Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Week We Ate (The EID Week in Review)

This is on the wall of the employee bathroom at Dark Horse Brewing Co. Really.

Easy Like Sundae, a new froyo shop set to open in Ferndale, would like to remind you to buy Michigan or the communists win. [Ferndale Patch]

*Yawn* OLD NEWS, but let's give the rest of the world some time to catch up. MillerCoors bought the Michigan Brewing Company brand and now a week later they're officially admitting it. [Beer Pulse]

Jolly Pumpkin releases Luciernaga at the Ann Arbor Cafe; Mae's in Pleasant Ridge is approved for a patio; Vinsetta Garage will start serving lunch next week (and oh yeah, they have poutine and it's rad). [EID FB]

Is this quite possibly the worst name for something ever? It may just very well be (or at least gives the Dan Gilbert Rebrand-O-Matic(TM) a run for its money). Which is unfortunate because the idea itself doesn't suck. [Curbed Detroit]

The Great Lakes Coffee Bar in Midtown opens softly but carries a big stick tap handle. [EID FB]

This was so funny the first time MLive decided to bring it back out for a second go-round: "Morse said he'd entertain the idea if the brewery was approached by a cool band, such as Slayer." Kid Rock now also wants a piece of Dark Horse Brewing Co., which just goes to show that, while "we all just want to be big rock stars," big rock stars just want to be a cool brewery. [MLive]

Last week was all about coffee shops; this week was all about urban farms. Curbed Detroit tries to figure out why Detroiters love urban ag but virulently hate the Hantz Farm project proposal. (The short answer is because Detroiters are never happy. The long answer is a bit more complicated but includes words like "corporatocracy" and "land grab.") [Curbed Detroit]

The iconic "Pizza! Pizza!" tagline returns for a new national marketing campaign for Little Caesars; the pizza is just as dreadful as ever. [Crain's Detroit]

Grand Rapids, which recently tied Asheville NC for Beer City USA, is releasing a collaborative Beer City Pale Ale on July 1. This collabobrew is the collective efforts of 10 western Michigan breweries. Road trip? [MLive]

As further proof that we only get better with age, Eastern Market continues to up the awesome ante almost every single week. This week it was by signing a lease for Corridor Sausage's new production facility. [Model D]

Detroit: City of Tomorrow. [Business Insider]

Opus One is going to take a long jump out of the "It's a Living" '80s and land heel-first into 2012. Tonight is the last night of dinner service as Opus One closes for a 4+ month renovation; plans are to open Opus Next in November. Shoulder pads and Aqua Net will no longer be part of the required dress code. [Det News]

Cliff Bell's is now open for lunch. [EID FB]

Deadline Detroit finds their inner Paula Cole and asks, where have all the cowboys Greeks gone? (The short answer is, "Because of those Injuns and that damn casino," and then it's like, ohhhhhh, Native Americans... followed by a wave of white guilt followed by the realization that while Greektown itself may no longer be the epicenter it once was Greek culture has been thoroughly assimilated throughout metro Detroit which is progress in itself.) [Deadline Detroit]

Friday, June 29, 2012

[EID Feature] Nano Growth: Brew Jus

All photos from Brew Jus.

Brew Jus is a nano-restaurant. Not sure quite what to make of that? Neither is the health department, the city of Ferndale or Oakland County.

To these various governing bodies’ credit, they’re trying. Well … except for the health department, which kind of functions like that kid in high school who’d rat you out for smoking in the bathroom because they’re terrified of getting in trouble themselves just for having known about it even though you totally would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for their meddling. That’s the health department. They’re not exactly the most popular of the bunch and they take their jobs very seriously. (Some would complain, but those people would also complain if they got, say, foodborne botulism from a restaurant serving unregulated food items. That is until they died from it. So let’s just, you know, keep the role of the health department in perspective here.)

Brew Jus is a brand-new “nano” restaurant operating inside (eventually) the Rust Belt Market in Ferndale. They’ve spent a lot of time and money building out a beautiful space and will be able to serve inside once they get all the proper permits and licensing and pass all the necessary inspections … all of which are taking longer than normal and changing as they go because, quite frankly, no one knows just what the hell to do with them.

See, Brew Jus is a whole new kind of business model. Not a full-blown restaurant with its own building and commercial kitchen; not a mobile vendor with its own recently-determined set of rules and regulations; not a pop-up which can skate in under someone else’s health department license so long as it is happening out of a licensed commercial kitchen. Brew Jus is none of these things.

Partner Nick Schultz admits it’s been difficult but for no other reason than that there is no precedent set for this kind of business and they’re all figuring it out as they go along. “The city has been great,” he says, but admits that “every week there has been a new obstacle.” (Most recently they had to switch from propane to natural gas, which required more construction inside the building and another inspection.) “The health department sees us as something there’s no mold for,” Nick states. Representatives from Oakland County told him that they’re having multiple meetings about him. “We’re the subject of these meetings and debates. It’s kind of flattering but also intimidating. I feel like we’re under a microscope.” He adds, “Looking back I don’t think it could have been done any differently; we’re coming against these obstacles together,” referring to the various governing bodies they’re working with.

Nick and his partner David Ballew both attended Oakland County’s FastTrac NewVenture program, a 10-week program designed for new and aspiring entrepreneurs to basically help them figure out how to run a business. “[Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson] is all about the small business,” Nick says. From the very beginning Nick and Dave have had advisors from Oakland County helping them, going to bat for them against the health department by saying, “This is a new concept; we need you to evolve.” (Which was met with, “This is a concept we don’t understand; there’s no rules for it.” Which kind of reminds me of that line from Coming to America when the King of Zamunda says, “Who am I to change the rules?” and the Queen responds with, “I thought you were the King.”)

Ultimately progress is being made and they do have a license to serve food. You can find them outside the Rust Belt Market serving sliders this weekend and Nick hopes they’ll be able to start cooking and serving inside in the beautiful space they built from scratch in early July.

Ah yes: sliders. Brew Jus seeks to redefine the relationship between food and beer with artisan sliders made with beer-inspired sauces. Nick is a chef and Dave is a brewer. “We would always have these conversations about how beer gets a bad rep in the food industry, how fancy restaurants don’t have good beer …” Nick says. [Editor’s note: I’d argue that that has already been changing for a few years now.] While attending culinary school, Nick put on a craft beer and food pairing event that received a great response, and the idea for Brew Jus really evolved from there.

Dave brews the beer and Nick makes the food. Each of their products are closely tied to one another: the beer is incorporated into the sauces used on their sliders and also into its own ice cream. Their ultimate concept is to be able to have a slider bar serving the sauces made from the beer, the ice creams made from the beer, and the beer itself: what Nick calls “the three stages of beer.” So their Cherry Wheat beer would also be used in their Angry Cherry sauce and made into a cherry wheat ice cream … long-longterm, they’d like to have these products available in stores and all color-coded in what Nick jokes is a “beer pairing for dummies!” Because both are very passionate about minimizing waste products (and there is a lot of waste in the food and beverage industry), the sauces are actually made from scratch using the spent grain from Dave’s brews.

It makes sense: Nick has been calling himself “The Sauced Chef” for a few years now (with his own blog and YouTube channel), a name that comes from his love of cooking and making sauces with alcohol. After working in the corporate world for years then getting laid off at the beginning of the economic recession, Nick took the opportunity to go back to school under the “No Worker Left Behind” program and followed his dream to go to culinary school. “I dedicated all of my time to it; I completely changed my career.” He started his official culinary career at the WAB, was part of the opening team at Toasted Oak Grill and Market in Novi (“[Chef] Steve [Grostick] took a huge risk on me”), worked VIP banquets and buffets for high rollers at Greektown Casino, and worked directly under the Executive Chef at the Detroit Zoo. He is now part of the opening team for Ferndale’s soon-to-open Local Kitchen + Bar; Local owner Rick Halberg has been incredibly accommodating and is allowing him weekends off so he can run Brew Jus. (Which is pretty much unheard of in the restaurant industry.)

Dave is also balancing another job in the meantime; a career restaurant person himself, Dave more recently got into brewing beer after he too was laid off during the recession and wanted to drink good beer but couldn’t afford it … so he started making it. They both hope that in the next year they can be running Brew Jus full-time.

“We’re very excited about brand,” Nick says. “We think we have good product … we’re hoping to make the best sliders in Ferndale!” They serve a selection of artisan sliders (larger in size than the typical “slider” and so a higher price point) as well as sides, like their potato salad made with their IPA-based mustard sauce, and will eventually add “malted” malts (made with their beer-based ice cream). They even have a vegan slider which Nick promised doesn’t suck (or your money back!).

Under construction at the Rust Belt Market.

Being inside the Rust Belt Market is something they’re also excited about. Nick sees the Rust Belt as a conduit for getting their name out and has built a very good relationship with owners Chris and Tiffany Best. “It’s so cool to be part of their market which is evolving so much,” he says. “They hand-pick their vendors [which is a huge compliment]. It’s been such a pain in the ass for them but they’ve stuck by us. We’re excited to be a part of this whole crowd, especially in Ferndale where people are very supportive of local businesses … we’re just very happy we found Chris and Tiffany.”

Nick and Dave have a lot of plans for what they’d like to see happen down the line. A contract brew with the WAB and getting their beer on tap at places like Local; a traveling slider bar with Motor City Street Eats; a late night menu outside the Rust Belt for the bar crowd; a manufacturing facility and their products on store shelves; possibly a nanobrewery at the Belt or maybe their own brewing facility … they’ve got a lot of ideas. But for now, the focus is just getting their indoor space approved and serving their sliders. “There’s so much talk about small business; it’s a buzz word,” Nick says. “But really a small business can be a nano-restaurant. It would be so cool to do this in a cost-effective but safe and healthy way.”

Despite the obstacles they’ve faced, there’s a certain satisfaction in being the FIRST to do something entirely new, and anyone who comes along after will have Brew Jus to thank for paving the way.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Anthony Bourdain is what the foodie movement landed on when the foodie movement jumped the shark.

This is the face of a smug fuck.
This week Eater reports on Anthony Bourdain's latest literary foray Get Jiro, in which Tony takes comic book likenesses of world-famous professional chefs Jiro Ono and Alice Waters and plunks them into a near-future L.A. in which the "foodie movement" has become so entirely faddish and absurd that people will wait years for a table at the hottest restaurants, there are such things as "Holy Foods" and L.A. is run by "dueling chef warlords."

Anthony Bourdain is a fucking asshole.

This fucking self-important prick who built an entire career out of a "bad boy" image ("Look at me, I drank a lot, snorted coke and fornicated with women, oooooooooooooooooh") and by saying "fuck" a lot while picking well-publicized Twitter fights with other celeb chefs at opportune moments for maximum media coverage is now going to piggyback on the anti-foodie movement that is now gaining serious steam.

Way to stay ahead of the curve, Tony. You fucking asshole.

Yes, this useless windbag who helped propagate the very culture of food fetishization he now so valiantly satirizes is now happily inserting himself as the figurehead of The Resistance. Anthony Bourdain wants to have his Tod Mun Pla and eat it too.

Listen, you fucking self-serving opportunist, you don't get to create a foodie frenzy by promoting the idea of "the weirder and the more foreign the better," the very thing upon which the foodie movement now hinges, then turn around and say, "Fuck you guys for buying into it." Got it, Tony? You fucking blowhard? This is the same guy who, full of his signature macho bravado, proudly and loudly proclaimed when asked if he would eat another person, “Yes, yes, I fucking would.”

Of course you would say that. You fucking cunt.

And now here he comes with his latest book -- the celebrity "chef" who is too busy hosting reality TV shows and insulting chefs who actually cook for a living -- targeting consummate professionals like the sanguine Jiro Ono (represented here as a young, muscled sushi chef beheading customers who dare ask for a California roll) and Alice Waters, a chef made famous not for her arm-flapping profanity-laced pleas for attention but for her dogged activism and her commitment to local, organic foods which has helped shape the future of American food and influence an army of chefs.

These are chefs who haven't cheapened themselves or their craft by running around as loud-mouthed reality television stars, who now appear on the pages of Bourdain's comic books as ... what? a homage? a mockery? Both? (While Bourdain has voiced tremendous respect for Jiro, it is doubtful Jiro would find this "homage" flattering; Bourdain's disdain of Waters is well-documented so it is equally doubtful his thinly-veiled portrayal of her is a show of professional respect.)

Bourdain should go on another stand-up comedy tour because Jiro knows you won't find him in a fucking kitchen. Now all of a sudden you have a problem with the foodie movement, Tony? What's the matter, is it getting harder and harder to force people to listen to the sound of your jaw flapping as more and more people horn in on your territory?

You know what the real problem is with the foodie movement? It's not the fact that people are desperately seeking out the latest and "most authentic" culinary adventure while trying to out-foreign and out-weird one another. It isn't that food festivals are the new music festivals and chefs are the new rock stars. It isn't craft cocktail bars and perceived cocktail snobbery. It's Anthony fucking Bourdain.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

[Beerie] Because We Can Can Can

Welcome to Beerie, your weekly beer.
Western Michigan's Brewery Vivant uses only cans. Photo by Chad Cramblet.

The Huffington Post recently ran an article on the market growth of canned beer. It was written by a Harvard graduate who is also one of HuffPo's economics reporters and whose other recent contributions have included "After Years Of Outsourcing, Small U.S. Manufacturers Bring Jobs Back To America" and "Big Bank CEO Pay Spiked An Average Of 12 Percent In 2011, Study Says," so it's not exactly surprising she missed the mark by about a dozen tall boys.

In it the author posits, "It's not just hipsters driving the rise in canned beer. The sluggish economy also has Americans pining for tin." This is a great lede. If it were the year 2008.

She then follows this with her primary statistic, "Fifty-three percent of the beer Americans drank last year came in a can -- up from roughly 48 percent between 2003 and 2006, according to statistics from the U.S. Beer Institute cited by Bloomberg News. That's the highest share of beers being consumed in a can since 1995."

Again, this is a great statistic and I can certainly see how it would be a launching point for an argument that positions the increase of canned beer sales as a direct corollary of the crippled economy ... if it were 2008.

Oh, and that "pining for tin" line in the intro? IT'S ALUMINUM. Pretty much the rest of her argument was invalidated after this point by her inability to accurately define the materials used. (If cans were made of tin, they'd be 10-15x more expensive.)

What this economist's assessment of the increase in canned beer sales since 2006 fails to include is a host of other variables that have also contributed to it.

