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Why isn't Detroit a Restaurant City?


san
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Since san had cross-pollinated this discussion by asking a similar question -- "How die Philadelphia become a great restaurant city?" -- on the Pennsylvania board, and at least one other Philadelphian replied, I feel perfectly justified in replying here myself.

Especially since one anonymous Philadelphia university professor described our mutual and san's current home as "Bos-troit" in a Pew Charitable Trusts report (explanation and link to the report available in the Philly thread san started).

Though I've been away for about a year (in Philadelphia), I have lived in metro  detroit for most of my life and being in Philly has opened up my eyes a bit regarding the way a real restaurant city should be.  Obviously the economy is always a factor when it comes to Detroit recently, but I am troubled by the overall lack of great restaurants in the metro area.  Royal Oak, with all of its new lofts and development, really has hardly improved on its dining scene which has been comprised of places for sustinence either before or after the bar.

In the thread melkor started in Food Traditions & Culture that is related to both of the threads you started, I opined that core cities and their surrounding regions are closely intertwined in ways the suburbanites may not appreciate. (In fact, a Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia economist managed to quantify this interrelationship in a research paper titled "Do Suburbs Need Cities?")

For all you might bristle at melkor's characterization of houses in Detroit selling for less than the average car, his comment does touch on a central point, and it is this: The restaurants that you find in those "great restaurant cities" that give them that reputation are not the ones that serve everyday fare that the average working stiff can afford to eat on a regular basis. They may be restaurants that the average fairly well off stiff can afford to eat at often, as the bulk of the restaurants in both New York and Philadelphia are, but they most definitely do not come from the working-class food traditions that you have even identified as giving Detroit a worthy food pedigree. Trust me, if all Philly had to offer was cheesesteaks, hoagies and 9th Street, nobody would be calling it a "great food city" either, even though all of the foregoing are great foods or great food places.

(And I should note here that many well-off Detroiters came from the blue-collar aristocracy, not the educated meritocracy that you find in most of those great restaurant cities. Philly shares with Detroit an industrial heritage -- for most of the 20th century, the city's nickname was "The Workshop of the World," an homage to its highly diversified industrial base -- and that's one reason you find the two cities compared often.)

Here in philly there is a genuine excitement within both the public, the media, and the industry when a new restaurant opens, even if it is a 30 seat byob in a remote area of the city.  Industry members seem to all know each other, get along well, and dine at (and recommend) each others restaurants.  I can name any restaurant in the city with a $20+ p/p check average and 90% of Philidelphians I talk to will give me a 10 minute review.  In Detroit, many people have never heard of Tappewingo, The Lark, Tribute, Etc..... There is no unified opinion of a  best restaurant in Detroit.  The lark and tribute are definitely great restaurants, but they get little or no national attention.  Magazines like Food & Wine mention Philadelphia restaurants in every issue.  Is the lack of excitement in the Detroit dining scene due to the economy?  The lack of interest from Detroiters?  Is the lack of interest due to the lack of quality?  Am I off-base and being over-critical of a city with hundreds of great restaurants?

(emphasis added)

I take it that those Detroit restaurants are in a similar price range with those Philly restaurants?

I boldfaced the passage above because it points to an essential component of Philadelphia's character, namely, that it is a small town (or 150 or so of them) masquerading as a big city. It's not just the restaurant and foodie community: in every identifiable community in Philadelphia, everyone seems to know everyone else. Perhaps if Detroiters were more like this, the restaurant scene -- and the rest of the city -- would be stronger.

At one time, much of Philadelphia's downtown area was a waste land.

In fact, Philadelphia underwent a near miraculous transformation wherein Socuiety Hill seemed to emerge from the rubble almost over night.

That was planned, starting around 1961. Edmund Bacon (Kevin's dad -- only one degree of separation there) earned his reputation as the leading city planner in America largely on his then-unorthodox approach to urban renewal in Society Hill, which was NOT to bulldoze it, but to restore the existing buildings and add new ones in between them.

