Thursday, December 26, 2013


Whole Foods Midtown. Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.
Wow, 2013. This was quite the year as far as years go, amiright? While last year's "BEST YEAR EVER" recap was relatively easy to put together - everything that happened rather thoughtfully happened in easily-identifiable themes - this year was kind of schizoid. The echo chamber got even more echoey. There was more news with more people covering it, making it even more difficult to keep track of everything as it all started to sound like so much white noise.

In the end though, trends that have been developing for years now continued to grow and evolve. New places opened and old places closed, while others still rebranded. Some things got everyone talking, though what they said often came across as hive mind shoutiness. While some people will debate what the best new restaurants were, to me the interesting question to ask is, what were the biggest things that happened in food this year? Here's my answer.

#1 Whole Foods opened.
Fucking deal with it. This was huge. This was huge for so many reasons. And this validated the "Detroit Renaissance" narrative in so many ways. This of course didn't stop people from whining about it and whining about how people were praising it and whining about people who were whining about praising it because that's just what you people do, but the fact that a grocery store opening incited so much "dialogue" and took over the Internet for interminable weeks (…months, YEARS) is all the proof I need that this was hands-down the biggest story of the year.

#2 Eastern Market got one bajillion dollars for its much-touted Shed 5 renovation.
I'm pretty sure it's going to be a 5-star luxury all-inclusive resort now? Or something? So the Shed 5 renovation has been in the works for some years and there has been a steady stream of foundation money flowing in to fund this or that part of it. Suffice it to say, by the time it's done it is going to be A.MAHZ.ING. Among its many features will be a pimp-ass community commercial kitchen, a 200-seat patio, an 18-hole golf course*, I can't even keep track of it all.

#3 Eastern Market is just fucking awesome.
The end. I mean, just, the fucking end. I keep nutting over this because here's the thing you may or may not realize: for all the buzz that Midtown and Corktown get, Eastern Market is the one district in Detroit that has the potential to be Detroit's definitive tourism draw, a singularly unique experience that travelers cannot easily replicate elsewhere, a place that is entirely walkable with a host of options for dining, drinking, shopping, exploring. High profile/much-buzzed-about restaurants, local artisan shops, local food vendors, scores of hand-made and ethnic items from soaps to spices, art galleries and artists studios (dozens! or at least a single dozen which is still a lot!), makerspaces, old-timey letterpress studios (TWO of them!), easy access to the Dequindre Cut greenway which will be further expanding and connecting to other city greenways, and and and SHED 5!!!! and so much more. Midtown is great, the DIA is pretty, it is completely feasible to walk from, say, Rodin to the Bronx in the middle of the night in the middle of winter (/sarcasm), Corktown is nice with its 12 bars along a mile-long stretch of Michigan Avenue and all the barren lots in between, yepyepyep all great. But Eastern Market is where its at. Next year Detroit City Distillery, Dave Mancini's Supino extension, and the restaurant currently known as Frontera all open, which will just further underscore this point.

The Stand. Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

#4 A bunch of new places opened.
Here is a not-all-all-comprehensive but still meatier than most list of new places that opened in 2013 smattered all throughout greater metro Detroit. If I didn't include something, it is for no particular reason other than it didn't pop into my head. I'm not saying these are the "best" of 2013 because I just don't think that kind of designation is relevant in this market, for reasons.

