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Why isn't Detroit a Restaurant City?


san
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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:

Doesn't the lack of quality restaurants and grocery stores in the city by definition disqualify Detroit as a restaurant city? It's hard to find a populated area the size of the TriCounty region that doesn't have a handful of good restaurants - that isn't the issue. Philly is a food town because the city of Philadelphia is packed full of good places to eat. You can even walk from one good place to eat to another. Detroit (the city) is no more a food town than Box Elder Montana is.

Edited by melkor (log)
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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:

Doesn't the lack of quality restaurants and grocery stores in the city by definition disqualify Detroit as a restaurant city? It's hard to find a populated area the size of the TriCounty region that doesn't have a handful of good restaurants - that isn't the issue. Philly is a food town because the city of Philadelphia is packed full of good places to eat. You can even walk from one good place to eat to another. Detroit (the city) is no more a food town than Box Elder Montana is.

My point was that Detroit's auto-culture puts it in a unique position.You cannot speak of the city without including the suburbs. If Henry Ford had live in Box Elder Montana, the same thing would have happened there :biggrin:

"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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My point was that Detroit's auto-culture puts it in a unique position.You cannot speak of the city without including the suburbs. If Henry Ford had live in Box Elder Montana, the same thing would have happened there :biggrin:

I don't recall my last visit to Milan Michigan being chock-full of amazing food, in fact - I remember ending up at an 'Eye-talian' place. Isn't Milan smack in the middle of the Henry Ford legacy? It is indeed a unique culinary void in the heartland of this country. Once you start including an area a few hundred miles across, you can go from good restaurant to good restaurant until you reach either ocean.

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My point was that Detroit's auto-culture puts it in a unique position.You cannot speak of the city without including the suburbs. If Henry Ford had live in Box Elder Montana, the same thing would have happened there :biggrin:

I don't recall my last visit to Milan Michigan being chock-full of amazing food, in fact - I remember ending up at an 'Eye-talian' place. Isn't Milan smack in the middle of the Henry Ford legacy? It is indeed a unique culinary void in the heartland of this country. Once you start including an area a few hundred miles across, you can go from good restaurant to good restaurant until you reach either ocean.

That's because you didn't have me as your guide. The next time you are here,look me up and I will change your opinion of this place.

"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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Slight dissent -- I don't consider Milan a part of metro Detroit. If anything, it's to be associated with Ann Arbor. I know there's some difference about Ann Arbor's status -- I don't consider it a part of metro Detroit either (even though I used to commute between the two.) Ann Arbor's identity is so tied up with the university, I think it'd make little difference whether Detroit was sort of in the vicinity or not. In my posts, the area I'm considering isn't "hundreds of miles across." Maybe 30. Now, I don't think that area qualifies as any kind of dining destination, but I don't think it's a unique culinary void either, except in that it lacks an obvious hub where great restaurants are concentrated, which is admittedly probably unusual for a city like this.

The Farmer Jacks closings are, I feel, not indicative of much except what we've all been saying -- Detroit proper isn't a particularly desirable place to live. In the suburbs, those locations are simply taken over by other chains: Kroger, Hollywood Market, whatever. And things continue to open in Detroit. Just yesterday the News had a feature on the forthcoming Asian Village, which "brings dining, shopping to downtown riverfront."

http://detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?A.../707120385/1042

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This whole discussion keeps taking me back to two of my past stomping grounds - Indianapolis and Omaha. Culturally there are many similarities - most notably that all three have a strong foundation in a major industry (Indy - Eli Lilly; Omaha - ConAgra). Time has evolved, as have each city, and in all three there are gems to be found in the food world. I would think that we can all agree that Detroit is no Paris when it comes to restaurants. But that doesn't mean there isn't good food there.

I am curious what the locals think - why with so much money being made by the employees (that's a relative term, but in general the auto industry pays well) isn't there more demand for higher quality food? Also, I'm assuming the auto industry, like other major industries, is attracting many international employees, which often times leads to an increase in international restaurants. Is this happening? I know it is in Omaha and Indianapolis.

