Here's Model D's guide to visiting Eastern Market. Interested in living there? Click here. Interested in investing in the neighborhood? Click here.
Eastern Market holds a unique place in the hearts, minds — and stomachs — of Metro Detroiters. Even in the city’s bleakest years, suburbanites continued to venture to the market for flowers, vegetables, Christmas trees, flower pots, or homemade jams, stacked ham sandwiches or titanic omelettes, cheerfully elbowing their way through the mish-mash of humanity that overflows from the sheds each Saturday. Now that Detroit’s star is ascending, the market has likewise gotten a real freshening up. The new lofts and businesses springing up do nothing but make a visit to the market an even more desirable destination.
Obviously, the most logical reason to visit Eastern Market is to buy truly unique foodstuff. This is exactly why as many as 45,000 people from all over Metro Detroit and Ontario head to the market every week. There are few experiences more pleasant than wandering through the sheds picking out fresh herbs, real maple syrup, fresh-cut flowers, and vegetables and fruits ranging from the most common to the exotic. Early mornings are for the gourmands: the freshest products in the widest array bring out the most meticulous and particular chefs. As the morning turns into afternoon, deals become even more prevalent, bringing out the bargain-hunters — and the night owls just waking up.
Shopping and people watching
Now it’s time to hit the shops. The list of interesting, affordable, quality food shops in Eastern Market is long. Head to Gabriel Imports for olives and spinach pies, R. Hirt Jr. for cheeses of every imaginable variety, crackers and mustards, Cost Plus Wines for favorite reds and whites from around the world, Gratiot Central Market for seafood, cold cuts, sausages, and corned beef, Rocky Peanut Company for nuts and bulk candies, and Rafal Spice for coffee, tea, legumes and of course, spices. For an in-depth look at food shopping in Eastern Market, click here.
Now that you’ve bought enough food to scare you away from the kitchen, Eastern Market is kind enough to do the cooking for you. If you can, grab a seat at Russell Street Deli. Not only is the food to-die-for, so is the people watching. Those wishing for a more sedate breakfast experience would do well to pick Farmer’s Restaurant, where actual farmers choose to dine — understandable considering the efficient service and how good the omelettes are.
If you’re hungry for lunch, head over to Vivio’s. The upstairs lounge is lively and loaded with locals. Order up a ginormous taco salad or burger and sample the best bloody mary in town — served properly with a beer back. Or go greasy spoon and sidle up to Zef’s Coney Island. Really, you can’t go wrong.
Before you head home, check out one of Eastern Market’s three antique shops for the perfect buffet from which to serve the feast you are now prepared to cook. Eastern Market Antiques on Market St. works like a mall, with multiple dealers selling their treasures. Don’t miss the smaller Russell St. Antiques as well as Marketplace Antiques, on Gratiot just west of St. Aubin.
One last thing: serious cooking needs serious cookware. People’s Restaurant Supply on Gratiot has been providing the finest Detroit chefs with the highest quality knives, pots, pans and serving equipment for years. Open to the public with wholesale pricing, People’s can get your kitchen properly equipped in no time at all.
Eastern Market by night is equally delicious. Start with dinner at Sala Thai, located inside a renovated firehouse. Or enjoy traditional Italian at Roma Café. The quaint restaurant is known for its homespun flavor, but don’t be fooled—those old-school waiters use the most advanced technology in town to take your order.
Ready for some cocktails? Start the night off with a shot and a beer at Cutter's Bar and Grill, where you’ll rub elbows with warehouse workers and yes, real meatcutters. Cutter’s is a true example of a neighborhood bar: it exists to serve the community in which it is located. Vivio’s is also great fun in the evening. Fridays are for powerhouse karaoke fans, while most other nights find service industry employees and sports fans bellied up to the bar. Vivio’s also runs a popular shuttle to hockey and football games.
No evening visit to the market would be complete without making a pilgrimage to the jazz mecca Bert’s Marketplace. Thursday’s jam sessions are known to bring out touring heavyweights while in town, and Friday and Saturday nights never fail to reach musical heights. Plus, if you work out an appetite, their late night menu will hit the spot.
