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Why isn't Detroit a Restaurant City?


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I'll agree that the list is painted with a *very* wide brush, but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater here:  Scotty Simpson's F&C is an absolute gem, and shouldn't be so utterly dismissed.

I'll accept that it's probably an okay fish & chips joint, but it doesn't sound as though places like it are likely to cement Detroit's "restaurant city" reputation.

As we debated the menu, we heard testimonials from happy regulars who called Scotty Simpson's the best fish and chips in the world, but I cannot say what they found different about the fish inside that delectable coating. My frog legs had literally no taste at all; the best fish were the smelt, which had more fish flavor than the cod or the perch. Perhaps fish-and-chips eaters take the insides for granted and grade strictly on the batter.

Anyway... the highest rated restaurant on Gayot for Detroit is Tribute, with 16/20. After that are Coach Insignia, The Grill Room, Hong Hua, Il Posto and The Lark at 15/20.

In contrast, NYC has 15 restaurants rated higher than any restaurant in Detroit; Philadelphia has 3; Chicago has 7; San Francisco has 6; Seattle has 1. They all have comparably (and increasingly) larger numbers of restaurants in the other higher ranked categories.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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I'll agree that the list is painted with a *very* wide brush, but let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater here:  Scotty Simpson's F&C is an absolute gem, and shouldn't be so utterly dismissed.

I'll accept that it's probably an okay fish & chips joint, but it doesn't sound as though places like it are likely to cement Detroit's "restaurant city" reputation.

As we debated the menu, we heard testimonials from happy regulars who called Scotty Simpson's the best fish and chips in the world, but I cannot say what they found different about the fish inside that delectable coating. My frog legs had literally no taste at all; the best fish were the smelt, which had more fish flavor than the cod or the perch. Perhaps fish-and-chips eaters take the insides for granted and grade strictly on the batter.

I recognize that second quote as being from the Metro Times. Actually, they have a very strange system when it comes to their food critics. With this particular author, I've noticed that her opinions are almost *completely* the opposite of mine. The problem, aside from my obvious disagreement with her on this particular place (amongst many others), is that they have a bunch of different people who review for them, with no real standard from one to the other as to what they're expecting, or any real "bar" to achieve, or not achieve. With so many reviewers, it's not really possible to understand what's being evaluated or not.

I'm far more inclined to take the word of "Hour," or the Free Press, or many others. Metro Times is just too discombobulated to present a real restaurant review.

I'm not saying that SS's F&C would knock everyone's socks off if they want a good, overall seafood restaurant. However, if they're in the mood for deep fried seafood, there's none better anywhere.

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I'm not saying that SS's F&C would knock everyone's socks off if they want a good, overall seafood restaurant.  However, if they're in the mood for deep fried seafood, there's none better anywhere.

Seriously. You honestly believe the best fish and chips in the world is made in some suburb of Detroit?

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Seriously.  You honestly believe the best fish and chips in the world is made in some suburb of Detroit?

Well, I've never had better. My folks have never had better, and they've traveled western Europe extensively. This is a place that has been around for 60-odd years (with only three owners), using the same recipes, the same fresh ingredients, etc. since its inception. *Could* there be better F&C somewhere else? I suppose, but I've never had the pleasure, though I wouldn't mind being proven wrong. As well, almost *every single person* I send to this place ends up in agreement. It is what it is.

I'll put it this way: I lived in Chitown for three and a half years (back in school). I loved, and still love, that town, food included. As can be expected, I ate a great deal of deep dish-style pizza while I was there (side note: I believe the best Chicago-style pizza is at the original Gino's East), and while I had many good pies, none held a candle to the pizza served at Loui's Pizza in Hazel Park, Michigan. Yes, they're different types of pizza, but overall, Loui's rules the pizza category with an iron fist. And I *lived* in Chicago!

I'm always open to be proven wrong, and I'm brutally honest about my opinions. If something's better, I'll say it. However, in the case of SS's F&C, it was the best I'd ever had in my life, and trumped a long-shuttered F&C joint that I remember eating at as a child. The recipes at SS's are well-protected for a reason...

If you get around to the Detroit area for any reason, give me a heads-up, and I'll buy. The restaurant itself is painfully antiquated, but if you truly are a *food* lover, that's something that you'll get over for the sake of its wonderful fare.

