I’ve gone to some sketchy cities for bridge (Reno, St. Louis, Dallas) and this year’s Spring Nationals was in Detroit, MI. I kept telling myself (and people) that it would be grey, bleak and dreary, but in a gothic and romantic way, like Prague. Alas, I just returned and I am pleasantly surprised to report that it as not as bad as nicknames like “Murder city” would lead you to believe. Bri and I were only there for four days, but we managed a lot of eating.
Thursday: We had dinner at Seldom Blues, a “fine dining and jazz restaurant,” in the Renaissance Center, the huge complex where we were staying. We shared two appetizers: fried calamari and maple BBQ quail. The calamari was unbelievably delicious, in a way that no calamari in Detroit has a right to be. I think it even out ranks Daily Catch’s calamari for my favorite. What made it so good is that instead of the rings and tentacles that come standard, they took calamari steaks and cut them in to thick strips. It was a taste revelation, like the first time I had the tuna steak at East Coast Grill. I had eaten tuna sashimi a million times before, but the difference in the experience due to the thick cut of the tuna made a world of difference. The calamari was magnificent and I am miffed that it is in Detroit, so I’ll probably never be back to have it again.
The quail was fine, but it just paled in comparison to the calamari. It came on bacon blue cheese grits which were tasty. For dinner we shared a baked ruby trout, stuffed with lobster and crabmeat. There was too much stuffing, we could not really taste the lobster, and the fish was overcooked. We also got a side of Asiago creamed corm, which was very good.
Friday: The breakfast of four meats. In my copious research of the food scene in Detroit, I found out that people are crazy for chili dogs – they call them Coney Islands. In Greektown, there are two hot dog places that vie back and forth for chili dog supremacy: American and Lafayette. They are adjacent to each other. American was the original and then the brothers that owned it had a spat and the second brother opened Lafayette right next door. Here’s an amusing article about one man’s love for the Lafayette version.
Bri has a love of hot dogs also. When we were in Dallas, we went to a Rangers game and they were having a $1 a hot dog special. I was going to the concession stand and asked if he wanted anything. He said, “Sure, get me 4 hot dogs.” “4?” I said, incredulously. “Yup, 4. It would cost me $4 to get one hot dog at Fenway, $4 is my hot dog budget. So, get me four.” Lo and behold, the man ate all 4 and thought about getting more. So, Bri was in to the compare and contrast of the two places. We went to Lafayette first; it was a scary divey diner, and the hot dog came covered in a bean less meat chili, topped with raw onions. I waited for Bri to eat his half first before I felt it was safe to dig in. It was underwhelming. We strolled next door to American, the original, and had the same thing, except their version did not come with onions. American is a much cleaner, larger, friendlier space. The verdict? Well, we decided that American has the better hot dog and better chili, but we were in need of the onions. Either way, I don’t get the devotion. I guess it’s just one of those things that you need to have grown up there to get.
We then moved on to Detroit Breakfast House and Grill for more food (1 half of 2 hot dogs does not make breakfast) and we shared the chicken and waffles which came with cheese grits and potatoes. The fried chicken wings were great, and the waffles had crumbled bacon in them. That makes four meats: hot dog, chicken, bacon and the meat chili. Oy. I just went to their website and it turns out it’s owned by the people who own Seldom Blues.
We had Cuban at Vicente’s for dinner. We had a great antipasto plate of Serrano ham, Manchago, olives and chorizo. We shared Lechon Asado, which is a roasted pork leg, marinated with Mojo de Ajo sauce. The good fatty bites were really good, the dried out portions were bad. It came with fried plantains and fried yucca sticks, both of which were excellent.
The last meal of note (we did eat at the food court for convenience, a couple of times) was at the Woodward. They are known for a white chicken chili, which our waitress raved about. It was a strange dish, like a thick creamy chicken stew with cannenelli beans, it wasn’t bad, but like the hot dogs, I thought it was underwhelming. Bri got a burger, which was cooked to his liking and pretty good. I had fried catfish, which was also good. The best thing about dinner was the house made cherry BBQ sauce. It was sweet, smoky with great flavor. It went well on everything, the burger, fries and my catfish. They really need to bottle this stuff.
That’s about it for Detroit, maybe I’ll be back for the calamari sometime.