First let's look at her biggest mistake (aside from the tin v. aluminum gaffe): "...since Americans now have less money to spend, they're buying cheaper and lower-quality products." Which is exactly why the craft beer industry (which is by its very nature a higher-quality and more expensive product) has been seeing double-digit increases in sales year after year for the last 5 or so years?    ???


The warrant of her claim is at best misinformed and at worst following an entirely fallacious line of logic. Cans have always been the preferred packaging of the penny-pinching, quantity-over-quality drinker; this hardly accounts for a 5-point increase in sales over 5 years when, at the exact same time, beer sales have slowed overall and the percentage of craft beer sales consistently rose in the double-digits. What we really need is an explanation that accounts for all the variables, a little first-order logic as it applies to beer.

This isn't about macro vs. micro, but the distinction here is important. As the craft beer industry has grown exponentially over the last few years and has almost fully inserted itself into the mainstream, the country's perception of beer has been shifting dramatically and with it has come a whole new understanding of beer as a craft as opposed to a prole's product. And with that has come a whole new understanding of cans as their use applies to craft beer: where before cans were all about economy, now they're all about efficiency.

If the rise in canned beer sales correlates anything, it's the rise in craft beer sales. Cans are seen by more and more craft brewers as the superior packaging method because, well yeah it's cheaper, but also they're easier to transport (lighter-weight, not fragile) and they don't allow any light in, which is what causes beer to skunk. (This guy's explanation is on-point. And this one's.) The myth of the metallic taste? Wholly psychosomatic. (And if that were really the case, draft beer would taste like metal too. What did you think kegs were made out of?)

So if "fancy" craft brewers start canning their beers, what happens? BOOM: stigma gone. (It's also worth noting that many popular imported labels have started canning their beer for American export, also a new development since the 2003-2006 data range.) It's kind of like when some wineries started using screw-top bottles for wines that weren't meant for aging and wine-o's were all boo, hiss until they realized the many advantages of screw-tops (in particular the complete elimination of the oxidation and chemical tainting that often occurs as the result of using natural and synthetic corks). Oh yeah, and it's also cheaper for the winemakers (corks themselves run around a buck or two a piece), so everybody wins. As it was in wine, so shall it be for beer.

So while the "sluggish economy" (of years past) could certainly be a contributing factor to the increase in canned beer sales, it hardly goes toward explaining it all away as a tidy little X = Y. What is likely to happen is that we will continue to see canned beer sales increase AS craft beer sales increase and AS the economy continues to improve, which will effectively make this HuffPo piece moot.

Monday, June 25, 2012

[HOT LIST] Summer's best fests

DIY Street Fair.

Summer in Michigan can mean only one thing: a whole year's worth of partying, festivals and events crammed into four months. To be fair, there's something happening somewhere around town pretty much every single weekend all year round (even in the post-holiday doldrums of January), but summer is when there are SO many events that to simply sit on a patio soaking in the sun seems passé. (Besides, that's what Mondays are for.) Now that summer is officially here (versus being unofficially here since, like, March), here are some of the summer's best fests.

#1 Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival July 27-28 (Ypsilanti)
It's ... well, it's this. It's 10,000 people sweating and drinking beer. It's 450 beers from over 60 breweries from all over the state. It's a shitshow, but it's the second-most fun shitshow of the year. (The first-most fun is MBG's Fall Beer Fest, which I can walk to and stumble home from. But perhaps I'm biased.) Get your tickets because it WILL sell out.

#2 DIY Street Fair  Sept 14-16 (Ferndale)
Aside from the Brewers Guild's festivals, DIY was one of the first local festivals to serve primarily Michigan craft beers and for that they'll always have a special little place in my heart. After five years the fair is now big enough to span three whole days of solid awesome: two stages with over 50 local bands; 150 (give or take) local vendors selling everything from soy candles to Detroit-centric apparel to vinyl; a 23,000 square foot outdoor beer garden with over a dozen Michigan breweries (and meadery!); a "restaurant row" featuring a handful of local restaurants serving tacos, sliders, vegan eats and ice cream. Basically it's Blowout (when Blowout was still manageable) meets the Rust Belt Market meets a mini-Beer Fest + ABE. Hands-down the best "everything" fest, and hyper-local to boot.

#3 Arts, Beats and Eats Aug 30 - Sept 3 (Royal Oak)
10 stages with over 200 national and local bands. 60+ restaurants. 100s of artists from all over the country in a juried fine art show (which means it isn't a bunch of crappy crafters in a tent, with all due respect to non-crappy crafters). A 5k run. Oh, and 400,000 people. This massive festival that overtakes much of downtown Royal Oak over Labor Day weekend has been the premier summer festival in metro Detroit for over a decade. Now in its 15th year, ABE continues to offer the full experience of food, music and art, and is arguably the highest-caliber festival of its kind in all of Michigan.