Detroit is just beginning to recover from decades of decline. Most people with any income lived in the suburbs and apart from some places like the London Chop House there was little in the way of fine dining in the downtown area.

Most of the good restaurants where in the suburbs where the money was.

It takes time but my most recent visits to Detroit indicate things are beginning to turn around. Will it become as vibrant a food townn as Philly? Maybe, maybe not.

It is getting better though.

Such evidence as is posted on The DetroitYES Project (nee The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit) backs up your optimism, but Detroit has fallen much farther and has a longer climb back to urban health.

I suppose that there are those who would call me common for saying so, but I still have to factor cost into the equation of where I'll go, and where I won't.  Emily's just never quite made me want to commit to it, and I don't really regret not going.

Thank you for inadvertently backing up my point -- and my class analysis.

If there was an "el" system that went from the Detroit river to Pontiac via Woodward, that would cover most of the popular areas of downtown, the new center area, ferndale, royal oak, birmingham, and pontiac.  Not only could more people visit the restaurants in these cities, but they could have more than one or two drinks!!!!  How different would the dining landscape of metro Detroit become if you could visit Northern Lakes Seafood for oysters, stop at Vinotecca for a glass of wine/tapas, then dinner at Seldom Blues, and a crepes for dessert at Josephine's in Ferndale?

That downtown people mover was supposed to have been connected to a subway under Woodward Avenue. In the 1940s, as plans for the Detroit freeway network were being drawn up, there were also plans for rapid transit lines in their medians, like in Chicago. Neither came to pass. Detroit blew its opportunity for comprehensive rapid transit worse than Philly did (I'll refer you to a bunch of posts in the "Getting Around Philly" section of Phillyblog for more detail on the latter).

I really don't buy the economy excuse, because while it is bleak at best, restaurants are still popping up all the time. I agree that Philly 20 years ago was worse than Detroit is now, and now it is one of the best restaurant cities in the country.  Perhaps the metro area is just too big, causing the restaurant pool to be spread thin.  I never visited Emily's, Jeremy, or Five Lakes Grill because I never got around to it, and every time it came up I couldn't accept that  if I were going to drive that far I wouldn't be able to drink.  Public transportation (for me) would definitely make me visit more restaurants, more often, and has since moving to Philadelphia.

There are limits to my class argument, for Philly is as much a blue-collar town as Detroit is (actually, I believe a higher proportion of Detroiters hold college degrees than do Philadelphians, despite the presence of Penn, Temple, La Salle, Drexel and St. Joseph's universities within the city limits, and many more highly regarded colleges and universities nearby). Maybe the difference has something to do with the presence of a great agricultural region in the general area: Lancaster County is right next door to Greater Philadelphia, and New Jersey's farm zone lies adjacent to the east; is there anything like these near Detroit?

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Over on the related Philly discussion begun by the OP, one of our folks raised the following point:

But, to my mind, that doesn't make Detroit any less of a dining city (residential city is another matter, I think), potential-wise.  We have no Greektown in Philly.  We also have no innate hot dog culture (Lafayette, American, and others way rock and are tastier in their genre than  Pat's, Geno's et al).  Sliders are now served in Philly almost as an homage, rather than as the awesome grab-n-go fare that Detroit makes in unsurpassable fashion (I'm visiting a few burger joints next weekend, e.g., Miller's [thanks Detroit eGers for some great posts on this item], as I travel north to Alpena).  There's Lebanese and Polish fare.  And the country's best charcuterist in Brian Polcyn at Five Lakes. (Philly, of course, has lots that Detroit doesn't have, but that's not relevant here.)