51 North - a brewery/meadery/winery in Lake Orion
Aventura - a massive wine bar/tapas restaurant/lounge complex in A2 owned by the proprietor of Sava
Bagger Dave's - the one in Greektown, listed here because it's in Detroit and everything in Detroit is relevant
Beignets - food truck based in Hamtramck
Bigalora Ann Arbor - the third location of the casual Italian restaurant and pizzeria formerly known as Pizzeria Biga
Bistro Joe's - a fancy restaurant in the upper mezzanine of a grocery store in Birmingham, which works better than you might think
Brizola - fancy restaurant inside Greektown Casino
Buffalo Wild Wings - the one in Greektown, listed here because it's in Detroit and everything in Detroit is relevant
Cafe ML - Bill Roberts' latest in a Bloomfield
Carnaval Mexican - a casual take-out Mexican place, listed here because it's in Detroit and everything in Detroit is relevant
CAYA Smokehouse - upscale BBQ in Wolverine Lake
The Cheesecake Factory - listed only because it was apparently such a big deal (a line around the BLOCK, people - and it's 12 Oaks Mall so it's a big damn block)
Chelsea Alehouse - brewery in Chelsea, where Michigan's first-ever (now defunct) microbrewery opened in the '80s
Craft Work - newly opened in Detroit's West Village since I first put this post together, this is the latest from Hugh Yaro, co-owner of Ronin and Commonwealth
Detroit Institute of Bagels - Detroit's only bagel shop
Detroit Vegan Soul - Detroit's only vegan restaurant
Falling Down Beer Co. - brewpub in Warren known for elevated gastropub fare
Fenton Fire Hall - a historic renovation project in downtown Fenton from the folks that brought you Vinsetta Garage and Union Woodshop
Firebird Tavern - beautifully renovated space in Greektown from the owners of Pulse known for a craft beer and solid bar food
Grace of India - one of Detroit's only Indian places, a casual take-out place listed here because it's in Detroit and everything in Detroit is relevant
Great Lakes Culinary Center - not really a restaurant but a big, beautiful events space, rentable commercial kitchen, and demonstration center in Southfield
Griffin Claw - new brewery and distillery in Birmingham from the folks at Big Rock
The Grindhouse - Corridor Sausage Co's food truck
Huerto - upscale Mexican in a Bloomfield
Isalita - upscale Mexican in A2
Jefferson House - ambitious contemporary American menu inside the Crowne Plaza Detroit
La Feria - Spanish tapas in design-forward space in Midtown
La Palma - a fast and casual Lebanese take-out and dine-in place in Midtown listed here because it's in Detroit and everything in Detroit is relevant
Luxe - second location in a Pointe
Macabee's - generic American menu, listed here because it's in Detroit and everything in Detroit is relevant
Marais - upscale French cuisine in a Pointe
Market North End - I'm actually not even sure. Birmingham I think?
Meeting House - contemporary American in Rochester
Melt - gelato, coffee and candy in Midtown, listed here because it's in Detroit and everything in Detroit is relevant
MEX - upscale Mexican in a Bloomfield
Midtown Grille - generic American menu, listed here because it's in Detroit and everything in Detroit is relevant
Monk Beer Bar - the Belgianier little brother of Belgish Bastone in downtown Royal Oak, located in the space that was previously Cafe Habana
Moo Cluck Moo - burger and milkshake joint that made headlines for un-fast-food ingredients and paying employees $15/hour in Dearborn Heights; second location also opened in Canton
Old German - in the basement of the Grizz in A2
Ottava Via - contemporary Italian restaurant and pizzeria in Corktown from the Mercury Burger Bar people
Patagonia Parilladas - an Argentine steakhouse in Southwest
Public House - sliders, milkshakes, fried foods and cocktails in Ferndale from the people behind Imperial
Red Crown - historic renovation, craft cocktails, house-smoked BBQ and upscale Southern food in a Pointe
Republica - a surprisingly fun little spot in Berkley with emphasis on Michigan craft beer
(revolver) - a pop-up that stays popped up in Hamtramck
Rock City Eatery - Eastern European meets American cuisine with contemporary spin in a rocked-out space in Hamtramck
Schramm's Mead - a lovely tasting room with excellent small plates in Ferndale
SkyBar and Lounge - the menu and drink list fail to impress, but the 33rd-floor view of downtown Detroit does not
Smoke Street - BBQ in downtown Milford in the old Five Lakes Grill/Cinco Lagos space
The Stand - Chef Paul Grosz's latest in Birmingham (and it's phenomenal)
Trattoria Pizzeria Da Luigi - possibly just called "Da Luigi" now, this is Italian food and wood-fired pizza in downtown Royal Oak from the former owner of Sangria
Thomas Magee's Sporting House and Whiskey Bar - handsome new bar in EASTERN MARKET
Two James Spirits  - gorgeous tasting room in Corktown
Vellum - a (not sure what to say here) restaurant in Ann Arbor

#5 EVERYONE came here, again.
Only this time the locals weren't quite so tickled with it. (It was only a matter of time.) Eddie Huang set a new bar of Detroit-backlash-baiting by first Saying All the Right Things then pissing on a lamp post in the middle of a street. And then there was that whole Bourdain thing.

