This is the second time I have covered Steve Carter on midwestern food. Steve is vice president of corporate sales, Carharrt. Once again, I thank Stan Garfield for passing this on. Below you find Steve complete piece reprinted here with permission from Steve. I did some slight reformatting but these are all his words and I am honored to have them here. Makes me want to go back to Detroit. I spent a lot of time working there in the 80s and always had fun at night when I had a chance, great food and music.
When you visit Detroit, I suggest you broaden your horizons and try some of the not-so-famous places that will give you an understanding of what real food can be about. Detroit has a very eclectic population and the food reflects it with a mix of Polish, Mexican (not Tex-Mex), Italian, Middle Eastern, and good old blue collar neighborhood fare. Here are a few places you might want to consider. You won’t have to worry too much about the neighborhoods, and these are not too far away from the hotel, though you will need a car and someone in it with a sense of direction. Have an adventure! If you want fancy, ask someone else to give you a tip.
Buddy’s Pizza 22148 Michigan Ave Dearborn 313-562-5900
Sicilian style pizza since 1946. Enjoy one of their square pizzas with great crusty edges. My choices are the BBQ Chicken and the Margherita style. Of course if you are going to Buddy’s, you are going on the cheap, and you might as well splurge on a couple of the appetizers. Give the oven-baked meatballs a go, and you have to try Mike’s personal favorite, the oven-baked cheese and bacon fries. The antipasto salad is a must, and I think you will find the Budweiser very cold.
Miller's Bar 23700 Michigan Dearborn 313-565-2577
Ranked as having the 8th best burger in America, Miller's Bar is the quintessential neighborhood tavern. There is no menu, so I will tell you what they have… Hamburgers, fries, and onion rings. That’s it. There are no fancy toppings to choose from; what you get is a “sincere burger”. Great meat and juicy enough for three napkins (of course you guys from the northeast won’t have to worry because you order everything well done). If you haven’t been here, I suggest you go; this is like a visit to the Holy Grail. A word of warning: they take cash only and you have to remember what you eat and drink because there are no checks. I think you will love the waitresses, as they have attitude.
Elmhurst Tap Room 22057 Outer Dr. Dearborn 313-277-4041
Another favorite local joint for pizza and a Greek salad. You will find the lighting low, the red leatherette booths a bit dowdy, and a surprisingly professional wait staff. The menu is very eclectic with everything from Italian favorites, steaks, “seafood”, and typical bar food. The star is the pizza. Get one for an appetizer and you won’t be disappointed. This is the kind of place that did a great lunch business back in the days of the two-martini lunch. Parking is a bit of a bear with a few spaces out back, and other places on the street in front of the joint.
Side Track Bar and Grill 56 E. Cross Ypsilanti 734-483-1035
The slogan of this neighborhood bar is ripped off from Ben Franklin who once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us happy”. The slogan sets the stage, as you have entered one of the best joints you will ever have a chance to eat in. This place has an unbelievable selection of beer (over 40 types) and absolutely great burgers. The bar is in a part of town called Depot Town, and you will have to hold on to your beverage as the Amtrak goes rumbling by your window. Unlike the spartan Miller's, this place offers an astounding selection on the menu. Start off with a burger, another top 20 burger according to GQ magazine. Again, unlike Miller's, you can get everything except the kitchen sink put on this bad boy. Not to be missed are the fish and chips, pulled pork, white bean chili, Irish slaw, and black bean burrito. Start the shindig off with an order of beer-battered pickles, the giant homemade onion rings, and sweet potato fries. Whatever you do, save a bit of room for the bread pudding. A bit of a hike, but you won’t be disappointed.
Polonia Polish Restaurant 2934 Yemans St. Hamtramck 313-873-8432
How can you visit Detroit without having authentic Polish food? This is the part of town that sells more Polish newspapers than English newspapers. An experience you need to have if you haven’t already enjoyed it. Try the Polish meatballs and kluski noodles. Potato pancakes, great kielbasa, perfect pierogi, dill soup, City Chicken (it’s not chicken), super kraut, and on and on. If you want a taste of Poland, ask the waitress to hook you up with the sampler plate. This is one place where I wouldn’t recommend a Bud. Try a Polish beer; you won’t be disappointed. Detroit has one of the largest Polish populations in the US. Even today, almost 9% of the people living in Michigan can trace their heritage back to Polish roots. Enjoy one of the true tastes of this great city.