Speaking of burgers in Detroit, anyone know what happened to Magus? He posted extensively about his ad hoc grill on Michigan game days and his efforts to set up a permanent stand here on eG; here's the discussion, in Restaurant Life. We haven't heard boo from him in months.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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As someone with little specific knowledge about Detroit (but a lot about many other Midwestern cities), I think a lot of the factors mentioned thus far reinforce each other. For example:

- Tourism and convention business can be huge factors in the restaurant industry. Such out-of-town visitors aren't eating at home (obviously) and substantial numbers seek out the highest quality and/or most unusual, unique restaurants when visiting.

- Tourism tends to be concentrated in central cities (rather than the suburbs), and convention centers are often located there as well. The higher quality restaurants often locate in the cities because of this market. (There are exceptions, of course. In fact, many years ago, Jean Banchet intentionally opened Le Francais, at the time considered by many to be the best restaurant in the United States, 45 minutes from downtown Chicago to avoid serving the casual, non-foodie convention trade.)

- A proliferation of quality restaurants in a given neighborhood is a big attraction for local area residents deciding where to live, and even more so for those with the highest interest in eating out, who tend to be more affluent, as well. Fine restaurants attract housing renewal/gentrification, and housing renewal/gentrification attracts restaurants.

- Affluence, housing renewal/gentrification and restaurants also attract tourism. Visitors enjoy spending time in trendy neighborhoods with boutiques and outdoor cafes.

Some of these factors are present or absent on a historical basis (e.g. Philadelphia's revolutionary historical sites as tourist attractions). Some cities have built attractions that have generated tourism (the St. Louis Arch, Chicago's new Millennium Park). Convention business is trickier; every city wants more convention business, and most have built and expanded convention centers, but that business is very competitive and it's hard to expand it unless you have an attractive city and area (nice weather in winter helps, but it's not something a city can do anything about).

If you have a city with a general level of affluence, lots of convention business and tourists, and trendy neighborhoods, all of those factors reinforce each other. They result in (and are reinforced by) the presence of a bustling restaurant community. In the absence of all of those factors, it's very tough on the development of a thriving local restaurant industry.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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There are a number of affluent communities in the Cultural Center\WSU area. I speak of the gentrified section of Canfield and the Park Shelton Apartments( I mention the Park Shelton because -in my opinion- it is so huge that it qualifies as a community. Also, this area is the Cultural Center, there are many museums in close walking-distance, not the least of which is the Detroit Institute of Art, a world-class facility on a par with the Metropolitan in NYC and the Art Institute of Chicago(yes, I have been to both :biggrin: ).My point is that monied individuals do spend a lot of time in this area. That's why it can support resturants like The Whitney and (my fave, Traffic Jam & Snug)

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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I have lived in and around Detroit for most of my forty years. On three different occasions I have lived outside of Michigan for limited periods. Those of us who live here know the great things that the city has to offer. Great museums, amazing theater (second most active professional theater community in the US after NY), excellent local music scene and more. Unfortunately, what the area lacks is a positive image in the national media.

Outside of the area, you seldom see a news story about Detroit unless it is about five children dying in a fire because their mother dropped the crack pipe on the carpet or random drive-by shootings.

Until we can change the national image of the City of Detroit, we won't be able to attract the larger convention business and certainly not recreational tourism and the ability to grow into a great restaurant city that goes with it. It doesn't matter how many great things there are to see and do here until we can show the rest of the country that this isn't "The Great Urban Wasteland".

Tobin

It is all about respect; for the ingredient, for the process, for each other, for the profession.

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I have lived in and around Detroit for most of my forty years.  On three different occasions I have lived outside of Michigan for limited periods.  Those of us who live here know the great things that the city has to offer.  Great museums, amazing theater (second most active professional theater community in the US after NY),  excellent local music scene and more.  Unfortunately,  what the area lacks is a positive image in the national media. 

Outside of the area,  you seldom see a news story about Detroit unless it is about five children dying in a fire because their mother dropped the crack pipe on the carpet or random drive-by shootings.

Until we can change the national image of the City of Detroit,  we won't be able to attract the larger convention business and certainly not recreational tourism and the ability to grow into a great restaurant city that goes with it.  It doesn't matter how many great things there are to see and do here until we can show the rest of the country that this isn't "The Great Urban Wasteland".

I agree 500000000000000000000% :laugh: But, now the question becomes: How do we go about changing the situation you have discribed so well?

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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I would also like to point out that three of the four hottest topics on the Heartland site are related to Detroit :cool:

Edited by Naftal (log)

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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I have lived in and around Detroit for most of my forty years.  On three different occasions I have lived outside of Michigan for limited periods.  Those of us who live here know the great things that the city has to offer.  Great museums, amazing theater (second most active professional theater community in the US after NY),  excellent local music scene and more.  Unfortunately,  what the area lacks is a positive image in the national media. 

Outside of the area,  you seldom see a news story about Detroit unless it is about five children dying in a fire because their mother dropped the crack pipe on the carpet or random drive-by shootings.

Until we can change the national image of the City of Detroit,  we won't be able to attract the larger convention business and certainly not recreational tourism and the ability to grow into a great restaurant city that goes with it.  It doesn't matter how many great things there are to see and do here until we can show the rest of the country that this isn't "The Great Urban Wasteland".

I agree 500000000000000000000% :laugh: But, now the question becomes: How do we go about changing the situation you have discribed so well?

I think that the first thing that needs to happen is a clean-up of city hall followed by a wholesale effort to clean up the neighborhoods. When the Superbowl was here, a great deal of effort went into cleaning the areas visible to the expressways leading to the stadium from the airport. It was a very superficial effort but a start. I think the city could then benefit from an aggressive PR campagain that stresses the positive attributes of the area. I think that these are all easy things to say need to happen but in reallity, will be very difficult to make happen until the residents of the city demand better from their government and their neighbors.

Tobin

It is all about respect; for the ingredient, for the process, for each other, for the profession.

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Again,I would like to point out that three of the four hottest topics on the Heartland site are related to Detroit :cool: Am I the only one who finds this interesting?

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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Again,I would like to point out that three of the four hottest topics on the Heartland site are related to Detroit :cool: Am I the only one who finds this interesting?

I find it interesting because I have no idea how to identify the hottest topics on a forum.

Or, by "Heartland site", are you referring to some website other than this forum (the one we're posting in now)?

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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As someone with little specific knowledge about Detroit (but a lot about many other Midwestern cities), I think a lot of the factors mentioned thus far reinforce each other.  For example:

- Tourism and convention business can be huge factors in the restaurant industry.  Such out-of-town visitors aren't eating at home (obviously) and substantial numbers seek out the highest quality and/or most unusual, unique restaurants when visiting.

- Tourism tends to be concentrated in central cities (rather than the suburbs), and convention centers are often located there as well.  The higher quality restaurants often locate in the cities because of this market.  (There are exceptions, of course.  In fact, many years ago, Jean Banchet intentionally opened Le Francais, at the time considered by many to be the best restaurant in the United States, 45 minutes from downtown Chicago to avoid serving the casual, non-foodie convention trade.)

- A proliferation of quality restaurants in a given neighborhood is a big attraction for local area residents deciding where to live, and even more so for those with the highest interest in eating out, who tend to be more affluent, as well.  Fine restaurants attract housing renewal/gentrification, and housing renewal/gentrification attracts restaurants.

- Affluence, housing renewal/gentrification and restaurants also attract tourism.  Visitors enjoy spending time in trendy neighborhoods with boutiques and outdoor cafes.

Some of these factors are present or absent on a historical basis (e.g. Philadelphia's revolutionary historical sites as tourist attractions).  Some cities have built attractions that have generated tourism (the St. Louis Arch, Chicago's new Millennium Park).  Convention business is trickier; every city wants more convention business, and most have built and expanded convention centers, but that business is very competitive and it's hard to expand it unless you have an attractive city and area (nice weather in winter helps, but it's not something a city can do anything about).

