vernor's and not just generic ginger ale, so I got my Pure Michigan summertime fix of Vernor's and Vodka while in there. Another cool little spot in the area is La Casa De La Habana, a cigar shop/martini lounge. I don't know if it qualifies as an "old" place but we stopped in and it felt like old times inside. Good live music, well made cocktails and lots of people of all variety's with everyone enjoying their night out that evening. Also a great post game place to post up at.

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Cigar Lounge near Comerica Park

After deciding to call it a night/early morning there was only one option...a Coney throwdown at Detroit's famous dueling Coney Island Hot Dog stands. Similar to our Maxwell Street Polish Sausage stands in Chicago Detroit has two Coney shops right next to each other. They're about a 10 minute, 5 block walk from the Greektown casino and it was as safe as could be. The only people that talked to us were the ones who led us in the right direction and told us to enjoy our Coneys and visit to Detroit. The people as always were nice as could be, they want visitors there and are happy to have them. Be not afraid my fellow friend's.

Detroit's famous Coney Island Hot Dog Stands

This was my most sober experience at the famous Detroit Coney shops, meaning I remembered it. What separates Detroit Coney dogs from the rest of these spots around the Midwest, aside from the fact Coneys were born in Michigan, is the wiener. While most other places use cheap Oscar Meyer like hot dogs, these guys use Koegel's which is a hometown hot dog company that makes a mean natural casing wiener. As always with any classic Coney shop, the hot dogs and sauce are on display in the front windows.

View from outside the window at Lafayette

The view from inside at Lafayette

Coney with everything from Lafayette

View from the window inside at American

The view inside the shop at American

Coney with everything from American

It's hard to pick a winner. I appreciated the feel and look at Lafayette more but liked the fact American used the perfect amount of sauce for my tastes. Who had the better sauce? That's still TBD. I gotta get one of those cold brick's of sauce from each place and do a scientific test with the corny guy in glasses from 'America's Test Kitchen' to determine who's is better. The next day we only had the morning and what turned into the early afternoon when the RV carrying the Party Trailer wouldn't start up with the heat and all. We ended up getting a taxi and checking out three spots I had on my "must get to, no matter what" list for this trip. Some real deal Mo-Town gems. Too many commercial, touristy "where all the visitors visit" places that we visited last night. If your into big old beautiful architectural buildings, there's many to be seen. But it's a shame so many are gone or soon to be.

The old Cass Tech High School currently being torn down

All new food spots to me, it worked out very well as they were also within reach of each other. The taxi cab system in the D is odd and well "Shady" but we had great luck. We called for a taxi that morning and they sent us one cool dude. An owner of eight cars he does taxi and chauffeur services and is a born and raised Detroit boy. When he pulled up I thought he was either the police or FBI in his unmarked black sedan. When we told him, he said whenever he visits his cousin in the Chi, people here think the same. But he aint popo so we arranged to give him $20 (and I bought him some burgers and tipped) to take us around and take in some of "real" Detroit. If anyone ever wants a reliable honest guy for a driver, email me, I got his card. He was impressed with where we were headed. First stop is a "good ole place" that I absolutely loved.

In Detroit's Hamtramck neighborhood along Six Mile

Marcus Hamburgers is everything I love about the good old spots of Detroit. Located all by itself in a part of town that was once thriving with industrial and manufacturing plants, its one of the few places to survive from another time, when Detroit was booming. There's nothing else around this longtime Detroit "brakefast" spot that once served all the workers in this area from all the long gone plants and warehouses. As soon as we walked in, I felt like I was in the real Detroit city. I say that because as we all know, it has fallen on hard times but the people and many of the business refuse to give up on the city. The folks working at Marcus and the one lonely customer along with our cab driver sat and told stories of the D's past. The man eating breakfast was a member of a famous Mo-Town band who the taxi driver immediately knew and was shocked that one of its members was still in Detroit let alone next to us eating breakfast.

As we enter

Marcus Hamburgers was started in 1929 by an immigrant from Macedonia. Charles G. Marcus started selling his snacks from a horse-drawn pushcart at the Highland Park Ford factory which eventually lead to 12 restaurants in and around Detroit. The Six Mile location is the original. What makes the burgers unique is the fact they're served on hot dog buns. There's a great article you gotta read HERE about the place and why it's so great. When I read it, I had to get there. Here's video below of how they make the burgers, same way as when Charles Marcus was outside the Ford factory selling them.

Marcus Burgers being made

Marcus is still all in the family and now owned by two brothers who worked at the same spot in their youth. When they heard that their aunt and uncle were moving Marcus Burgers to a suburb they bought the original location where we are at today and didn't change a thing. Still fresh ground in house beef, burgers cooked in their own juices served on hot dog buns. They're open for breakfast and lunch only. I've been to so many burger places and they are all different but I think Marcus is right there with any for best old school tasting hamburger. It's all about cooking them in their juice I guess. They arent rare, fully cooked thru but so juicy and full of flavor you truly cant eat just one.

a Marcus Burger

Burgers can come with cheese and toppings are in bowls along the U shaped counter where you top them yourself. I got a couple cheeseburgers and used some raw finely chopped onions and mustard and they were excellent, green relish is also available. I had three while there and got three to go ($2) these are everything White Castle wants to be. I liked the use of the hot dog bun, it worked real well, the cheap bun was all that was needed just like a great minimalist style Chicago dog or BBQ sandwich. Three bites of each and I was done so you need to order a few. What a great breakfast stop. Read that article. I think the longtime waitress mentioned in it is the lady in the video walking by, she was sweet as could be. We might not be in paradise, but that's a cheeseburger!