Edited by boagman (log)
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I'm not saying that SS's F&C would knock everyone's socks off if they want a good, overall seafood restaurant.  However, if they're in the mood for deep fried seafood, there's none better anywhere.

Seriously. You honestly believe the best fish and chips in the world is made in some suburb of Detroit?

I don't know about the place in question, but the concept may not be quite as outlandish as it first appears on the surface. Fish fries apparently are a major midwestern tradition. The Sept. 2006 edition of Saveur has as its cover article a story on "the meal that made Milwaukee famous" - the Friday night fish fry. Having just returned from a brief weekend visit to Ann Arbor, I would have liked to have tried the restaurant for myself.

From my own perspective, Detroit and the surrounding area may have perfectly fine food and I know that Ann Arbor has at least some very good food, but I don't see the area as a prime food destination. That is different from a destination that has good food or even V4 good food. The difference is a food destination has V4 good food that one can not really find elsewhere. As excellent as Zingerman's and Eve in A2 are, food of those stripes and quality can be found elsewhere. The whole point of Zingerman's Roadhouse is that it reproduces V4 good American regional Cooking with excellent product mostly sourced locally. Earlier in the week in NYC I had some Japanese ramen the likes of which I have never had anywhere else. It is the availability of food like that that makes NYC a food destination and a great food city. There are not many other cities in the country that really fit that description IMO. Chicago, S.F., L.A., and D.C. clearly do and Philly certainly does when Shola is cooking there. Boston, Atlanta, Phoenix, Seattle and Santa Fe can have arguments made for them as can a few Texas cities, while perhaps there are a handful of additional cities on the verge. Ultimately, I'm not sure that it is critical for a city or an area to be a great restaurant town so long as there is sufficient V4 good food.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

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Seriously, WTF??  They list the olive garden as the best Italian restaurant in the state.  The second best Japanese restaurant in the state is Benihana.  It's good to see that McCormick and Schmick's edged out Red Lobster and Scotty Simpson's Fish & Chips (second and third respectively) for the best seafood restaurant.  That list is a disaster.  Maybe that truck stop with the nachos is the best place to eat...

I'll agree that the list is painted with a *very* wide brush[...]

...so wide that the readers' choice for Best Thai Restaurant is all the way across the state in Grand Rapids.

I think we can safely discard this survey as an authoritative source for great food in Detroit.

And what does it say when the readers say you have to drive cross-state for the best Thai?

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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...so wide that the readers' choice for Best Thai Restaurant is all the way across the state in Grand Rapids.

I think we can safely discard this survey as an authoritative source for great food in Detroit.

Thus, the reason it's called "Michigan's Best." Not "Detroit's Best."

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...so wide that the readers' choice for Best Thai Restaurant is all the way across the state in Grand Rapids.

I think we can safely discard this survey as an authoritative source for great food in Detroit.

Thus, the reason it's called "Michigan's Best." Not "Detroit's Best."

The results are crap either way. Can we put this discussion to rest yet? Detroit has a handful of places that are good, a large number of restaurants that are unlikely to poison you, and all the usual chains. That, spread across 2,000 square miles, is clearly not enough for Detroit to be any sort of culinary destination; world's best fish and chips, fantastic nachos and all.

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I'm not saying that SS's F&C would knock everyone's socks off if they want a good, overall seafood restaurant.  However, if they're in the mood for deep fried seafood, there's none better anywhere.

Seriously. You honestly believe the best fish and chips in the world is made in some suburb of Detroit?

So, where is the best fish and chips? :)

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Anyway... the highest rated restaurant on Gayot for Detroit is Tribute, with 16/20.  After that are Coach Insignia, The Grill Room, Hong Hua, Il Posto and The Lark at 15/20.

In contrast, NYC has 15 restaurants rated higher than any restaurant in Detroit; Philadelphia has 3; Chicago has 7; San Francisco has 6; Seattle has 1.  They all have comparably (and increasingly) larger numbers of restaurants in the other higher ranked categories.