Eastern Market has been in its present location since 1891, and was situated downtown for the 39 years prior. Even before it was a market, notable events occurred at this location. Two of the most significant were General Custer marching his troops and Underground Railroad activity. Today, the most obvious visible historical features of the market are the sheds, which were built beginning in 1891. Several of the buildings lining the market, like the R. Hirt Jr. Building, are some of the oldest commercial storefronts existent in Detroit today.
Whether or not you are a religious sort, Detroit’s historic churches are awe-inspiring symbols of the ethnic populations of Detroit’s past. St. Albertus and Sweetest Heart of Mary, both located within blocks of each other on Canfield just north of Eastern Market, each have colorful histories that tell valuable stories about how the city has evolved over the last 120 years.
St. Albertus was built in 1885 as Detroit’s first Polish-Catholic church, but its founding pastor left the parish to found Sweetest Heart of Mary in 1889 after being suspended from the priesthood in a controversial turn of events that actually led to riots. Sweetest Heart of Mary became recognized as an official parish of the Roman Catholic Church in 1894, and the gothic structure that you see today was completed in 1895.
Today, St. Albertus is maintained by the Polish-American Historic Site Association. The group’s members are lovingly restoring the rectory and, although the parish officially closed in 1990, continue to hold monthly services in the church. They host an annual music festival, picnics and clean ups and are happy to give tours. Contact the group at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sweetest Heart of Mary continues as an active parish that hosts many events, most notably the Peirogi Festival held every August. Tours can be arranged by contacting the rectory at SHMChurch@aol.com.
Other gorgeous Catholic churches in the vicinity include St. Josaphat, another parish organized by Polish Catholics and located on Canfield just a few blocks west of Sweetest Heart of Mary; St. Joseph on Gratiot—built to serve Detroit’s German Catholics — and Sacred Heart, which has a very active community of African-American Catholics.
With over 1,500 parishioners, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church is the fastest-growing church in Downtown Detroit. The current building, located on Gratiot just east of Russell St., was constructed in 1935 although the parish celebrated its 150th Anniversary in 2000.
Springtime on Russell St.
Eastern Market hosts its fair share of annual events that mark the turning of the seasons, the most popular of which is Flower Day. Traditionally held the Sunday after Mother’s Day, Flower Day signals the start of the gardening season for thousands of Detroiters. The colorful rows of annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs are a multi-sense delight. Although parking is difficult and navigating through the crowds can be difficult, Flower Day is one of those many high-quality Detroit events that must be experienced, and experienced often.
Directions to Eastern Market
From the East:
Take I-94 West and merge onto I-75 South/Chrysler Fwy via Exit 216A toward Toledo. Continue to Exit 52 toward Mack Ave., stay straight to go onto Chrysler Dr. and turn left onto Wilkins St. Turn right onto Chrysler Dr and turn left onto Russell St., arrive in Eastern Market.
From the North:
Take I-75 South. Continue to Exit 52 toward Mack Ave., stay straight to go onto Chrysler Dr. and turn left onto Wilkins St. Turn right onto Chrysler Dr and turn left onto Russell St., arrive in Eastern Market.
From the West:
Take I-96 East and merge onto I-75 North via the exit on the left toward Flint. Continue to the M-3/Gratiot Ave Exit 51B on the left. Turn slight right onto Gratiot Ave and then turn right onto Russell St. Arrive in Eastern Market.
From the South:
Take I-94 East toward Detroit and merge onto I-96 East/Jefferies Fwy via Exit 213B toward Canada. Continue to I-75 North via the exit on the left toward Flint. Take the M-3/Gratiot Ave Exit 51B on the left. Turn slight right onto Gratiot Ave and then turn right onto Russell St. Arrive in Eastern Market.
Take 1-75 North toward Detroit. Continue to the M-3/Gratiot Ave Exit 51B on the left. Turn slight right onto Gratiot Ave and then turn right onto Russell St. Arrive in Eastern Market.
Shoppers at Eastern Market
Russell Street Cafe
Russell Street Antiques
Holy Trinity Luthern Church
All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger