Detroit Myths Debunked

There are certain, manifest staples of city life that define the urban experience for any high-functioning urbanite. Within my first few weeks, even months, of living in Detroit — after having lived in Chicago — I was convinced that this city was lacking many of the obligatory essentials and was not, in fact, a real city at all. Where do these people gƒet their fancy cheese if there aren’t any gourmet grocery shops? Or the Sunday New York Times, dry-cleanings, take-out, wine and organic greens?

I was living downtown, per se, but I was outsourcing nearly everything to the suburbs. That’s not ideal, especially for a diehard city slicker who was forced into buying her first vehicle (a Ford Focus) only after being firmly assured that, “No, the People Mover will not get your everywhere you need to go!”

I’ve come a long way in the past year (15,982 miles to be exact), and have along the way found solutions to debunk many Detroit myths. These might seem obvious to Detroiters, but they have, quite heroically, saved a transplant from spending all her time and money in the suburbs.

Myth No. 1: You simply cannot do all your grocery shopping in the city.
So it’s no secret that University Foods in Midtown is no Whole Foods, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get fresh, delicious and, yes, even some organic foodstuffs in Detroit proper that would put the beloved organic chain to shame. As throngs of hungry metro Detroiters already know, Eastern Market opens for business every Saturday morning before most civilized people roll out of bed. The first time I went, I kept getting lost in the maze of beautiful fruits and veggies (that never happens in the produce section of the grocery store) and was fascinated by the pig head counter, the cages of live chickens and the cacti-selling lady with the giant mohawk. The farmers are often on hand, so I grill them with questions about growing conditions and pesticides. I rarely get answers I’m not happy with — especially at the “grown in our backyard garden” booths. On one visit I was tickled to discover that the shiny red peppers I was buying (four for a dollar!) were picked just the day before. While you’re there, you can pick up cut-to-order hunks of the stinkiest cheeses (and crackers, pepperonis, and other yummy sundries) from R. Hirt Jr. (2468 Market St. in Eastern Market) and meat from a variety of butchers. During the week, I supplement with goodies from Honey Bee La Colmena Market (2443 Bagley St. in Mexicantown), which sells hominy, rice, beans, Serrano chilis, avocados and the best “Family Recipe” salsa I’ve ever tasted. I also indulge in freshly baked bread (three different types of rye!) from Avalon Bakery (422 W Willis St. in Midtown). This niche-style grocery shopping takes a little more time than hitting your local superstore — but maybe it's not such a great difference when you factor in the drive and long checkout lines. Plus, everything tastes so much better, and it’s so much more fun. When you’re in a pinch, milk runs and cravings for frozen pizzas can always be satisfied at University Foods.

Myth No. 2: There’s no real brunch on Sundays, just greasy spoons.
By brunch I do not mean a plate of simple scrambled eggs (regardless of how fluffy) and greasy hash browns — not an easy task, I admit, on a Sunday, when many downtown breakfast options
are closed for business (comparatively, coming from Chicago, where brunching is a competitive sport).  Sunday brunch is my favorite meal of the week — even during weeks with holidays, like Thanksgiving — and I was used to long lines of people with steaming coffee mugs stretching down city blocks. I’ll happily wait in line for an avocado and gouda breakfast burrito, a stack of banana-crème pancakes and a mimosa. Just as I was ready to surrender to suburbs for Sunday brunch, the Detroit Breakfast House & Grill (1241 Woodward Ave., Downtown) opened and Mosaic (501 Monroe St. in Greektown) started serving a gigantic Sunday brunch buffet with unlimited champagne. I was so excited the night before hitting the Breakfast House that I could hardly sleep. It’s pricey and a tad fancy (they asked my friend’s father to take off his woolen newsboy cap), but they have a delightfully massive menu: Chocolate chip pancakes! Crab cakes egg benedict! A Santa Fe frittata! It was packed, although I wished it had been a little less formal, with waiters wearing t-shirts instead of starched button-downs, and a more jeans than slacks. More restaurants are following suit. Every week another spot seems to have a sign up advertising Sunday morning feasts. I can no longer complain that there isn’t a decent Sunday brunch in town.