#6 More shit to open next year.
OHMYGOD IT'S LIKE IT JUST WON'T STOP!!!!!! On deck for next year: Dave Mancini's new place next to Supino, Andy Hollyday's new place in Midtown called Selden Street, Top of the Pontch inside the Crowne Plaza, two new Bucharest Grills (one is a production spot), a second Russell Street Deli (it's called something else, idk), Detroit City Distillery in Eastern Market, the restaurant currently known as Frontera (it will be called something else by the time it opens), a permanent space for Guns + Butter (but oh, will the magic still be there if it's no longer limited and exclusive?), Craft Work in West Village (kind of sort of open already but not really?), another new spot in Ferndale from the folks at Imperial, that BBQ place on 9 Mile that's supposed to be opening in the old AJ's space, Whiskey Disco and something else new at the old Oslo, Kuhnhenn's second location and major production space, Atwater Brewery's new brewpub in a Pointe as well as their MASSIVE NEW PRODUCTION SPACE IN CORKTOWN ACROSS FROM MUDGIE'S which they've been very cagey about announcing and still no one from the Atwater camp has gone on the record about it, Maurice Williams' new spots The Addison and Restaurant 55, Atlas Global Bistro maybe possibly reopening downtown, Alley Wine in Midtown, that douchey-sounding new place in Royal Oak replacing Sangria (but the chef is awesome!), Michael Symon's B Spot Burgers (several locations in the works), Batch Brewing in Corktown, Rubbed in Corktown, Gold Cash Gold in Corktown (not only is this actually still happening, but I'm told they also have a chef), a Chez Chloe food truck, those two restaurants on the ground floor of the Broderick ("Still happening," I'm told), those two restaurants inside the GAR building ("Still happening," is rumored), Cafe con Leche's second location in New Center, and I'm sure many more I missed.

Cultural Living Room. Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

#7 Re-boots continued to be hot. 
They were hot in 2011. Hotter still in 2012. And in 2013 they were…well, probably equally as hot as in 2012, but still pretty hot.

Bella Piatti - Bella Piatti in Birmingham got a new owner and a whole new old world Italian menu to go with it.
Bigalora - Pizzeria Biga had to re-name itself Bigalora in order to go forward with trademarking so they can continue opening more and more locations, but worry not, this didn't affect the restaurants at all (aside from some expected menu tweaking that comes with streamlining a new concept).
Cultural Living Room - The Kresge Court inside the DIA got a whole new look and concept, making it a great place to stop for lunch, for meetings, for reading, or whatever.
Craft - Cinq became Commune and Commune became Craft, but it's still in the basement of Bastone, now with a retro '70s look.
Lock + Key - the PDR at Oxford Inn got a new look and concept thanks to a TV show that does such things.
Forest Grill - Forest Grill is going after the "casual dining" dollars by ditching the white tablecloths and introducing a burger menu.
Red Crown - Red Crown in Grosse Pointe Park is now under new ownership and management, making it effectively a new restaurant.
Rodin - Rodin recently lost their opening chef and is undergoing a slight change in concept; the new menu is thematically similar but with all new items less geared towards sit-down fine dining and more geared towards chilling at the bar.
Tallulah - Tallulah in Birmingham is now under new ownership and management, making it effectively a new restaurant. For those of you keeping score, yes, it would appear former proprietor of Bella Piatti, Red Crown, and Tallulah Mindy Lopus has entirely left the restaurant biz, but not the food and beverage biz - her next project is Detroit Wine School.
Torino - Looks like Torino's ongoing identity crisis finally paid off with a new chef and a very buzzy tasting menu that changes weekly.
Treat Dreams - Treat Dreams in Ferndale significantly expanded their space this year, and have also expanded their offerings to include coffee and donuts in the morning - and their Wicked Donuts are already being met with rave reviews.

PS, will Opus One ever reopen? I do not know but it has now been closed for over a year now.

#8 Pop-ups popped harder.
Last year I said pop-ups would eat themselves. They didn't. Instead, they popped harder.
Guns + Butter emerged as the real star, getting featured on That Bourdain Show and then going international with events in L.A., Singapore and Dubai. A brick and mortar location is in the works for 2014. (revolver) is basically a permanent restaurant pop-up, featuring new chefs every weekend with pre-sold prix fixe dinners with two seating times nightly. MotorCity Wine and St. Cece's Pub embraced the pop-up mania and started hosting popular weekly events featuring different guest "pop-ups," in effect acting as restaurant incubators. And unlikely spaces like Shinola and Salt + Cedar hosted pop-up dinners, as well as random arts spaces and not-yet-open restaurants. More economic growth corp-organized pop-ups in Jefferson Chalmers and the Avenue of Fashion demonstrated the model's potential for long-term economic development in targeted neighborhoods. We also saw a few pop-ups go permanent, including Always Brewing Detroit and Coffee and (_____) (though Coffee and (_____) will temporarily close Jan. 6 until sometime this spring as they secure their Certificate of Occupancy to go full-fledged permanent).

La Feria. Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

#9 Hatch alum rocked this year.
Rock City Eatery, Detroit Institute of Bagels, Detroit Vegan Soul, La Feria, and Anthology Coffee all opened permanent locations this year. Next year we should see HenriettaHaus Coffee Roasters and Batch Brewing open in their permanent homes. Which just goes to show, everyone "wins" in this competition, even if it's not the $50,000 grand prize.

