I've been rooting for Detroit for years now, and I’m not talking about the Tigers. The city, known to many as being a desolate and depressed city rocked by the Great Recession, has experienced a renaissance over the past few years, with plenty of revitalized neighborhoods and start-up businesses taking root in the Motor City. With new businesses and people flooding the area, a vast selection of new and innovative restaurants make Detroit's culinary scene more than worth the visit. Check out some of our favorite dining destinations to include in your next visit to the D.
WRIGHT & COMPANY
Located on the second floor of the historic Wright-Kay building in downtown Detroit, Wright & Company delights diners with its pressed tin ceilings, stunning décor, and large picture windows overlooking a bustling Woodward Avenue. The restaurant offers diners two options: snacks (smaller starters that can be seasonal) or plates (perfect for sharing). The fresh potato chips, complete with white cheddar, bacon, scallions, and tomato relish; pork belly sliders served with a delectable tomato jam, arugula; and sriracha aioli served on a toasted brioche bun are starters worth ordering. Popular sharable plates include tuna tartare, served with spicy mayo, wontons, sweet soy and pickled pear; Parisian gnocchi with prosciutto, arugula and parmesan cheese; and the beef tenderloin complete with onion soubise, cremini mushrooms, asparagus and red wine reduction.
Diners at Republic Tavern, found in the historic G.A.R. building downtown, will revel in dishes made from the freshest ingredients from local farmers while soaking up a modern take on an old-world tavern experience. The menu changes frequently, but expect homemade charcuterie and cheeses, breads, and a variety of rotating small plates. While the chef’s tasting menu is an incredible culinary journey at $50 per person, some popular plates include smoked pheasant pot pie with cranberry jam; crispy celery root with smoked tomato sauce and gruyere; and braised venison agnolotti with white root cream, braised rapini, fried Brussels’ sprouts and pine nuts. There are also an excellent selection of vegetarian dishes.
About 15 minutes north of downtown Detroit, the town of Ferndale has become a hub of independent restaurants and shops. One of the founding restaurants of Ferndale’s rebirth was Assaggi Bistro, which opened in May of 2000. The storefront restaurant complete with a perfectly tended garden and seasonal patio features an innovative menu that mixes and matches such Mediterranean styles as French, Spanish, Greek, and Lebanese. Be sure to start with the grilled eggplant, dusted in roasted red peppers, goat cheese, mozzarella, pesto, and topped with a balsamic reduction. The flatbread pizzas feature a perfect crust, whether you go with the traditional Margherita, the Bianca (caramelized onions, ricotta, fontina and parmesan) or the Pear (caramelized onion, cambozola pears and arugula). Locals suggest trying the rigatoni Bolognese or housemade gnocchi with wild mushrooms, truffle oil and cream sauce. Another menu highlight is the twice-cooked Moroccan duck legs served with couscous, pistachios and dried fruits drizzled with pomegranate barbeque sauce.
COMPARI’S ON THE PARK
Half an hour west of Detroit in the quaint but bustling town of Plymouth, you’ll find Compari’s on the Park—a locally owned Italian restaurant with a streetside patio overlooking the town square. The menu focuses on well-prepared Italian specialties, such as lasagna, risotto, and pizza, but there are plenty of options worth trying. Start with the fagioli Calabrese, a spicy dish of butter beans sautéed with tubetti pasta, spinach, fennel, Italian sausage, banana peppers, roasted red peppers, olive oil, and garlic. Locals will be quick to tell you the lobster-and-cheese-stuffed ravioli (served in a blush sauce), the campelli amore (angel hair pasta tossed in garlic, olive oil, artichoke, pine nuts, diced tomato, and basil) and the pasta compari (penne pasta tossed with Italian sausage, peppers, sweet onion, and meat sauce) are some of their favorites. They’ll probably tell you to add baked cheese to any pasta you try, too.
LADY OF THE HOUSE
Located in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, this restaurant is an Instagrammer’s paradise. The rustic stone fireplace and bright white woodwork make the dining room feel like a traditional European pub. The use of ingredients from local urban farms and chef-owner Kate Williams’ whole-animal utilization techniques make dining here more than memorable. Exceptional staff will help guide you through the impressive menu. Start with the thickly sliced housemade bread served with apple butter or the rotating charcuterie. With plates large enough to be shared, you can try several, including prime rib served with cauliflower, horseradish, pea shoots and au jus; carrot steak with hollandaise and pistachio; and carrot tartare with challah, apple, and mustard.
THE APPARATUS ROOM
Located on the first floor of a historic building that once served as the Detroit Fire Fighter’s Headquarters (now the Detroit Foundation Hotel), this stunning eatery blends classic and modern décor with beautifully presented dishes, resulting in a mesmerizing dining experience. Breakfast and lunch are more casual, but dinner is a first-class experience. The menu changes seasonally, but diners can always expect fresh seafood and locally sourced poultry and beef. Adventurous diners may opt to try Chef Thomas Lent’s “Chef’s Choice”—an option that combines menu ingredients into a unique multi-course meal. Try the crispy fried cauliflower with Korean hot sauce, lime cream and grape.
Those looking for traditional pies like apple or cherry may be disappointed by this spot, but those with a sweet tooth will find sweet treats with unique flavor combinations that explain why this West Village bakery is so popular. The signature pie is salted maple, served in a rustic, handmade pie crust filled with Grade B maple syrup and flaky Maldon sea salt. While other pies on the menu change monthly, there are plenty of other desserts to pick from, including buckwheat chocolate chip cookies and a variety of shortbreads and scones. Be sure to arrive early—this place is packed most of the time. In case you can’t get in, owner and chef Lisa Ludwinski shares many of her unique pie recipes in her book Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit so you can make them at home.