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Naftal, I'm not sure I buy your arguments either that Detriot is unique in being tied to automobile travel and that this is a primary cause of its current and historical culinary doldrums. There are plenty of cities that are dispersed across an equally large or larger acerage and which have equally ineffectual public transportation (I would argue that there is no such thing as a post-automobile-age low-density/high-area city with effective mass transportation) and which nevertheless have good restaurants and culinary culture -- Houston comes immediately to mind.

--

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Gotta back up slkinsey here on the auto theory.

Note that on this very board there are lots of lively discussions about restaurants and food in Kansas City, which appears to have developed a robust dining scene in the years since I left it for college. (When I lived there, two cafeterias were among the better non-barbecue restaurants in town, and an occasionally quoted quip purported to explain the city's relatively lackluster fine-dining scene: "The best meals I've had out were in the homes of Kansas Citians," or something like that.)

I consider the opening of the American Restaurant in Crown Center in 1974 as the beginning of the transformation of KC's dining scene. But I digress. The point is that Kansas City has a mass transit system that is underpowered for a region its size; beyond the old (pre-WWII) core city, it offers at best commuter service, and it's all buses. The city is as auto-oriented as any I'm familiar with, yet it supports a lively dining scene now.

I posted in that other thread san mentioned that I think core cities and their suburbs are more interdependent than either care to admit. That Philadelphia has a healthy urban core while Detroit does not goes a long way towards explaining the divergent food cultures, IMO.

To underscore this, I'd like to ask a question: What's Detroit's answer to the Reading Terminal Market?

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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What's Detroit's answer to the Reading Terminal Market?

i don't know if that's a fair question- do places like RTM exist in most cities? The closest thing would be the Eastern Market, but again it's not easily accessible to everyone in metro detroit because of its location and hours of operation (it's more like the italian market than RTM)

There are plenty of cities that are dispersed across an equally large or larger acerage and which have equally ineffectual public transportation (I would argue that there is no such thing as a post-automobile-age low-density/high-area city with effective mass transportation) and which nevertheless have good restaurants and culinary culture -- Houston comes immediately to mind.

That's true. Though I haven't been to Houston in about 25 years, I doubt it has the suburban sprawl that Detroit does. At the same time, LA does, and definitely has its share of quality dining establishments. I get very confused when I start to find similarities between Detroit and LA. :) Anyway, are there 'restaurant cities' in areas without popular mass transit systems where suburban areas are spread out like in Detroit?

Sandy Levine
The Oakland Art Novelty Company

sandy@TheOaklandFerndale.com www.TheOaklandFerndale.com

www.facebook.com/ArtNoveltyCompany twitter: @theoakland

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san- The last question you raised is brilliant :biggrin: I would be interesed to see

how everyone responds to that. In particular I would like to know slkinsey and Market StEl's take on it.

Again, everyone should see the question at the end of post#60 :biggrin:

"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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gfron1 and MarketSeEl-Do you like cheese? Check out this website :cool:Traffic Jam & Snug

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'm not sure what to do with that website - there's very little info. I checked out the menu and it certainly has potential, but having not tasted their food...

If I read the site correctly, the fact that they are making their own beers and baked goods is a promising sign (versus Sysco - the bane of my existence :angry: ). In the context of this topic, if we assume it is good food, then the question becomes what else is out there. To me a "restaurant city" is not just a bunch of Alineas, but the whole mix including ethnic foods, regional fare, etc. I'm certainly not down on Detroit having never been, but that mix is important, and again, I'm surprised with the size of the industry in the area that there isn't more in the realm of ethnic.

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I'm not sure what to do with that website - there's very little info.  I checked out the menu and it certainly has potential, but having not tasted their food...

If I read the site correctly, the fact that they are making their own beers and baked goods is a promising sign (versus Sysco - the bane of my existence  :angry: ).  In the context of this topic, if we assume it is good food, then the question becomes what else is out there.  To me a "restaurant city" is not just a bunch of Alineas, but the whole mix including ethnic foods, regional fare, etc.  I'm certainly not down on Detroit having never been, but that mix is important, and again, I'm surprised with the size of the industry in the area that there isn't more in the realm of ethnic.

I mentioned this site because they also have an in-house dairy and make their own cheese :cool: Also, we havea lot of ethnic restaurants (my favorite being a Chaldean place) and though I am sure someone will disagree, Dearborn -the birthplace of Henry Ford-has the largest Arab community outside of the Middle East.