If you have a city with a general level of affluence, lots of convention business and tourists, and trendy neighborhoods, all of those factors reinforce each other.  They result in (and are reinforced by) the presence of a bustling restaurant community.  In the absence of all of those factors, it's very tough on the development of a thriving local restaurant industry.

urban renewal is I think directly tied in to a city's status as a "restaurant city"...

urban renewal becomes successful when affluent young folks live "downtown" (not in the suburbs)..and the commensurate stores, restaurants and nightlife appear.

Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee have become poster-children for successful urban renewal.

Buffalo and Detroit are seen as the opposite. both have absolutely desolate downtowns that shut down when the workday is over. until that changes they wont' be "restaurant cities". (yes, I know Detroit has a Greektown and I've seen theater and eaten in the WSU area.)

I've spend a considerable amount of time in the downtown of each of these cities (except for Cleveland but a considerable amount has been written on its resurgence)...the difference between the two groups is beyond drastic.

as for the "Detroit metro area"...yeah it's huge...and extremely broadly defined.

if Ann Arbor and U-Mich. are part of the Detroit area and restaurant scene...than NYC gets Yale and Princeton just to start (both are closer to NY in terms of transportation time than Ann Arbor is to Detroit)

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Again,I would like to point out that three of the four hottest topics on the Heartland site are related to Detroit :cool: Am I the only one who finds this interesting?

I find it interesting because I have no idea how to identify the hottest topics on a forum.

Or, by "Heartland site", are you referring to some website other than this forum (the one we're posting in now)?

I will be the first to confess that I know next to nothing about computer jargon, so yes, I am refering to this forum. Also, I have been told by others who know more than me that the little red folders designate the hottest topics, if I have been misinformed please let me know.

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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I will be the first to confess that I know next to nothing about computer jargon, so yes, I am refering to this forum. Also, I have been told by others who know more than me that the little red folders designate the hottest topics, if I have been misinformed please let me know.

I don't know. It probably doesn't matter.

One thing that I've found very surprising about eGullet is that some cities get posted about far more frequently than others, and it's not always related to their size. For example, in the Heartland forum, you would expect the Chicago area to be posted about a lot more frequently than anywhere else, just because it has a lot more people than any other Heartland city (about 9.5 million). But there seem to be a whole lot more posts about Kansas City (1.9 million) than about similar sized Midwestern cities (e.g. Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Indianapolis). It's possible that reflects a more active restaurant community there than other cities; it's also possible that reflects a handful of posters that know each other and encourage each other to post on eGullet. I don't know, as I'm not at all familiar with the restaurant scene in Kansas City. But I'm very familiar with some other cities, and I can tell you that some cities do indeed have more going on restaurant-wise than others of the same size or even bigger. (I can cite examples if anyone is interested.)

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The one thing nobody is mentioning is the fact that people in Detroit have simpler tastes. Steakhouses and places doing fried or broiled fish are usually the busiest and most successfull. Perhaps the fact that Detroit is a blue collar city is the reason no one or hardly no one is breaking any culinary ground. Just look at Detroit Free Press restaurant of the year last year Seldom Blues I find it hard to believe that any restaurant that serves shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad can be the best anything. Just my opinion.

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Well, there's never been a repeat "restaurant of the year" -- so it doesn't appear to be intended as "best of" anything, just recognition for one reason or the other.

While we're throwing out this and that -- I wonder what influence Schoolcraft has on the local restaurant scene? I don't know much about it, but it seems to me that every third Michigan chef is a Schoolcraft grad. It's nice that we apparently have a strong culinary arts program in the area, but I wonder whether that might contribute to some of the homogeneity in our restaurant scene.

