The Motor City is internationally known for putting the world on wheels, but has fallen on desperately hard times in recent years. On the rebound, the city’s got an avalanche of restaurant openings revving up a reputation for fresh restaurateurs who’ve ventured into old-fashioned cocktail bars, microbreweries and unconventional breakfast spots. Rivaling cities globally for its delectable cuisine, Detroit suddenly has become a food mecca.
Of course, sticky barbecue, big burgers and loaded Coney dogs remain old favorites in this traditionally meat-and-potatoes town. But with the redevelopment of Detroit’s downtown, Midtown, West Village and west side commercial corridors, Black restaurateurs also have reclaimed and converted architecturally awesome spaces to take cuisine to new dimensions.
From exciting twists on Southern cuisine to vegan fare, you’ll find it all in Motown—this city offers far more than amazing live music, art and culture. So here are a few of our favorites, where you’ll find friendly, warm people and unforgettable places with fare worthy of tweeting about in the D.
The Block, 3919 Woodward Ave.
A casual neighborhood wing restaurant, The Block was recently rebranded into something special. Formerly known as the Grille at Midtown, the eatery has a new menu, more affordable prices and late-night hours. Located in Detroit’s gentrified Midtown (a district with burgeoning rents, a Whole Foods store, and new coffee houses and microbreweries), it caters to an influx of young professionals and students who live and work nearby.
Out are the gigantic steaks and 18-ounce pork chops, traded for a more hipster-appealing zesty array of appetizers, salads and sandwiches. The 80-seat bar and restaurant also has a fresh new look, featuring walls awash with color and bright murals instead of a former gray, car-themed motif. Selections include fried chicken-filled Deviled Eggs, Alfredo Twice-Baked Potato Skins, and whole chicken wings accompanied by a large selection of house-made sauces ranging from Bacon Bourbon and Mediterranean to Rock & Rye and Watermelon BBQ.
Central Kitchen+Bar, 660 Woodward Avenue, Suite 4A
One of Detroit’s latest dining delights promising to please even the most discerning foodie, Central Kitchen+Bar is a unique take on a modernized gastropub. Owner/attorney Dennis Archer Jr. and his partners developed an enviable concept in the center of the city, making it difficult to decide what’s better: the urban tongue-in-cheek interior with an open kitchen, vintage crystal, reclaimed searchlights and plush seating, or the fare.
Whatever you decide, Central Kitchen+Bar promises a memorable experience, with contemporary salads such as baby kale with roasted red pepper, Gruyere, farro and prosciutto and buttermilk-fried quail with creamed corn gratin and lavender honey. However, it’s an approachable destination for diners who enjoy upscale bar fare with culinary-inspired cocktails, house blend ground beef, fresh fish and lamb, all taken to an exciting level of innovation.
Detroit Vegan Soul, 8029 Agnes St.
Nestled in the city’s recently redeveloped West Village is the warm, colorful café that partners Erika Boyd and Kristen Ussery founded after dreaming of a way to help Detroiters (laden with obesity, hypertension and diabetes) get healthier. Once fast-food consumers themselves, Boyd and Ussery knew Detroit Vegan Soul would never be a draw with bean sprouts. So they landed on sensational, soulful offerings, such as the barbecued tofu dinner served with tender collard greens, flavorful yams, and mouth-watering cornbread that attracts crowds like magnets.
Their 25-seat dining room is often packed with socially-conscious regulars, a line of hungry patrons standing by. The duo created a wholesome, friendly atmosphere where people gather and converse across tables. But unquestionably, the fried “catfish” tofu sandwich, okra stew, black-eyed pea hummus and smothered tempeh with mushroom gravy are what keep them coming back.
Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles, 19345 Livernois Ave.
The energy is as high as the volume at this hospitable neighborhood breakfast bistro on the redeveloped “Avenue of Fashion,” once considered Detroit’s Rodeo Drive, on the city’s Westside. Excited guests mingle, sometimes patiently waiting for an hour, because they know what’s in store at Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles: a selection of signature thin waffles made from a secret family recipe with 11 spices that owner and former NFL cornerback Ron Bartell often mixes himself.
Big dollops of whipped butter top the extraordinary, soft original buttermilk and red velvet waffles, flanked by weighty, crispy whole wings or chicken fingers. Chicken selections also cover Bam Bam drumsticks and First Lady breasts. The atmosphere—accented by bright, red walls and art portraying iconic figures such as President Obama enjoying a cigarette and Run-DMC—is a perfect backdrop for the Southern cuisine featuring shrimp and grits, seasonal fried green tomatoes, yams, greens, and mac and cheese.
Mo’ Better Blues Detroit, 546 E. Larned St.
After a rough patch less than a year following a $250,000 build out in Detroit’s Grand Circus Park Bricktown district, this downtown spot was forced to shut down in the aftermath of a very public lease dispute with building owners. Now Mo’ Better Blues Detroit has landed in a new location downtown in the city’s Bricktown district, with a spacious 3,600-square-feet spread on two levels.
This offers owner Gerald Watson II enough room to offer a mix of live jazz, blues and R&B on the first level while a DJ spins in the lounge featuring a fireplace and full bar above. The eatery is as known for its stiff, flavored martinis as its steak bites, chicken and waffle sliders, bistro ribs and chicken Philly sandwiches. Lunchtime is popping here because many popular menu items are available for only $5. Nighttime is the right time to catch talent competitions, comedy nights and live music.
Detroit Seafood Market, 1435 Randolph St.
You’ll surely find a lively party at this stylish bar/restaurant in downtown Detroit’s Golden Valley entertainment district. Detroit Seafood Market is jumping most any night of the week, with a crowded bar area and lounge. Sophisticated, upscale crowds come for the half-off happy hour specials six days a week, and for delectable dishes like scrumptious calamari, crab cakes, lobster trio and seafood paella: a rice dish loaded with shrimp, mussels, crab, calamari white fish and veggies.
Detroit Seafood Market also boasts a Sunday brunch worth worshipping. Wednesday is the night for $30 all-you-can-eat crab legs, but any night is good for Chef David Wood’s famous Lobster Mac & Cheese. Although known for its fresh fish and quality seafood, the Seafood Market is also a good bet for steaks, pork chops and poultry dishes.
—Kimberly Hayes Taylor