My cheeseburgers as they arrive

Wow so as good as Marcus Hamburgers was there was still more to go and the greatness went with us as we headed over to Mike's Famous Ham Place. I already knew this place was the shiznit before I tried it. That was thanks to a very enthusiastic rec' from someone who knows how to find the gems. I used to think Marshall Mathers was the King of Detroit but Mike is making me have second thoughts about that . They're very proud of being named Metro Detroit's "best sandwich" and I'm going to go as far to say it's one of "America's Best Sandwiches" too.

Ham "Heaven" as I call it

We stopped in and they were about halfway thru with the ham that day. Mike bakes up one every morning and everything comes from that. Mike and his wife are one hell of a duo. He does the ham, she does the soups and that's about all they offer which is all you need. We ordered a few to go, with the works which include cheese, mustard and fresh deli pickles which work great, much better than sweet ones would. We watched as Mike carved the ham for our sandwiches off the bone giving us taster samples after each slice.

Ham off the bone from Mike's

Take a tasta!

Mike's is an amazing little place. Despite the fact it was 100 outside I had to get some soup which I ate later that night, my dad makes a mean split pea but don't tell him Mike's wife's is better, than everyone else out there's too. Just great friendly folks both behind the counter and sitting at it enjoying their ham from heaven. If your ever in Detroit for some Football make sure to give Mike a call for a couple tubs of soup for tailgating and some ham sandwiches for breakfast. It's going to be better than anything that can happen on the field and I know they have hosted Super Bowls there. A Mike's in my city or a Super Bowl? I honestly don't know which to choose, they're that flame. It's easy to understand why this was named the best sandwich in a city with so many. Yes! it's as good as it looks.

Mike's Hamtastic sandwich

Off to the Eastern Market where we needed to take a quick look around and pick up a few things to throw on the Party Trailer grill for later that night. I love this place. It's truly a pitmasters paradise. Everything you could ever need and then some as far as the good stuff like sausage and every cut of beef or pork you need. Then there's the corned beef selection which is unlike anywhere else. It was too much for me. We only needed a couple things to grill for dinner so I had to pass on so much this time. I cant wait to get back here and shop for a tailgate one day. We got some beef tenderloin kebabs that were the best ever. Better than any restaurant or grocery stores pre-made kebabs. Check out the Party Trailer for an epic tailgate toy that you can rent.

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Andouille from the Market grilled up later that day

Detroit takes it's corned beef seriously. There's all sorts of places that serve it. Well I did Greek food in Greektown, ate Coneys in the wee hours of the morning, went to an old school hamburger joint, had a ham sandwich at Mike's and shopped at the Eastern Market so there was only one thing I was missing as far as eating like a local. I needed a corned beef sandwich. Nathan's Deli was a block down from the gas station we stopped in at to fill up so I ran down there and got myself a sandwich.

Align CenterNathan's Deli Downtown Detroit

I took it as a good sign that there were quite a few cars in the lot and it looked alright from the outside so I went on in and knew what I was getting as soon as the lady ahead of me ordered one. Another popular local eat in Detroit is the Dinty Moore sandwich. Nope it's not canned beef stew on a bun but rather just a triple decker corned beef sandwich with Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, lettuce and tomatoes on toasted rye. I liked the sandwich but wouldn't go back here specifically for another. I would see whats up with one of the many other corned beef spots around town before swearing Dinty's off. Next time I'm going to try Hygrade Deli, our driver said it was his favorite and it looked like classic Detroit from the outside.

Nathan's Deli Dinty Moore Sandwich

See you again soon Detroit. Check 'Pure Michigan' to plan your trip.

America the Beautiful

Golden Fleece Restaurant
525 Monroe Street
Detroit, MI 48226-2932
(313) 962-7093

Lafayette Coney Island*
118 West Lafayette
Detroit, MI
(313) 964-8198

*American Coney Island is Next Door

Marcus Hamburgers
6349 E McNichols Rd
Detroit, MI 48212-2023
(313) 891-6170

Mike's Famous Ham Place
3700 Michigan Ave
Detroit, Michigan 48216
(313) 894-6922

Nathan's Deli
581 East Jefferson Avenue
Detroit, MI 48226-4324
(313) 962-3354

1 comment:

Ben said...

Nice post. I was in Detroit for the Movement festival in May, enjoyed the city quite a bit. I ate at the Golden Fleece as well right when we arrived, thought it was much better than it had to be given its location. Getting the cab tour was a good move, looks like you got a mix of the well-known stuff and the locals only. I'll definitely refer to this post next time I'm there.

Agreed that the cab system there is suspect, but on the plus side the drivers are very entertaining. Thanks for the post.


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