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that's a good point that i hadn't thought about... in philadelphia (where i am now) and in san francisco (where i previously lived for a couple of years) chefs came from all over, including the really big name schools like cordon bleu, cia, etc... it's fairly hard to imagine those grads coming to detroit in search of culinary excellence. the result is as Leonard said, chefs either are graduates of schoolcraft or of real world restaurants in detroit. either way there isn't much exposure to other areas, so the fact that there is less influence from other cities/areas would seem to be a factor contributing to a less forward-thinking culinary palate, hence the more 'simple' restaurants mentioned by ryangary.

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Traffic Jam & SnugPlease check out this local Detroit resturant. Sorry for the strange format. Edited by Naftal (log)

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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Taking all of these in a group, but before I do, a comment about something else I suspect Detroit needs to do: Get its downtown back.

Back in the early 1980s(!), I read a series of articles in The Kansas City Star about Detroit. One vignette related in the series stood out.

The reporter, who came to the Star from Detroit, told of a game he played with his fellow reporters called "King of the Corner." The game was played thusly: One of them would stand on a downtown street corner. If nobody passed within their view within 15 minutes, they were "king of the corner." There were many corners in downtown Detroit where this game could be played in the middle of the day.

Even when I moved to Philadelphia in 1983, you could not play this game during the day on any downtown street corner, and Center City has only gotten livelier since then.

People who know Newark, NJ, know that the Ironbound -- the mostly Portuguese working-class neighborhood just east of the city center -- is home to some of the best eating in the Northeast. But until the suburbanites got comfortable again with the idea that one did not take one's life into one's hands when visiting downtown Newark, the Ironbound remained a "well kept secret." It isn't any more, and it's not because the Ironbound changed; it's because outsiders' perceptions of downtown Newark changed.

One thing that I've found very surprising about eGullet is that some cities get posted about far more frequently than others, and it's not always related to their size.  For example, in the Heartland forum, you would expect the Chicago area to be posted about a lot more frequently than anywhere else, just because it has a lot more people than any other Heartland city (about 9.5 million).  But there seem to be a whole lot more posts about Kansas City (1.9 million) than about similar sized Midwestern cities (e.g. Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Indianapolis).  It's possible that reflects a more active restaurant community there than other cities; it's also possible that reflects a handful of posters that know each other and encourage each other to post on eGullet.  I don't know, as I'm not at all familiar with the restaurant scene in Kansas City.  But I'm very familiar with some other cities, and I can tell you that some cities do indeed have more going on restaurant-wise than others of the same size or even bigger.  (I can cite examples if anyone is interested.)

I'm not familiar with the restaurant scene in Kansas City now -- though I got a taste of it when I returned home for my 30th high school reunion last summer -- but I can say that the city has had a strong food culture for many years. Growing up there (1958-76), I had heard it said -- by non-residents, in print -- that the best meals out in Kansas City were served in the homes of Kansas Citians. That was not meant as a slam of the city's restaurants, though they were less varied then than they are now.

The one exception to the rule back then was barbecue, which lots of people ate out, even many who made it themselves at home. I would like to suggest that the strong barbecue culture -- it's a quasi-religion in the area -- laid the foundation for Kansas Citians to appreciate new restaurants that served unfamiliar cuisines or took creative approaches to familiar ingredients once those started cropping up, and that this accounts for the city having a livelier restaurant scene now than comparably sized cities in the Midwest -- or even some larger ones like St. Louis.

Calvin Trillin captured the soul of fine dining in Kansas City in my childhood with his fictional restaurant, "La Maison de la Casa House, Continental cuisine," in (I think) American Fried. The opening of the American Restaurant in Crown Center in 1974 was the first crack in the walls of this old edifice, and it's since been completely demolished.