"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 don't think the availability of public transportation is a big factor in explaining restaurant offerings. Most people - locals and visitors alike - don't take the bus or subway when going to the more upscale restaurants.

However, public transportation availability is a big factor in the livability and vitality of a city, particularly in neighborhoods within the limits of a central city. So, to the extent that it helps attract more affluent folks to live in the city, rather than the suburbs, it may be a factor that way.

Comparing Detroit against Chicago, one of the country's premier "restaurant cities", the factors thus far mentioned that seem to distinguish between the two and are most likely to have a role in restaurant offerings (particularly upscale restaurants) are:

1. the level of convention and tourism business

2. the presence of affluent residents in city neighborhoods

3. the health of the overall economy

in pretty much that order.

Regarding #2, it's worth noting that Chicago has affluence in the city as well as the suburbs. The restaurant offerings in the Chicago suburbs, while extensive, have less diversity (by far) than within the city, in terms of types of cuisine, independents vs franchises, etc.

It's also worth noting that Detroit isn't that much smaller than Chicago (6.0 million vs 9.5 million souls in the metro areas, ranking ninth and third nationwide, ref).

While I am not familiar with the restaurant offerings in Detroit, I suspect that they are far better and more diverse than those who denigrate them are claiming. I've found excellent restaurant offerings in far smaller cities, and I would be shocked if that weren't the case in Detroit.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Also, we havea lot of ethnic restaurants

i agree. in fact, the more i think about it, there really is not any type of cuisine that isn't represented in the detroit area (other than the alinea-moto type restaurants). Fine dining you have lark and tribute, there are several other 'nice' restaurants, the ethnic food, in my opinion, can stand up to any city aside from ny & chicago, and, again, we have lafayette coney island. the thai, chinese, japanese/sushi, italian, greek, mexican, even indian, polish, ethiopian, etc, and definitely middle-eastern cuisines are well represented in Detroit. Everything is just so spread out that it appears (to me, at least) that there is no specific area, inside or outside of the city proper, that has a very high concentration of restaurants. now, if we had a public transportation system, i.e. an 'el' from the Detroit river to Pontiac via Woodward, we would have a perfect vehicle (NPI) to facilitate a backbone from which to build a concentration of restaurants that is easily accessible and part of one distinct and identifiable region. i plan on moving back to the area in 3-5 years- can someone please make sure this is taken care of by the time i get there?

Sandy Levine
The Oakland Art Novelty Company

sandy@TheOaklandFerndale.com www.TheOaklandFerndale.com

www.facebook.com/ArtNoveltyCompany twitter: @theoakland

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I don't think the availability of public transportation is a big factor in explaining restaurant offerings.  Most people - locals and visitors alike - don't take the bus or subway when going to the more upscale restaurants.

However, public transportation availability is a big factor in the livability and vitality of a city, particularly in neighborhoods within the limits of a central city.  So, to the extent that it helps attract more affluent folks to live in the city, rather than the suburbs, it may be a factor that way.

Comparing Detroit against Chicago, one of the country's premier "restaurant cities", the factors thus far mentioned that seem to distinguish between the two and are most likely to have a role in restaurant offerings (particularly upscale restaurants) are:

1. the level of convention and tourism business

2. the presence of affluent residents in city neighborhoods

3. the health of the overall economy

in pretty much that order.

Regarding #2, it's worth noting that Chicago has affluence in the city as well as the suburbs.  The restaurant offerings in the Chicago suburbs, while extensive, have less diversity (by far) than within the city, in terms of types of cuisine, independents vs franchises, etc.

It's also worth noting that Detroit isn't that much smaller than Chicago (6.0 million vs 9.5 million souls in the metro areas, ranking ninth and third nationwide, ref).

