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Features

Tasty trends: Digging into what's next in Detroit food and drink

Frontera's renovated facade, located at Gratiot just east of Russell Street
Frontera's renovated facade, located at Gratiot just east of Russell Street
In 2012, we saw a slew of new restaurants and cafes opening around the city -- some of which already seem like they've been part of the landscape for years, so much have the locals embraced them (Green Dot Stables or Great Lakes Café come to mind). 

Happily, 2013 is already shaping up to outpace last year by leaps and bounds, based on the sheer number of restaurants slated to open -- and it’s only January.

We spoke with the proprietors of a few of these establishments to get some behind-the-scenes updates on how things are progressing and what our stomachs can look forward to. Here’s a sampler of what’s in store:

Frontera

When proprietor Greg Holm tells me the name of the restaurant he’s opening on Gratiot just east of Russell Street, he’s quick to point out that yes, he’s aware there’s a similarly named Mexican restaurant in Chicago. But he’s committed to using it anyway -- it’s his mother’s maiden name, and he wants to pay tribute to the family roots in the Eastern Market, which go back over 100 years. "My family had a business renting pushcarts. They were also the first to put produce on school buses and drive them to neighborhoods like Black Bottom," he says. 

The restaurant may share a name with Rick Bayless’s famous Chicago eatery, but the similarities end there. Rather than Mexican food, the menu at Detroit’s Frontera will be a stylish mix of French and New American cuisine, with Asian and Spanish influences thrown in for good measure. Holm speaks enthusiastically about chef Pablo Ventura, whom he’s bringing in from New York, and who has cooked for the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Oscar de la Renta.

Ventura’s fiancée, Emmy Moy, is a pastry chef and will provide baked goods for a daytime café. Holm’s concept involves two adjacent spaces -- what he describes as a "sweet shop/ bodega" on one side, and a fine dining restaurant next door.

He also plans to have a small, affordable daytime menu. "We have a bus stop right out front, so it’s important to us to have options that are accessible to everyone in the community," he says. While he works on the build-out, Holm has been connecting with several local chefs and artisanal food producers. He describes the food community as "one big family"; a family we’re more than happy to welcome him to. 

Detroit Vegan Soul

While many restaurants can take years from conception to realization, Detroit Vegan Soul has taken off like a rocket. Founded in February 2012, the business has existed without a brick-and-mortar location, working out of a commissary delivering meals and catering events. Partners in work and life, Kirsten Ussery and Erika Boyd had tossed around the idea of a food business for a few years, but participating in D:Hive’s Build business class last spring helped them to solidify their plans. They took inspiration from the diversity of vegan restaurants they’d visited in other cities, and set to work "veganizing" some family recipes with the intent of proving that soul food doesn’t have to be unhealthy to be delicious. 

I ask Ussery whether it’s challenging to convince people who are unfamiliar with vegan food to try it. Her experience is that many people are pleasantly surprised to like something out of their comfort zone. "I wish I had video of some people’s reactions," she says. She knows she may not convert diehard lovers of soul food to a vegan diet, but she’s happy to at least show them that there are other, healthier options. "We’re just a stop along their journey."

Ussery and Boyd did a pop-up in the West Village recently, and decided to make the neighborhood their permanent home; they’ll be opening at 8027 Agnes Street this spring. Urban Alterscape, the firm who designed City Wings, has been hired to design the interior. 

Of course, the above-mentioned establishments are just two of the many projects coming to the city this year, not to mention expansions of already-popular restaurants. Slows just added a brand new bar this month with 36 beers on tap and an additional 8 tables, completed in a mind-boggling 11 days (more here on the expansion) Supino Pizzeria is taking a slower-paced approach building out their adjacent space, but we’re sure it’ll be worth the wait. 

Other eateries to enjoy in 2013 -- and beyond

• Detroit Institute of Bagels, the long-awaited bagel shop coming to Corktown (scheduled to open in July). Co-owner Ben Newman is putting his urban planning degree to good use -- he designed a "pocket park" that will occupy what is now a gravel lot between his building and PJ’s Lager House, creating a green space on an otherwise vast expanse of concrete. We got a peek at the rendering, and it looks like it’ll be a fantastic addition to the neighborhood. For a full story on the shop’s progress, go here).

• Craftwork, brought to you by Hugh Yaro (of Ronin Sushi and Commonwealth) and Michael Geiger, a culinary instructor and DJ, opening in the old Harlequin Café space this spring. No word yet on the menu, but based on Yaro’s other establishments, it promises to be quality.

• La Feria, a Midtown tapas restaurant that won the 2012 Hatch competition. See our feature story here.

• Maccabees at Midtown, a new deli/ bistro across from the DIA. We haven’t had a chance to sample the food yet, but initial reports are glowing, and it’s always nice to have more brunch options. Technically they opened on Dec. 30, but last Friday was the first day of full dinner and bar service.

• Topsoil, a vegetarian restaurant being opened by the owners of Russell Street Deli. The quick-service restaurant is geared toward providing fast and affordable lunch, and will be housed in the Auburn building at Cass and Canfield. The opening date? We'll let you know as soon as we get it.

• Gold Cash Gold, a new venture by the Cooley family. Ryan Cooley, of Slows and O’Connor Realty, says the restaurant will likely not be open until 2014, but hey, we can dream. The menu hasn’t been developed yet, but Cooley says they are meeting with chefs next month to do tastings. The chosen chef will also be part owner, following the Slows model.

Although they’re unsure of the direction of the food, Cooley says they know it’ll be at the same price point as Slows, welcome news for those of us whose appetites are bigger than our pocketbooks.

Noelle Lothamer writes about food and drink for Model D. She'll be following the most scrumptious taste trends throughout the year.

Photos by Marvin Shaouni
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