The one thing nobody is mentioning is the fact that people in Detroit have simpler tastes. Steakhouses and places doing fried or broiled fish are usually the busiest and most successfull. Perhaps the fact that Detroit is a blue collar city is the reason no one or hardly no one is breaking any culinary ground. Just look at Detroit Free Press restaurant of the year last year Seldom Blues I find it hard to believe that any restaurant that serves shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad can be the best anything. Just my opinion.

that's a good point that i hadn't thought about... in philadelphia (where i am now) and in san francisco (where i previously lived for a couple of years) chefs came from all over, including the really big name schools like cordon bleu, cia, etc... it's fairly hard to imagine those grads coming to detroit in search of culinary excellence.  the result is as Leonard said, chefs either are graduates of schoolcraft or of real world restaurants in detroit.  either way there isn't much exposure to other areas, so the fact that there is less influence from other cities/areas would seem to be a factor contributing to a less forward-thinking culinary palate, hence the more 'simple' restaurants mentioned by ryangary.

ryangary: What I said about Philadelphia above. However (san please copy) for some reason or another, a bunch of the locals decided there had to be something more and better than this sort of thing sometime around 1972 or thereabouts. Philly even developed its own homegrown culinary academy, The Restaurant School (now The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College), that served as a breeding ground for great local chefs. Again, I might attribute some of the difference to the presence of a good food-producing territory and culture in the city's hinterlands; this gave local chefs good raw materials to play with, and play with them the chef-owners of Restaurant Renaissance establishments did. (With the closing of the Astral Plane this past Sunday, only one restaurant from that era remains in business: Friday Saturday Sunday, still excellent, funky and reasonably priced for what it offers after all these years.) I really don't associate Michigan with any notable foodstuffs or food-producing regions, though I'm sure it has some.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I'm not sure how relevant a university is. If anything, its impact is felt in the affluence university communities generally have, with faculty, rather than students, being the target market for eating out at all but the least expensive restaurants.

...

7 Dallas (???) 

SMU?

17 Cleveland (Case Western Reserve) 

Several of Cleveland's best restaurants (Fire, Baricelli Inn, Sergio's, Table 45) are close to CWRU, but that also places them near University Hospitals and the Cleveland Clinic, which may be more important in terms of drawing affluent customers. And many of our best restaurants are in Tremont and Ohio City, far from any university.

Detroit is suffering from a downturn in its most prominent industry, comparable to what Cleveland and Pittsburgh went through in the Seventies and Eighties. I doubt that the presence (or absence) of a major university would make much of a difference.

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Within easy walking distance of the Cultural Center/WSU area is the Detroit Medical Center. Perhaps that's why there are two world-class restaurants in the area :cool:

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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I think the university issue has been misrepresented, maybe by me. I do not think universities create dining destinations. Far from it. However, a certain kind of university can create a local, affluent, educated, food-interested community. Where would Ann Arbor's restaurant scene be without U of M? All I was saying is that population is something I don't see WSU giving Detroit. As for the DMC, I think the hospital issue is of even more questionable relevance (what city doesn't have a large hospital?) as I don't see one creating any kind of affluence/urban renewal/whatever. Would you eat near the Johns Hopkins medical campus?

"Two world-class restaurants?" Nobody's saying there are no good restaurants in Detroit. On the other hand, this goes way too far in the other direction. I think most people would say there are about two restaurants in the state of Michigan that have even national recognition, and that's kind of the point.

Edited by Leonard Kim (log)
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The Detroit News reports:

City shoppers' choices dwindle as last big chain leaves

...

The lack of major grocery stores has long been a quality-of-life problem in Detroit and one reason some families don't want to live in the city.

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Analysts say no other major city in America is such a supermarket desert. And it's not likely to change anytime soon.

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"Here we are, trying to revitalize the waterfront and make this city whole again, but people who live here can't even find something decent to eat. Where's the justice in that?"

That can't be good...

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That's putting it mildly, Dave. And that bodes ill for Detroit's overall health, not just the health of its inhabitants.