Also, regarding #2-Again, while I am sure someone will disagree, Oakland County,MI is considered one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. That is another reason why I still think it is important to think of the TriCounty Area when thinking of 'Detroit'. :cool:

I do love this thread :shock:

"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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Also, we havea lot of ethnic restaurants

i agree. in fact, the more i think about it, there really is not any type of cuisine that isn't represented in the detroit area (other than the alinea-moto type restaurants). Fine dining you have lark and tribute, there are several other 'nice' restaurants, the ethnic food, in my opinion, can stand up to any city aside from ny & chicago, and, again, we have lafayette coney island. the thai, chinese, japanese/sushi, italian, greek, mexican, even indian, polish, ethiopian, etc, and definitely middle-eastern cuisines are well represented in Detroit. Everything is just so spread out that it appears (to me, at least) that there is no specific area, inside or outside of the city proper, that has a very high concentration of restaurants. now, if we had a public transportation system, i.e. an 'el' from the Detroit river to Pontiac via Woodward, we would have a perfect vehicle (NPI) to facilitate a backbone from which to build a concentration of restaurants that is easily accessible and part of one distinct and identifiable region. i plan on moving back to the area in 3-5 years- can someone please make sure this is taken care of by the time i get there?

Yes!-While I do believe Detroit is a restaurant city(is anyone suprised) I can agree that the lack of a good mass-transit system does keep people from enjoying my towns numerous culinary delights. Perhaps the poor transit system also accounts for the lack of convention traffic.

"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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Perhaps the poor transit system also accounts for the lack of convention traffic.

I doubt it. Convention-goers rarely use public transportation, even in cities (e.g. Chicago) with excellent public transit options. They walk to what's close by, and they take cabs to what isn't. They're usually on expense accounts.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Perhaps the poor transit system also accounts for the lack of convention traffic.

I doubt it. Convention-goers rarely use public transportation, even in cities (e.g. Chicago) with excellent public transit options. They walk to what's close by, and they take cabs to what isn't. They're usually on expense accounts.

Maybe we should get some cabs. Detroit is the largest city I know of where you can wait on a busy corner for HOURS and not see a cab.

Tobin

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

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Perhaps the poor transit system also accounts for the lack of convention traffic.

I doubt it. Convention-goers rarely use public transportation, even in cities (e.g. Chicago) with excellent public transit options. They walk to what's close by, and they take cabs to what isn't. They're usually on expense accounts.

Maybe we should get some cabs. Detroit is the largest city I know of where you can wait on a busy corner for HOURS and not see a cab.

And maybe some convention-goers.

Edited by melkor (log)
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What's Detroit's answer to the Reading Terminal Market?

i don't know if that's a fair question- do places like RTM exist in most cities?

More than you might have imagined. Off the top of my head, I can think of:

Lexington Market, Baltimore

Central Market, Lancaster, Pa. (I think either this or Lexington is the oldest farmers' market in the country)

Eastern Market, Washington, DC

Soulard Farmers' Market, St. Louis

City Market, Kansas City (turns 150 this year)

Farmers Market, LA ("Meet Me at Third and Fairfax")

Ferry Building and Civic Center markets, San Francisco

Portland Public Market

Pike Place Market, Seattle

Boston's Haymarket is (1) more like 9th Street than these (2) a pale shadow of its former self. If Detroit's Eastern Market is also "more like 9th Street," as you said, then it's probably in this category. Philadelphia is somewhat unusual in having both the RTM and a street market.

There are plenty of cities that are dispersed across an equally large or larger acerage and which have equally ineffectual public transportation (I would argue that there is no such thing as a post-automobile-age low-density/high-area city with effective mass transportation) and which nevertheless have good restaurants and culinary culture -- Houston comes immediately to mind.

That's true. Though I haven't been to Houston in about 25 years, I doubt it has the suburban sprawl that Detroit does. At the same time, LA does, and definitely has its share of quality dining establishments. I get very confused when I start to find similarities between Detroit and LA. :) Anyway, are there 'restaurant cities' in areas without popular mass transit systems where suburban areas are spread out like in Detroit?

Depends on whether you consider Kansas City a "restaurant city." Judging from the traffic I see on this board, I think you can make a case that it is now, and not just for barbecue. And Kansas City is one of the nation's least dense large metros.

gfron1 and MarketSeEl-Do you like cheese? Check out this website :cool:Traffic Jam & Snug

"...in-house bakery, brewery, and dairy..."

"...we use the same equipment for brewing beer and making cheese..."