FWIW, here (in parentheses) are the number of 5 and 4 star restaurants in the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the country, according to the 2007 Mobil Guide (ref), along with their population:

1 New York (4/17) 22,747,604

2 Los Angeles (0/8) 17,989,605

3 Chicago (2/9) 9,510,060

4 Washington-Baltimore (0/4) 8,197,384

5 San Francisco-San Jose-Yountville (2/11) 7,719,730

6 Philadelphia (1/2) 6,268,176

7 Dallas (0/5) 6,175,243

8 Boston (0/6) 6,167,292

9 Detroit-Windsor (0/1 - The Lark) 5,925,157

10 Houston (0/1) 5,406,390

11 Atlanta (2/2) 4,973,243

12 San Diego-Tijuana (0/1) 4,922,723

13 Miami (0/8) 4,825,569

14 Phoenix (0/3) 4,026,207

15 Seattle (0/4) 3,852,705

16 Minneapolis-Saint Paul (0/0) 3,237,960

17 Cleveland (0/0) 2,954,420

18 Denver (0/1) 2,722,428

19 Tampa (0/0) 2,653,869

20 Saint Louis (0/1) 2,632,992

So by this criterion - admittedly arbitrary, but no more so than any other - Detroit has fewer such restaurants than the eight cities that are larger, but the same number as two of the next three on the list, and more than three of the five largest cities in the Midwest.

So based on these numbers, you can start asking the question, "Why isn't Houston a restaurant city?" And San Diego. And Minneapolis. And Cleveland, home of the Heartland gathering (see you in a few days!). For that matter, you can ask why Los Angeles has fewer such restaurants than Chicago, with half as many people, etc.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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I'm not sure what the point of sorting by population is - Charleston SC has a population of 600k in the neighboring three counties and 100k in the city itself, and has one five star and three four star restaurants on the list you cite... Sorted in some sort of sane way it would rank in the top five or ten nationally by Mobil Travel. It does confirm that Detroit has one good restaurant according to a mostly ignored authority.

edit: incidentally, the population you cite for San Francisco includes the people that live next door to Manresa, The French Laundry, Auberge, Cyrus, and Terra. SF itself has around 750k people.

Edited by melkor (log)
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I'm not sure what the point of sorting by population is

It lets you compare cities against others of approximately the same size.

It does confirm that Detroit has one good restaurant according to a mostly ignored authority.

As I mentioned, using that as a criterion is just as good as any other. And not deserving of your derision and unrelenting cynicism.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Have a look at the Bay Area page.  The population you cite includes the restaurants you exclude.

I've corrected the San Francisco numbers above to include the restaurants in wine country that I had previously excluded (even though I think they are a much further stretch than, say, including Ann Arbor in a discussion of Detroit). Manresa was already included in the numbers I originally posted.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Have a look at the Bay Area page.  The population you cite includes the restaurants you exclude.

I've corrected the San Francisco numbers above to include the restaurants in wine country that I had previously excluded (even though I think they are a much further stretch than, say, including Ann Arbor in a discussion of Detroit). Manresa was already included in the numbers I originally posted.

I'd drop the surrounding areas and stick the population at 750k, but it's your list... Either way, what's the purpose of sorting by population other than to show that there are other cities with lots of people and nothing to eat?

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I'm not sure what the point of sorting by population is

It lets you compare cities against others of approximately the same size.

It does confirm that Detroit has one good restaurant according to a mostly ignored authority.

As I mentioned, using that as a criterion is just as good as any other. And not deserving of your derision and unrelenting cynicism.

Few cities in this country are culinary destinations. The question posed at the start of this topic was why Detroit isn't a restaurant city. Somehow that got derailed by a handful of upset locals with the incorrect believe that their town was being derided. It seems that none of the people suggesting Detroit is a culinary destination actually live in Detroit proper, we've gone round and round about including the surrounding half of the state in 'Detroit' to no avail. As I've said countless times earlier, I'm sure there are plenty of good restaurants - that doesn't make it a culinary destination. Citing Mobil or AAA or any of the other irrelevant tourist guidebooks won't change that fact.

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So based on these numbers, you can start asking the question, "Why isn't Houston a restaurant city?"  And San Diego.  And Minneapolis.  And Cleveland, home of the Heartland gathering (see you in a few days!). 

FWIW, in the widely circulated Forbes Traveler list of ten best restaurant cities, Houston ranks no. 6.

Way back in 1990, Money gave a top 15, of which Minneapolis was one, and both Cleveland and San Diego were cited among six additional "getting there" cities. So effectively, Detroit was not in the top 21, which is the point I made before -- the fact you could construct a reasonable top 20 without Detroit is evidence enough.