It's a shame that Pathmark Stores doesn't operate west of the Alleghenies. As the capsule history in my link indicates, the Pathmark chain has a track record of opening -- and successfully operating -- large, modern supermarkets in neighborhoods other major chains shun.

(A local independent, The Freshgrocer, is also big on opening stores in inner-city locations ever since it opened a store near the Penn campus to universal raves. They too are serving neighborhoods the major chains have abandoned -- to tie this into what's happening in Detroit, the Freshgrocer is slated to be the anchor supermarket in the historic Progress Plaza shopping center, a strip mall in North Philadelphia near Temple University that is the oldest black-owned shopping center in the country. The original anchor store was a Super Fresh [nee A&P, Farmer Jack's parent] that closed two years ago.)

What I see happening with these two chains suggests to me that a savvy supermarket operator can succeed even in a challenging environment such as Detroit appears to be.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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there was a topic touched on earlier in this thread regarding whether a city and its suburbs can have seperate their dining scenes. in the case of detroit, you can find restaurants of all kinds both in the city and in the suburbs. melkor's last post makes an interesting point in that regard- in no other city i've lived in has there been such a drastic divide in regards to where people get their groceries. off the top of my head i can think of 10 grocery stores in detroit suburbs where you can find truffles, a wine expert, and a butcher who know what he/she is talking about. within the city limits i doubt anything but the worst possible excuse for a grocery store exists. if people interested in food want to live in an area near any gourmet market, they have to choose from one of the many many suburbs.

i don't buy the "wasteland" excuse for why detroit isn't more of a restaurant city, but based on the insightful posts on this thread it seems that the most distinct differences between detroit and philadelphia (the example i'd been using earlier) are:

1-size- philly has center city, where almost all of the restaurant pool exists, or at least a huge portion of it. detroit's restaurants are spread out among hundreds of miles of suburban sprawl

2-public transportation- for anyone who wants to drink a bottle of wine with dinner, philadelphians can take the el or the broad street line; detroiters have to hire a limo or break the law and risk their (and others') safety.

Sandy Levine
The Oakland Art Novelty Company

sandy@TheOaklandFerndale.com www.TheOaklandFerndale.com

www.facebook.com/ArtNoveltyCompany twitter: @theoakland

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there was a topic touched on earlier in this thread regarding whether a city and its suburbs can have seperate their dining scenes.  in the case of detroit, you can find restaurants of all kinds both in the city and in the suburbs.  melkor's last post makes an interesting point in that regard- in no other city i've lived in has there been such a drastic divide in regards to where people get their groceries.  off the top of my head i can think of 10 grocery stores in detroit suburbs where you can find truffles, a wine expert, and a butcher who know what he/she is talking about.  within the city limits i doubt anything but the worst possible excuse for a grocery store exists.  if people interested in food want to live in an area near any gourmet market, they have to choose from one of the many many suburbs. 

i don't buy the "wasteland" excuse for why detroit isn't more of a restaurant city, but based on the insightful posts on this thread it seems that the most distinct differences between detroit and philadelphia (the example i'd been using earlier) are:

1-size- philly has center city, where almost all of the restaurant pool exists, or at least a huge portion of it.  detroit's restaurants are spread out among hundreds of miles of suburban sprawl

2-public transportation- for anyone who wants to drink a bottle of wine with dinner, philadelphians can take the el or the broad street line; detroiters have to hire a limo or break the law and risk their (and others') safety.

Hello again- Yes, if Detroit is not a food city (of course you know I feel Detroit is a food city but for the sake of this discussion...)it is really because of your second point. Detroit's unique development-as a result of the auto industry- means it never devloped a mass- transit system on a par with Chicago,or NYC or even A2. This auto culture resulted in the current city/suburb split. That is why, for Detroit-and only Detroit- it is more correct to speak of MetroDetroit or more exact, the TriCounty Area. If one looks at the TriCounty region as "Detroit" in my opinion, we again come to the conclusion that this is a food city. :wub:

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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