#10 Caffeine fiends won the most. 
Good or at least serviceable, there are more places to get a decent cup of coffee now than ever before in Detroit. There's Anthology Coffee and Detroit Institute of Bagels in Corktown, Always Brewing Detroit in Grandmont Rosedale, Coffee and (____) in Jefferson Chalmers, the Roasting Plant and Urban Bean Company downtown, the completely renovated Stella Good Coffee in New Center, multiple new Great Lakes Coffee outlets throughout metro Detroit (including, most recently, Ford Field), plus a second retail location for Avalon still in theory happening (next year?). Also, tea started to strike your fancy, with local tea companies Joseph Wesley and Eli Tea Company available at some of these independent cafes and generally gaining "steam." (lol)

Rock City Eatery. Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

#11 Good food, good design.
For the third year in a row, your eyeballs didn't have to suffer for the sake of your tastebuds. Restaurateurs continued to show a strong cognizance of the importance of aesthetics, with thoughtfully-designed spaces that continued to emphasize reclaimed materials and flourishes from local artisans. Check out Fenton Fire Hall, La Feria, MEX, Ottava Via, Public House, Red Crown, Rock City Eatery, The Stand, Stella Good Coffee, Two James Spirits, and Urban Bean Co. Even pop-ups showed a high-minded level of design, working in collaboration with the AIA Detroit on beautiful, if temporary, spaces.
Two James Distillery. Photo by Nicole Rupersburg.

#12 Booze. Always booze. 
This was a BIG year for booze news. Craft beer continued its soaring growth and in metro Detroit we saw plenty of new places open, including Griffin Claw, Falling Down, and 51 North, with Batch Brewing, a second location for Kuhnhenn, and second and third locations for Atwater in the works for 2014. Artisan spirits made a flying leap into popular consciousness as increasingly more breweries started distilling, established distillers like Valentine and New Holland increased their product lines with nationally-recognized products, and the first licensed distillery in the city of Detroit since Prohibition - Two James - opened. Next year Griffin Claw will be in full-bore distilling mode with a separate cocktail bar attached to the brewery, and Detroit City Distillery will open in Eastern Market.

Craft ciders also grew, though they haven't quite yet popped in the mainstream the same way beer and spirits have. Many area cider mills are now making their own hard ciders, and Virtue Cider's Sidra de Nava is bringing national attention to Michigan's craft cider scene.

Use of cans continues to grow as a popular packaging method, and next year even giants like Bell's and Founders are jumping on. Griffin Claw, Right Brain, and Rochester Mills also released their products to the retail market this year, and they're only available in cans. Even Vander Mill ciders are distributed in cans. Because replacing bottling lines and creating packaging systems can be prohibitively expensive, a lot of this canning growth can be attributed to Michigan Mobile Canning, which has helped a lot of these products get to the retail market.

And then there was mead. I wrote a LOT about mead this year (the collected knowledge dump is here), and from all of this I can tell you one thing with certainty: meads are going to explode in coming years, and Michigan, specifically metro Detroit, more specifically Ferndale, will be at the heart of it. Merds from all over the world will flock here to visit the birthplace of B. Nektar and Schramm's. To briefly sum up, B. Nektar is now available in about half of the states in the country and has a brand-new brewing license to continue to expand their product offerings. Schramm's Mead is now open, making one of the top meads in the country from the guy who wrote the book on it. Once Kuhnhenn's production facility in Clinton Township is up and running they're going to be pumping out mead in crazy quantities. And you really might as well learn to be down with the meadness because it's not going away.

Also in news, Greenbush, Odd Side Ales, Right Brain, Rochester Mills, and Griffin Claw all started distributing this year. And new to the Michigan market was Oskar Blues, the Bruery, Green Flash, and Evil Twin.

Coors Light Sky Deck.
#13 And some other crap.
Grocery stores got fancier and will likely continue to do so. Rooftop patios became a thing - see the Coors Light Sky Deck and the stop/start of whatever it was called on the roof of the Music Hall. Urban beach bars also became a thing thanks to Danny Gillyberts and his Quirky Quicken Kaskading Kiddie Pool and Beach Bar. In general, patios just got better. Sports picked up the "local" mantle, with Comerica Park, Ford Field, the Joe Louis Arena, and the Palace all putting newfound emphasis on local foods and local craft beer (though Ford Field does it best). And while we certainly saw a bit of a slow-down in street food (our net gain of food trucks this year was, like, two), metro Detroiters spoke loud and clear that they want to keep the street in their street food when the ill-conceived Food Truck Cafe closed after just two months in business. (A sub shop is set to open in its place.)

*I'm kidding about that. Or am I????