Food, Glorious Food: New & Inspiring Detroit Restaurants
Story by Biba Adams
Visit Detroit serves up six of the city’s new and upcoming restaurants with sizzle and a story.
In 2016, the World Food Travel Association conducted the largest survey of food travel to date and found that more than 60 percent of us take pictures of our food when we travel.
More than 80 percent of respondents also said that food helps them understand the culture of the place they are visiting. In today’s world of so many choices, food is becoming a larger part of why and where we choose to spend our vacations.
Detroit hasn’t always been a food destination. But, with 100+ restaurants opening in metro Detroit over the past three years, experts and influencers like the Chicago Tribune, National Geographic, Food & Wine magazine and mic.com are now singing the praises of Detroit’s rising food scene.
That’s why we decided it was due time to share our top picks of The D’s newest favorites and most anticipated coming-soons. Six selections chosen as much for their owners’ Detroit-inspired back-stories as their menus.
Big Mock Burger and the CMO Coney Dog. Photo by Michelle Gerard
1. Chili Mustard Onions (CMO)
Location: 3411 Brush St., Detroit, 48201 Cuisine: Vegan junk food? You bet! May We Recommend: The CMO Coney dog. Your prerogative if you want to add the house-made “cheeze” sauce.
According to Forbes, the number of Americans who identify as vegan increased more than 600 percent between 2014 and 2017. That means there’s a lot of people looking for alternative menu options. But the new wave of vegan eating wasn’t really the motivation behind the opening of CMO. For longtime vegan and owner Pete LaCombe, it came from a much simpler desire. “I missed junk food,” he admitted. “In Detroit, we grow up eating National Coney Island. I missed the taste of a great Coney dog with all the toppings.”
LaCombe decided to go vegan seven years ago, prompted by his love of food and his belief in the ethical treatment of animals. Growing up in a large, close-knit family, LaCombe credits his grandmother for teaching him his way around the kitchen. With his new vegan lifestyle, he took those lessons learned from the family kitchen to adapt and reimagine the classic flavors he craved.
At CMO, plant-based burgers like the Big Mock take a backseat to the popular Coney dog. The “chili” atop the meatless wiener really does taste like Detroit-style chili. You can even get it on an order of fries with CMO’s very own “cheeze” for chili-cheese fries, the ultimate Detroit junk food feast.
Packard Pepperoni Pizza. Photo by Kristen Calverley/Michigan & Trumbull
2. Michigan & Trumbull Pizza
Location: 1441 W. Elizabeth St., Detroit, 48216 Cuisine: Detroit-style pizza with toppings nontraditional May We Recommend: The think-outside-the-pizza-box Farnsworth Fungi with whipped goat cheese and lemon zest
After moving to Pittsburgh in 2012, metro Detroiters Kristen Calverley and her husband, Nathan Peck, turned their craving for Detroit-style pizza into a successful business — Michigan & Trumbull Pizza located inside Pittsburgh’s Federal Galley, a restaurant accelerator.
Now they’re coming back to their Michigan roots, bringing their easily distinguishable Detroit-style pizza to Detroit. Why is it distinguishable? That’s easy: the menu.
“We thought very hard and carefully about toppings and flavor combinations,” Calverley explained. “With a few exceptions, most Detroit-style pizza toppings are still really traditional. We decided to evolve and play with funky ingredients.”
The St. Aubin Sausage pie has red sauce, mozzarella, broccoli, fennel sausage and crème fraîche. The Packard Pepperoni has red sauce, mozzarella, pickled chiles, pepperoni and house-made hot honey. Peck has also created a crust that is airy yet still crunchy and caramelized.
Peck and Calverley are excited to return to a Detroit that has changed immensely during their time away. The Corktown neighborhood they’ve chosen is one of the hottest in the city and is only a stone’s throw from the intersection that inspired the name of their Pittsburgh success story.
Yum Village specialties. Photo by Michelle Gerard
3. Yum Village
Location: 6500 Woodward Ave., Detroit, 48202 Cuisine: Afro-Caribbean. That’s a splash of West African (jollof rice and fried plantains) meets Caribbean (jerked meat) May We Recommend: The jerk chicken — we’re not jerking around about how yummy it is
Godwin Ihentuge took a gamble. He bet that his background in marketing paired with his father’s recipes would be a hit in metro Detroit. He was right. Yum Village’s Afro-Caribbean menu includes jerk chicken and black-eyed pea fritters, along with sweet and spicy plantains and jollof rice.
Before he was a restaurateur, Ihentuge was inspired to help others become successful. His early catering business was an evolving cultural experience where chefs rotated, allowing customers to taste their food and give feedback. This model of community support would later become the foundation for Yum Village. Ihentuge, for instance, has developed a commission-based model for employees, who easily make a livable wage. Even customers who refer catering jobs can earn a 20 percent referral fee.
Evolving from a food truck into a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Yum Village is clearly at a new beginning. It’s New Center-area location is smack dab in the middle of rapid change as the neighborhood expects an influx of 2,800 new property units by the end of 2020. That means a lot more potential patrons to help fill Ihentuge’s village.