Other than the novelty of Tapawingo's remote location, Tribute's excellence up until 2004, and Zingerman's, I don't think there are any compelling food destinations in the state. I could go further. I am a proud Michigander through and through, but objectively the only "must-gos" in the state are, to my mind, the Henry Ford Museum and various vacation spots up north (Tapawingo country -- FWIW, Mario Batali vacations in northern Michigan, in Leland, if I remember correctly.)

I agree we could end this discussion. Thing is, I don't think it was ever intended to be an argument of whether Detroit is a "restaurant city" or not -- with one notable, enthusiastic dissenter, I think we all agreed from the outset it isn't. The original point of the thread was why not? But I think that's been batted around enough as well.

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I'd drop the surrounding areas and stick the population at 750k, but it's your list...

To me, what defines a metropolitan area, in terms of food, is where people go to eat. In the SF Bay Area, plenty of people who live in the East Bay or on the peninsula go into the city to eat, and San Franciscans eat at Chez Panisse, etc. That's why I think it makes sense to discuss a contiguous populated area as one area. I don't buy into the concept that people and restaurants don't matter if they're outside the city's boundaries.

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I'd drop the surrounding areas and stick the population at 750k, but it's your list...

To me, what defines a metropolitan area, in terms of food, is where people go to eat. In the SF Bay Area, plenty of people who live in the East Bay or on the peninsula go into the city to eat, and San Franciscans eat at Chez Panisse, etc. That's why I think it makes sense to discuss a contiguous populated area as one area. I don't buy into the concept that people and restaurants don't matter if they're outside the city's boundaries.

I'd argue that the bay area is made up of multiple culinary destinations, but whatever. If you're talking about contiguous populated areas as a single unit then you're going to have some trouble with the swath a few hundred miles south of here that starts dozens of miles north of LA and doesn't end until you're in Mexico. Never mind the mess that leaves you with in the northeast. Obviously people and restaurants matter, regardless of where they are but what exactly does that have to do with the city of Detroit and it's non-status as a culinary destination?

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although Friday fish fries are ubiquitous in Milwaukee (and the northside of Chicago)...they have nothing to do with fish and chips.

beer-battered cod or walleye is served with potato pancakes.

nothing to do with fish and chips.

edit: fish fries aren't a midwestern tradition...per se...they show up in strongly Catholic areas...i.e. the Polish areas of Illinois and Wisconsin...and the Catholic German parts of Illinois and Wisconsin (as opposed the Lutheran German parts).

you won't find them in, say, Minnesota because the Swedes and Norwegians are Lutherans.

further edit: the best fried fish is to be found in Italy anyway.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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I agree we could end this discussion.  Thing is, I don't think it was ever intended to be an argument of whether Detroit is a "restaurant city" or not -- with one notable, enthusiastic dissenter, I think we all agreed from the outset it isn't.  The original point of the thread was why not?

Right. And the reasons seem simple enough:

First and foremost is the terrible economic situation. This means that residents have less money to spend on restaurant eating and there are fewer business visitors.

Related but not entirely consequent to the first reason is the decimation of the city and largescale flight of the middle and upper classes from the city to outer suburbs, exurbs and even nearby cities. This, combined with the economics and lifestyle that go along with suburban living, makes it difficult for there to be any kind of critical mass and density necessary for a vibrant culinary scene -- all the moreso due to the fact that many metro-Detroit suburban and exurban dwellers don't even commute to the city for work. The economic and infrastructural collapse of the city has made it even more undesirable to business travelers who might be dining out on the company dime.

The two elements above have contributed to a situation where it would appear, based on the reports of metro-Detroit dwellers as well as the evidence of metro-Detroit restaurant menus, that there isn't much of a restaurant culture in metro-Detroit. This means both that the residents do not in general prioritize access to great restaurants in their lifestyles, nor do they have the same basis for understanding what constitites a great restaurant compared to the average citizens of, say, Chicago. This is, of course, not reflective of metro-Detroit eGulleters in general. But that level of interest in food and restaurant culture seems rare in Detroit whereas it seems fairly common for, say, people who live in New Orleans or San Francisco or New York.

Finally, it's not clear to me that Detroit has any built-in culinary specialties or attractions (e.g., pizza, cheese-steak, seafood, Cajun and Creole cooking, German and Polish cooking, barbecue, Tex-Mex and Southwestern, etc.) that would at least potentially make the city an attractive one-trick pony and eventually help it grow a vibrant restaurant culture and turn into a great restaurant city and culinary destination.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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