Myth No. 3: You have to go to the 'burbs for anything that resembles clothing.
If mall shopping is your benchmark, then this, in fact, might be a correct statement. And it’s true that the city streets leave a lot to be desired when it comes to leisurely window shopping. But Shawn Santo and Kevin Borsay deserve some serious props. They are downtown retail pioneers and masters of a totally rad Pure Detroit empire — a handful of stores that sell cool Detroit-labeled t-shirts and accessories, and another called Vera Jane (Fisher Building Lobby, Suite 113), that stocks pretty girlie-goods, like leather clutches, underthings and white plastic sunglasses. Pure Detroit’s newest nest, the Pure Detroit Design Lab (they just celebrated their first anniversary; 156 W. Congress St.), is an ambitious purveyor of locally designed threads: pleated skirts, deconstructed blouses, artful dresses and plastic jewelry for women; screen-printed t-shirts and embellished blazers for men. Everything is constructed by Detroit-area fashion designers, and two in-house designers — Sarah Lurtz and Sarah Lapinski — are collaborating on a men’s line called Wounds of Sarah. I bought one of Sarah Lurtz’ spring pieces — a high-neck blouse in a dreamy sailboat print with turquoise buttons up the back — and every time I wear it, people want to know where I bought it. I love telling the Pure Detroit Design Lab story — and knowing that I’m supporting local businesses and artists instead of corporate mall stores.

Myth No. 4: There’s no place to exercise.
When I started asking around about where to join a gym, my questions were met with blank stares and shrugged shoulders. “You have to go to Royal Oak for that kind of stuff,” people answered when I inquired about yoga and pilates. I assumed that this was one of the reasons why Detroit topped the national obesity charts. Then, one night while I was at an art opening at Izzy’s Raw Art Gallery (2572 Michigan Ave. in Corktown), I discovered that a pilates class was held there Tuesdays and Thursdays. I showed up, unannounced, the following Tuesday and received a warm greeting and individual attention as I struggled through the class. A regular for nearly a year, I have not yet come across a more friendly, casual and well-instructed class in any city. As for slick, new fitness centers, what other city can boast such a beautiful, modern YMCA? The crumbling Y I belonged to in Chicago smelled, for some unknown reason, like ham, and had no windows. This one looks like a cover of Dwell magazine.

Myth No. 5: Detroit is no place for pets (you can only imagine what they say about kids).
So I don’t actually have a dog, but I’m perpetually considering getting one. Because I’ve looked into the pet-friendliness of Detroit, I know that this particular urban legend is completely untrue. With miles of quiet, unspoiled trails, there couldn’t be a better place to take a dog than Belle Isle. And Liz Blondy, a local dog-loving entrepreneur, recently opened up a doggy day care, Canine To Five (3443 Cass Ave. in Midtown), which has even started offering puppy training classes on a semi-regular basis, as well as an indoor dog park for pets, or, er, their owners, during the chilly winter months. Just down the street, 35-year-old Birdtown (3401 Cass Ave.) offers grooming services and sells pet food, collars, leashes and tropical fish.

As for as raising kids in Detroit, I don’t have those yet, either, but I can say with hearty conviction that once I do (there’s one currently on the way), I will not leave Detroit for its suburbs. My big lesson of the past year (besides that the People Mover isn’t actually for transportation, silly): If you take the time to discover its gems, Detroit is a city rife with history, flaws, quirks, grit and irresistible charm. And it’s far more interesting than the easy-to-find answers of other, more cookie-cutter, albeit more “livable,” cities and suburbs.

Meghan McEwan is a freelance writer who lives in Corktown, without any dogs.

Veggies at Honey Bee La Colmena Market

Avalon Bakery

Detroit Breakfast Grill

Pure Design Lab


All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger

Signup for Email Alerts