Penny Red’s sidewinder fries and other sides. Photo by Noah Fecks
4. San Morello + The Brakeman
Location: At the Shinola Hotel. San Morello – 1400 Woodward Ave., Detroit, 48226. The Brakeman – 22 John R St., Detroit, 48226. Cuisine: Italian on the upscale at San Morello; fried chicken and a biscuit at Penny Red’s (inside The Brakeman) May We Recommend: Breakfast spaghetti at brunch or the must-order lamb meatballs at San Morello and a honey butter-dunked bix (biscuit) at Penny Red’s
Considered one of the finest independent American-made product companies, Shinola partnered with Bedrock to open the Shinola Hotel in Detroit in 2018. When it came to the hotel’s food and beverage management, Shinola turned to NoHo Hospitality of New York City. Headed by chef Andrew Carmellini and restaurateurs Luke Ostrom and Josh Pickard, NoHo owns or manages over a dozen iconic restaurant brands. The partnership has brought a level of creativity, service and training to Detroit that’s hard to beat.
San Morello is the hotel’s anchor restaurant. Featuring a contemporary Italian menu designed by Carmellini, San Morello is a delicious breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch fine-dining experience. The restaurant has been perfectly conceptualized to serve hotel guests’ needs and includes an exclusive street entrance for its private dining room.
The Brakeman is Shinola Hotel’s more casual food experience. Styled after European beer halls, it features beer tap tables, dozens of rotating craft beers as well as classic craft spirits. The restaurant was designed with garage doors that can open in warmer months to both Parker’s Alley retail and Farmer Street, creating a gorgeous indoor/outdoor space for shopping, sipping and strolling.
Food served at The Brakeman is supported by Penny Red’s carryout-only fried chicken joint on Farmer Street. Carmellini perfected the menu at his NYC restaurant Dutch before he brought it to Detroit. The options are simple: buckets of chicken, sandwiches and sides. Customers can order at Penny Red’s and then take their spoils to a table at The Brakeman. Surprisingly, the process makes for a smooth flow of guests and a more interactive experience for them in the space.
Blake Kownacki inspects the vines. Photo by Jenna Belevender
5. Detroit Vineyards
Location: 1000 Gratiot Ave., Detroit, 48207 Cuisine: Yes. Wine is food. May We Recommend: A bottle, not just a glass, of the 2016 Cabernet Franc Rose
Fine and specialty wineries have established themselves all over northwest and southwest Michigan as well as the Upper Peninsula. But down here in the city, a winery hadn’t existed for more than 60 years according to regarded area newspapers like the Detroit Free Press. Not until winemaker Blake Kownacki moved back in 2010 to the hometown he calls “the best city on Earth.”
With more than 15 years’ experience making wine in California and Australia, Kownacki pushed back against the idea that great grapes couldn’t be grown in the city of Detroit. “It’s important for me to express the region in my wine,” Kownacki explained. Teaming up with Michigan State University’s viticulture program, he is exploring urban vineyard options in the city. Community Affairs Coordinator Thomas Roberes is already helping make it a group project in Detroit’s Morningside neighborhood, where vines planted in collaboration with residents are “beautiful, hardy and soon to be fruitful,” said Roberes. “We’re not just growing grapes,” he added. “This is an oasis of green space, a community vineyard where residents can become a part of a new wine/grape economy.”
Detroit Vineyards also recently launched a food program. It’s light fare for now, with options like charcuterie and a cider dip with soft pretzels, which features a dry cider and cheddar cheese dip topped with scallions. “The wine comes first here,” Kownacki said. “But we have fun finger food that pairs well.”
Lamb chops with a side of mac and cheese and collard greens. Photo by Michelle Gerard
6. Fusion Flare Kitchen & Cocktails
Location: 16801 Plymouth Road, Detroit, 48202 Cuisine: A little bit of soul, lots of local ingredients May We Recommend: The lamb chops or crispy chicken wings. Add a side of the collard greens.
Located on a street that’s best known for auto repair shops and churches, Fusion Flare is the first dine-in restaurant to open in Detroit’s Joy community in nearly two decades. That’s amazing.
It’s all because of Mashelle Sykes, a former employment specialist for the City of Detroit who always had a passion for food. Sykes eventually enrolled in Oakland Community College’s culinary arts program, attending school part time. After graduating, she decided to put her food-led vision into action. Like many Detroiters, she first tossed around the idea of relocating and opening her restaurant in another city. The resurgence of her hometown, however, made staying a more appealing option.
Fusion Flare Kitchen & Cocktails has a traditional American menu with soul-satisfying entrees like buttermilk fried chicken and pork or lamb chops with a ginger glaze. Special care and attention are also placed on the bar. Craft cocktails, an expertly curated wine list and a high-level of customer service from the bartenders make the dine-in experience unforgettable.
Where downtown’s development has been the headline, Fusion Flare is a noble story of renewal in one of the city’s farther-reaching westside neighborhoods.