#4 Renaissance Festival Aug 18 - Sept 30 (Holly)
Forsooth and shit, RenFest is a hoot. With live entertainment like jousting (the horses are all rescues), comedy shows and Celtic music; food like giant turkey legs, schneeballs and "Barbarian burgers" (just like in the days of yore); craft beer, Guinni and B. Nektar meads; and vendors selling hand-blown glass and MOTHERF*CKING SWORDS, who in their right mind wouldn't love this festival? No one, that's who. No one in their right mind would not love this festival and I don't care that that's a double negative. Yes, it's all outdoors rain or shine and tickets are nonrefundable despite the weather but seriously, the place gets packed and rainy days are usually the best days to go anyway. As you are made primarily of water yourself and not sugar or salt, you will not melt I promise.

#5 Ann Arbor Street Art Fair July 18-21 (Ann Arbor)
The Ann Arbor Art Fair is really four fairs in one. With a slew of national awards under its belt, the original Ann Arbor Street Art Fair (established in 1960) was one of the first art fairs in the country and the fair as a collective whole (Side note: four separate festivals under one name? Really? Seriously though, really? They all need their own name under one giant umbrella name? This is when the parent needs to slap the child's hand and tell them "NO.") is one of the largest art fairs in North America. There's art and music and art and demos and art and activities and art and street performances and art. And it's all over the streets of downtown Ann Arbor, so you can also check out their many fine eating and drinking establishments while you're there. Or just hang out at Jolly Pumpkin.

Bubbling under Detroit Jazz Festival (Detroit), Art in the Park (Plymouth), Dally in the Alley (Detroit), American Polish Festival (Sterling Heights), Pig and Whiskey (Ferndale), Arab and Chaldean Festival (Detroit), Maker Faire (Dearborn), Dexter Daze (Dexter), Michigan Peach Festival (Romeo), People's Arts Festival (Detroit)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Week We Ate (The EID Week in Review)

The Old Fenton Fire Hall.
 Please let someone open another upscale BBQ restaurant, please please PLEASE let someone open another upscale BBQ restaurant, pleeeeease please please ... praised be to pork, our prayers have been answered! Behold: another upscale BBQ restaurant. (This time in Chelsea.) [Concentrate]

ROYAL OAK IS GETTING A NEW SPORTS BAR. In related news, there are some fruits that simply hang too low. [Royal Oak Patch]

"Beaver slap" is a baking term. In unrelated news, VAGINA. [Chicago Tribune / Wonkette]

The owner of Ann Arbor's ethnically-approximated Mani Osteria plans on opening an ethnically-approximated Mexican restaurant next door which will serve Mexican-style "street food." One is forced to asked, at what point do we stop calling food decidedly NOT served on the street "street food"? [Concentrate]

Lots of expansion news as, it turns out, people like to drink. (HereHere. Also here. And here.) [Beer Pulse / Midwest Wine Press / Concentrate / Metromode]

Curbed Detroit had coffee on the brain this week, specifically in Midtown. The Bottom Line Coffeehouse has been pulling an Astro but let's hope it doesn't pull a [insert name of any number of failed restaurant/market projects that got as far as putting up signage but never actually opened their doors]. And a reminder once again that landlords in Detroit often fancy themselves lords of their own fiefdoms. [Curbed Detroit]

After the Fenton DDA nixed plans to work with Michigan Brewing Company on building out the Fenton Fire Hall, Arbor Brewing Co. and the owners of Union Woodshop et. al. faced off for the space. The Fenton DDA has announced the winner and grand champeeen to be Curt Catallo and Ann Stevenson, whose most-recent success with the historic preservation and adaptive reuse project Vinsetta  Garage (and before that Union Woodshop) has demonstrated their "recipe for success" isn't just a clever pun. [Fenton Patch]

In the final chapter of the Michigan Brewing Company saga of gross mismanagement culminating in the auctioning off of the brand's assets, the Celis brand was bought back by the Celis family and will return home to Texas and MillerCoors pulled an Anheuser-Busch by acquiring the MBC label. [Lansing State Journal / EID FB]

If Frank Sinatra were alive today, he might sing about beer and sliders going together like a horse and carriage instead. Brew Jus opens inside (....errrrrrr in the general vicinity of pending further health department finagling) the Rust Belt Market. [The Oakland Press]

This time Jolly Pumpkin wins. Hard. Well, aside from the heinous packaging. [EID FB]

This will ruin everything. [USA Today Travel]

Further proof that only lobotomized Baby Boomer housewives buy Mitch Albom's snakeoil schtick. [Deadspin]

Thursday, June 21, 2012

[Metromode] Fests and Fundraisers Go Local

Chef/Owner Brandon Johns of the Grange Kitchen + Bar in Ann Arbor at Baconfest Michigan

Here in metro Detroit we certainly have our fair share of fairs, festivals and food-centric fundraisers. But where food-centered events used to be primarily about gathering a bunch of restaurants together and serving the masses (with little regard to what exactly the masses were being served), over the last few years the nature of our local festivals has shifted to be more … well, local.