Mexican Food (the real deal)
Taqueria Mi Pueblo 7278 Dix Detroit 313-841-3315
Like many cities across the US, there has been a great influx of Hispanics migrating to Detroit over the past several years. They have enriched our culture and provided yet another addition to our great melting pot heritage. I must admit that I have grown to enjoy the many taquerias that have sprung up over the past generation. Part of Detroit is known as “Mexican Town” and has many of the old school restaurants. These are in the Bagley neighborhood. Lately a number of new places have sprung up that have moved out of the traditional area. Here is where you will find Taqueria Mi Pueblo, a true traditional Mexican restaurant. This place is relatively new to the scene and far outstrips any other place by my estimation. This is the site of my first beef tongue taco as well as my first Torta Ahogada, a sandwich of fried pork, smothered in hot sauce, refried beans, and sliced onions which have been marinated in lime juice. This baby is dipped in a great spicy sauce that gets my mouth watering just thinking about it. Of course they also have tortas featuring tongue, pig stomach, beef head, chicken, and Mexican sausage. The menu is unbelievable and will take you several minutes just to get through. No worries, as they keep you plied with chips and sauce. I also recommend the pork rinds served with the Mi Pueblo sauce or the super guacamole as an appetizer. The guacamole has just the right amount of cilantro, onions, and tomatoes. If you have never had soup with catfish, shrimp, octopus, and vegetables, this would be the place to try it (Caldo Especial De Mariscos). The more basic Chili Rellenos is great! A Poblano chili stuffed with ground beef and dipped in batter then fried to perfection. This is topped with sauce, carrots, and zucchini. My mouth is watering as I write this! Get a group and give this place a run for its money. You won’t be disappointed.
Middle Eastern Food
Al-Ameer 12710 W. Warren Dearborn 313-582-8185
The greater Detroit area is home to the largest population of Middle East natives outside of the Middle East. Needless to say this provides for an excellent diversity of cultures and once again I hone in on the food. The quality of food is excellent and the service very efficient. If you have questions the wait staff is very helpful for first-time visitors. I suggest you start of with some of their hommous, which is made from pureed chick peas and then flavored up with a bit of their tahini sauce. Tahini is made from sesame seed paste, garlic, olive oil, lemon, and parsley. It is kind of a building block for Middle Eastern food. The hommous will be served with the best pita bread you have ever had as it is freshly baked throughout the day on site. Find out what the soup of the day is as it is homemade and always excellent. When it comes to picking the main course you are in for a whole new experience if you haven’t had Middle Eastern food before. They are big on lamb, chicken, and beef. I suggest kicking things off with a Shawarma. You can get chicken, but I prefer the beef and lamb. This is meat that has been marinated in some fantastic seasoning. As the seasonings are unlike dry rubs for BBQ, I have no idea what they are, but they sure do provide a taste treat. If you want to try something you can’t find in mainstream restaurants, you might give the Kafta a try. This is ground meat mixed with onions and spices, then formed on a skewer and cooked. You can also go for the Kabobs which are chunks of marinated beef or lamb. The Tawook is chunks of chicken marinated in yogurt lemon juice with magic spices and then cooked on a skewer. If you can talk a few hearty souls to venture out with you, I might suggest you go for the family trays. These babies will provide an eclectic taste of the Middle East with tawook, kabobs, kafta, shawarma, falafel (mashed up fava beans, chick peas, and sauce), hommous, rice, fattoush (a salad of parsley, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes with fried pita bread), and of course all the pita bread you can eat. While in the tradition of authentic Middle Eastern restaurants they do not serve alcohol, they have some unbelievable fresh drinks ranging from a carrot smoothie or a lemon crush all the way to the Al-Ameer Specialty that contains, get this, strawberry, apple, banana, cantaloupe, pineapple, mango juice, topped with raisins, pistachios, honey, and ashta (basically clotted cream and rose water). Middle Eastern food is incredibly healthy, and you may take some taste sensations home which will provide an alternative to the typical burger or pulled pork lunch. Give this place a try.
Vince’s Ristorante Italiano 1341 Springwells Detroit 313-842-4857
One of the last holdouts in what was once the Italian area of Detroit. This is the type of place your dad would have taken your mom on their first date. They then would have come back 30 years later to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Nothing would have changed. It is comfortable because the Persili family has been running things the same way for well over 45 years and they are on the 3rd generation back in the kitchen. The pastas, ravioli, and gnocchi are homemade just as Maria and Vincenzo made them when the original place was a room beside their house in 1960. It’s a bit bigger now, but talk about comfortable Italian food! The veal and chicken piccata are perfect and the chicken marsala will make you long for the next trip to Detroit so you can go back. You absolutely have to start your meal with one of their great pizzas. If you are normally disappointed with minestrone, give this a try – it's made the way it was intended to be made! Enjoy an unpretentious meal in a place that makes you feel like you are part of the family.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a little place across the street from Vince’s. It is called Dono Lola’s and this is a funky little Latino seafood house. The food has an Ecuadorian twist and is incredibly tasty. It is a small place for the adventurous and for those that don’t mind not speaking the prevailing language in this restaurant.
There you have it, a few places to wander off the beaten path in search of a bit of a food adventure. Why just use a meal to merely get full? Use a meal to visit with friends and make new ones. Use a meal to try something new. Use a meal to make a memory. When I travel I expect to eat in a local joint that represents the best of that part of the country. People from everywhere can be proud of their heritage as defined by the local food, and Detroit is no exception!