Sounds very promising! I think I'd love this place, for I'm a big ol' cheesehead! Unfortunately, I have no really good excuse to visit Detroit on the horizon the way I do have excuses to visit KC and Seattle.

I don't think the availability of public transportation is a big factor in explaining restaurant offerings.  Most people - locals and visitors alike - don't take the bus or subway when going to the more upscale restaurants.

However, public transportation availability is a big factor in the livability and vitality of a city, particularly in neighborhoods within the limits of a central city.  So, to the extent that it helps attract more affluent folks to live in the city, rather than the suburbs, it may be a factor that way.

Comparing Detroit against Chicago, one of the country's premier "restaurant cities", the factors thus far mentioned that seem to distinguish between the two and are most likely to have a role in restaurant offerings (particularly upscale restaurants) are:

1. the level of convention and tourism business

2. the presence of affluent residents in city neighborhoods

3. the health of the overall economy

in pretty much that order.

Regarding #2, it's worth noting that Chicago has affluence in the city as well as the suburbs.  The restaurant offerings in the Chicago suburbs, while extensive, have less diversity (by far) than within the city, in terms of types of cuisine, independents vs franchises, etc.

It's also worth noting that Detroit isn't that much smaller than Chicago (6.0 million vs 9.5 million souls in the metro areas, ranking ninth and third nationwide, ref).

While I am not familiar with the restaurant offerings in Detroit, I suspect that they are far better and more diverse than those who denigrate them are claiming.  I've found excellent restaurant offerings in far smaller cities, and I would be shocked if that weren't the case in Detroit.

I suspect that you are correct on that last point. I don't remember which discussion I posted this to, but I made--or tried to make--a similar point about the Ironbound, the Portuguese working-class neighborhood just east of downtown Newark, NJ. Within the past decade, it's come into its own as a dining destination, but it's been there, offering what it offers, for several decades.

A recent Pew Charitable Trusts study (which I may have already mentioned in this discussion) referred to Philadelphia as "Bos-troit" -- meaning that the city combined the affluent core and urban vitality of central Boston with the widespread neighborhood abandonment and industrial decline of Detroit. I think that part about affluence in the city center may count for more than we might think in making the difference between "a city with good restaurants" and "a restaurant city."

However: I consider Boston a city with good restaurants but not a restaurant city.

Also, regarding #2-Again, while I am sure someone will disagree, Oakland County,MI is considered one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. That is another reason why I still think it is important to think of the TriCounty Area when thinking of 'Detroit'. :cool:

    I do love this thread  :shock:

It is somewhat relevant to note that Greater Philadelphia, Greater Boston and Metro Detroit rank 6-7-8 in population based on 2000 Census statistics (Edited to add: nxtasy: The World Gazeteer stats you linked upthread are based on 2000 Census figures too; there's a ranking error in their table--Dallas should rank ninth, not seventh; the population figures in their table are correct), and I don't think that the latest estimates would change that ranking; also, the Philadelphia and Detroit metro areas are growing at the same modest rate, around 5% per decade.

When I talk about Philadelphia, I mean to include the entire 12-county metro region, including Wilmington and Trenton (which the Census Bureau places in greater New York so the Feds can give their employees there more pay) but not Atlantic City (which the Census Bureau does include in the metro region). There are lots of good restaurants in the Philly 'burbs too, but they are enriched by the presence of the city dining scene. And, in some cases, linked to it as well: Georges' in Wayne is Georges Perrier's suburban outpost, but his empire began with Le Bec-Fin downtown. I don't think we would have the former without the latter.

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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More than you might have imagined.  Off the top of my head, I can think of:

Milwaukee Public Market

nxtasy: The World Gazeteer stats you linked upthread are based on 2000 Census figures too; there's a ranking error in their table--

There's no ranking error. I had clicked on the column for 2007 population calculations, so as shown in the link, the cities are sorted on that basis, which puts Detroit ninth, as stated. You can click on any column heading to re-sort and re-rank, for example if you are more interested in 2000 figures (when Dallas was ninth) than for 2007.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Following up myself to note something after reading the Sunday Inquirer Travel section:

More than you might have imagined.  Off the top of my head, I can think of:

[...]

Portland Public Market

[...]

Maine and Oregon

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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