It probably goes without saying that any food event or festival held around town is going to feature local restaurants (and local art and local musicians and so on). But never before has there been such a strong emphasis on local products. Restaurants are one thing, but restaurants that source produce from local growers and meat from local farms are what people now really want to see. Beer, wine and liquor are standard-issue at any event, but Michigan-made beer, wine and liquor create a much stronger draw - while instilling a little hometown pride.

Read more.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

[EID Feature] Gimme, Gimme, Gimme the Honky Tonk Tacos: Imperial

Photo by Nicole Rupersburg. All other photos from Imperial.

From the very beginning, owner Jeff King has insisted that Imperial is “a community bar with a taco truck on the back, not a Mexican restaurant.” He has insisted that people don’t think of it as a restaurant, but as a bar … with a taco truck on the back (“truck” being, you know, a kitchen).

People pretty instinctively started to refer to this place as “that new Mexican restaurant in Ferndale.” I mean, it’s in a building that was totally worked over from the previous tenant (the Post Bar, if you care). Despite King’s comments, the presence of a full kitchen and absence of an actual truck made people think more “restaurant,” less what he said. It’s definitely a bar, but they serve food, so therefore restaurant.

Except that … no, it’s a bar. With, well … a taco truck on the back (if only in spirit rather than semantics).

Salt & pepper grilled pork belly w/apple, jicama & jalapeño slaw, cilantro & onion
Imperial has been open four weeks now and has been packed since the day they rolled back those Woodward-facing garage doors and welcomed in the public. And people love it.

I noted before that the place is California dreamin’ in the midst of Detroit realties, and that’s really the best way to describe this place. Or perhaps another friend’s description is a little more on-point: “…it’s well-designed, plays drunken alt country, [has] tons of good booze and the bartenders are all tatted-up badasses.” Pretty much.

The space is sparse but slick: tons of natural light and warm breezes come pouring through the garage doors; the booths, tables and floors are all light wood with breezy appeal; the centerpiece of the solid wood back-lit bar is a painting of Johnny Cash flashing his middle finger. It is, and stay with me here, Memphis rockabilly meets hipster L.A. in the way that a lot of people say something is “so L.A.” except that it actually is so L.A. There are community tables, plenty of bar stools and a patio out back. It feels like motorcycles and cigarettes, skinny jeans and cowboy hats, bourbon and blues, hipster and honky tonk, designer and dive.

There are no PBR light-up signs, no Corona mirrors or Miller Lite banners. King says, “I love all of that about a bar but what we’re trying to do is not the status quo. When you think of a ‘neighborhood bar’ you think of that place your grandpa went to … [I want it to feel like that] but not look it. I want it to feel like it’s been here 75 years with a little honky tonk vibe.”

And it works. It works in a way we never knew how much we needed it or wanted it but now that it’s here we’re so happy we have it.

It is correct that they have no taps and no bar guns. It is also correct that they have an extensive selection of tequilas and bourbons, and they also have a few key labels to cater to the craft beer crowd (who’s really gonna say no to AXL Pale Ale?). It is additionally correct that while they do not cater to the craft cocktail crowd, they still mix a mean drink (try the Mezcal Buck) and use all fresh house-made ingredients.

They serve what King calls “L.A.-style street vendor tacos.” No hard shells, no hamburger, no sour cream, no shredded cheese. They make everything from scratch in-house right down to the salsas. “Consistency and quality is a focus,” says King. “It’s all very affordable, [made by a chef] and all fresh, all authentic L.A.-style.”

Chef Brennan Calnin went to culinary school at Kendall College in Chicago then worked in Chicago (under Takashi Yagihashi) then in Milwaukee under a three-time James Beard-nominated chef, then as a private chef on a ranch for a Wall Street president, then under Eric Patterson at the Cook’s House in Traverse City … as King jokes, “This ain’t no line cook.” Through his relationships at the Cook’s House Calnin was connected with one of the other partners at Imperial. “It was a no-brainer to jump on board,” he says.

Carne Asada - marinated steak, red pepper salsa

“I really like the idea of a limited menu because I feel like you’re not spreading yourself thin trying to do a bunch of things,” Calnin explains. “You have the idea you’re trying to get across and [you can] do it very well. It ends up promoting consistency.”

Calnin and King are both very passionate about providing high-quality from-scratch foods made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. “Tacos are such an ingredient-driven food and Michigan has so many things to use locally,” says Calnin. “It’s really important [to us] to forge relationships with local farmers … it’s so important for so many reasons,” including the economy and ecology. “We have all these great things – tomatoes and peppers and sweet corn and chicken and eggs and beef and lamb and goat – right here in our backyard.”

Elote Especial - Grilled sweet corn, poblano lime cream, cotija cheese and chilies
King notes, “We’re not interested in someone’s pre-conceived notion of what they like in a taco. We’re trying to present something that is unique to the area. We didn’t reinvent the wheel and want people to experience what the authentic style is.” He explains that they don’t want to muddle down the flavors of the main ingredients. “It’s very fresh and very clean, not diluted with other items. We’re not going to add or subtract things people might not be used to or might not care for [or muddle the flavors down] with a bunch of other stuff. [This is food that] goes great with a beer, and also goes great at 2 a.m. while you’re waiting for a cab and need some food real quick to throw down your throat.”

Eventually they want to have their own mobile truck prowling the streets so the whole “taco truck” joke will become a reality. “We really like the idea of mobile vendors and street vendors,” King comments.

For right now they’re just focused on running the bar in the midst of all the huge opening buzz and the tremendously positive reception they’ve received so far. They’re open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. (the kitchen closes a bit earlier but plans are to have it eventually be open as long as the bar).

 Imperial on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Monday is the new Thursday

You know how a few years back Thursday became the new Friday? It occurred to me recently that Monday is the new Thursday, which is to say Monday and Tuesday are the new weekend.

This Monday a ClandesDine dinner was held. I would normally not speak of this publicly or otherwise actively promote it because it is not a "legal" event in the strictest sense of ... being legal. But since New York Mag already blew up Detroit's spot in a number of ways, not the least of which being ClandesDine, I suppose I can at least make reference to it after the fact.

For the uninitiated: super-secret(-ish but everyone in my circle seems to know about it so maybe not all that much; see also New York Mag) fancy dinner party with 150 people, 5 chefs, 5 courses, 5 wine pairings and music all for $100 per ticket that goes entirely to a charity. Oh, and it's held in a vacant (but owned) building/space. I know, soooooooo Detroit right?

Usually these things sell out and people go all nutso for tickets begging their contacts for any extras. Not so this time around. A friend of mine had some tickets to sell and last-minute I reached out to several people I thought for sure would jump on them ... and they would have, if they didn't ALL, every single last one of them, have a conflicting engagement. On a Monday! Dinner parties, private events, other plans ... on a Monday!

I've long preferred going out on Mondays and Tuesdays over Fridays and Saturdays. Mostly because I hate crowds and lines and amateurs, but there are other advantages to Monday drinking as well: CHEAP BOOZE. Like, even cheaper than usual. Why? Because nobody ever goes out on Mondays! So bar owners try to incentivize people with deeply discounted drinks. $2 pints of Michigan craft beer, $5 cocktails, half off bottles of wine - if you plan your week out well enough you could cut your monthly bar expenditures in half (or drink twice as much, either way).

And, added bonus, the bars are practically empty. Me? I like being able to belly up to the bar where there is ample seating, have the immediate attention of the bartender who will beer me post-haste, be able to have a civilized conversation with friends without having to scream over music or white noise from the masses, and otherwise not be inconvenienced by the presence of other people. Maybe it's an only child thing, idk.

Once upon a time the whole entirety of Detroit was like that, even on weekends. On a Saturday night you could have Foran's or the Bronx Bar or the Old Miami mostly to yourself, back before Detroit was "the official cool kids destination." Then EVERYTHING GOT RUINED. (Oh yeah ... I'm that hipster colonizer.)

But not Mondays! Mondays (and Tuesdays) are still blessedly un-busy. At least for now. See, the reasons these days are always so dead is because people have jobs. (I know, it's like ... WHAAAAAAA? and then LOL, and then ROFLMFAO.) But not in Detroit. Oh sure, the Quicken/DMC/Henry Ford/GM/Chrysler people, all those people have jobs, but those are the people for whom the dream of the '90s is dead and gone, forsaken for the sake of healthcare and a 401k. I'm talking about (mostly)childless partially-employed twenty(and thirty)-something hipster colonizers who have nothing better to do than hit the bars at noon every day of the week.

Depending on the bar, Mondays are starting to look a whole lot more like Thursdays (which in turn look a whole lot more like Fridays), and afternoons are starting to look a whole lot more like evenings. Basically Detroit is college for people who never went to college (or did but got a lib arts degree). The dream of the '90s also means that every day is the weekend and time has no meaning, so here we are: right here in this sweet spot where enough people have discovered the many advantages of Monday drinking to make it fun but not so many as to make it awful. Besides, anyone who's anyone in Detroit knows that Thursdays are soooooo 2005.

On a sidenote, now that Mondays are cool I think I might start going out on Saturdays ironically. It's so hard being an early adopter.

Monday, June 18, 2012

[HOT LIST] Waterfront dining

Brownies on the Lake. Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

"Hey look, we're located right on the water, our food sucks but no one cares!" is what almost every waterfront restaurant in metro Detroit has said ever. And admittedly, this list was a little difficult to put together because, well, ^that. But then again, the food is sort of secondary isn't it? Or is it? These places have spec-freaking-tacular waterfront views - and not like, "oh I can see the water from here*" but "my feet are practically dangling in the water from here" - and, refreshingly, they also put some thought into the food so you can have your waterfront restaurant and eat there too. (And it should go without saying that these places tend to be pretty seafood-centric.)

#1 The Rattlesnake Club (Detroit)
I mean, come on.

#2 It's a Matter of Taste (Commerce Twp.)
Amazing. A. Maze. Ing. The place has that European-villa-as-imagined-by-a-Midwesterner look to it but it has precisely that kind of charm too, and the deck! The deck!!! A massive stone deck overhanging Union Lake with an expansive, unspoiled view of the water lit up with old-fashioned gas lamps at night ... they may be "going for" that sort of vibe in a toeing-the-line-of-gimmicky sort of way, but by golly they also nail it. That big, beautiful deck is a sanctuary, and the food doesn't suck. The menu is heavy on steak, seafood and Italianate items and hasn't changed much in the seven or so years since I first discovered the place, but the scallops never did me wrong and I've never met a pork osso buco I didn't like.

#3 Detroit Yacht Club (Belle Isle)
First, become friends with someone who has a membership at the Detroit Yacht Club. Then, go there and go there often. I've been there bunches of times as a glommer-on to someone else's status and as a guest of private events and I will say, I couldn't tell you a thing about the food because every time I've been there I have achieved a distinctive state of being wholly unsober but holy FUN CITY. Belle Isle is rad; Belle Isle at a private club with a massive deck right on the Detroit River is, like, mind-blowing. They serve seafood? Or something? Idk.

#4 Marine City Fish Company (Marine City)
Tucked away in tiny Marine City (Take I-94 to 26 Mile Rd. Turn right. Stay on 26 Mile Rd. until it ends. Turn right.), Marine City Fish Company does what any riverside seafood restaurant should do: really fantastic fresh local fish. They also have a smoker in-house in which they smoke their own ribs, salmon and beef jerky (you can also buy the smoked salmon and jerky to take home). Homemade breads, soups (like the Company Chowder) and hand-breaded all-you-can-eat perch are just a few of the many things that make this place truly a hidden gem. So much so it was worth busting out the "hidden gem" meme. (*Note: Okay, so this is the one exception. The restaurant isn't situated quite exactly ON the river but across the street from it ... still, it was worth including here for the food alone and you can always go walk along the river after your meal.)

#5 River Crab (St. Clair)
It's one of those old fuddy-duddy Joe Muer joints with an old fuddy-duddy seafood and steak menu that more or less echoes the new Joe Muer downtown just without all of the buzz and newfangled fancy decor, but the sprawling riverside patio is phenom and so is the salmon pate.

Bubbling under Sinbad's Restaurant (Detroit), Bobby Mac's Bayside Tavern and Grill (Ira), Captain's Landing (Mt. Clemens), Portofino Restaurant (Wyandotte), Beach Grill (St. Clair Shores), the Quay Street Brewing Co. and Restaurant (Port Huron), Mike's on the Water (St. Clair Shores), Brownies on the Lake (St. Clair Shores), McRae's Big River Grille (Algonac)

 It's a Matter of Taste on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Week We Ate (The EID Week in Review)

Honi Honi. Photo from Curbed Detroit.

...which is to say nothing of the magic leprechaun juju of Ferndale, where a rainbow always shines. Imperial is open and everyone lurrrrrrrvs it. [Freep]

...which is to say nothing of how much MORE everyone lurrrrrrrrrvs Vinsetta Garage. Since the minute they opened they've been on a 90+ minute wait list - it's the new Slows! (In that people-are-willing-to-wait-a-ridiculous-amount-of-time-for-a-damn-burger sort of way. But apparently a "really fucking good" burger.) [Real Detroit Weekly]

It's tiki time! Honi Honi - the Oakland's new outdoor tiki bar - opens, and it makes us feel so good ... so fine ... and we feel all right saying yeah, yeah! yeah, yeah! yeah, yeah! [Thrillist Detroit; Curbed Detroit]

...and to ring it in good and proper, Eat It Detroit celebrated our first birthday there! And because there seems to be a little bit of confusion here, IT'S CAKE. WHAT IS SMEARED ALL OVER THE BABY IN THE PHOTO IS FROSTING AND CAKE. [EID FB]

If a steakhouse opens in Birmingham and no one is around to see it, does it make a sound? After more than a three-year delay, Hyde Park Prime opens and no one cares. [D Business]

Great Lakes Coffee's new Midtown coffee shop and wine bar let Curbed in for a sneak peek and it is grrrrrrrrrrr-eat! Reclaimed wood! Natural light! Exposed brick! Massive patio! Basically it's every coffee shop in California, except for that DETROIT!!! (And also California coffee shops lack the real estate to pull of that kind of patio. DETROIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) [Curbed Detroit]

Jolly Pumpkin's extremely limited De Viento is tapped around town, but don't get too excited because it's gross. But, hey, charity and whatnot. You win some, you lose some. [EID FB]

MLive names "Michigan's Best BBQ." Predictably, there is disagreement. Perhaps somewhat unpredictably depending on who you ask, it isn't Slows. [MLive]

Ferndale is getting a frozen yogurt shop with a super-adorb name. Easy Like Sundae is taking the "support Michigan, buy our product" angle, which the natives will surely eat up. [EID FB]