SimmerD: We start new column devoted to food, drink and good times in the city

Detroit, if there's one thing we learned about you in 2010, it's that you're hungry. From DIY food events and underground dinners for charity to lectures and round table discussions on community food issues and the future of urban farming, with a healthy dose of exploring new restaurants and watering holes in between, our calendars have been as full as our gullets.

That's why Model D is kicking off this new column devoted to all things edible and potable. We'll be your field guide to the best of the city's food culture -- new restaurants and bars, events and news in food politics, food-related small businesses in the city, and the food community at large. For our inaugural column, we fill you in on some notable happenings that made 2010 an exciting year to be in the thick of Detroit's hyperactive food scene, and look ahead to what 2011 has on tap.

DIY food events and start-ups

2010 saw a growth spurt in upstart mobile food businesses. As popular as these ventures were with consumers, they suffered the strain of operating outside of state and city food laws. Some, like Neighborhood Noodle, found ways around the dilemma (they now operate monthly out of Supino Pizza), while others such as Pink FlaminGo continue to wrangle with the city to secure permits and licensing.

Meanwhile, last summer, Michigan passed new cottage food laws enabling people to produce limited types of items out of their home kitchens for sale. While not providing a solution for all would-be vendors, the laws nonetheless opened the door for others to establish home-based businesses to sell such products as jam, vinegar, and certain baked goods.

Two memorable events celebrated and showcased the wares of these budding micro-vendors. In October, MOCAD threw a benefit at Eastern Market called Homeslice, which served as the product launch for many new ventures. In addition to featuring swank nibbles from some of the city's poshest restaurants, cottage food vendors sampled and sold their homemade goods to an eager and appreciative public.

The enthusiasm for Homeslice was in turn the inspiration for the Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar, a free strolling marketplace attended by hundreds of hungry holiday-shopping Detroiters held at Whitdel Arts in Southwest Detroit. The event was host to sixteen local food vendors, a mix of established businesses like McClure's Pickles and cottage vendors like Detroit Zymology Guild.

Food party time

Gourmet Underground Detroit started last spring as a small group of friends who met for the most part on the internet, drawn together by their nerdy fascination (some might say obsession) with food and drink. This is a group whose members pickle, can, ferment, brew their own beer, cider and kombucha, make their own charcuterie, have an astonishing collective knowledge of wine and cocktails, and throw a hell of a party. Members include restaurant owners, small food business owners, wine buyers, chefs, coffee roasters, bloggers, food writers and, as their website states, "serious food enthusiasts."

Some of the group's 2010 Detroit events: a gourmet potluck picnic on Belle Isle; a class on kombucha making in a Lafayette Park condo; a sherry-tasting and Spanish tapas party in the Kales building; an impromptu wine tasting in the shadows of the train station. (Although not strictly a GUD event, many participants were also in attendance at the pig butchering written about by Model D's J. Anton Blatz.) The year was ushered out in true GUD style with a New Year's Eve celebration at member Dave Kwiatkowski's soon-to-be-open Sugar House Bar, where classic punches and dangerously delicious, unique cocktails of Dave's creation flowed liberally.

GU Detroit started as a Google group whose daily emails covered topics as diverse as the ramifications of urban farming, where to find the best bahn mi, and how to brew a superior cup of coffee at home. Group founder Todd Abrams describes GU Detroit's mission as: "the propagation of local gastronomic knowledge (whose) goal is to strengthen and build the food and drinks community in the Detroit Metropolitan region through the promotion of products, producers, retailers, bars, restaurants, and events."

When the group reached over 100 members and the emails were numbering in the dozens per day, the Google group was put to rest, and in its place a website with blog posts, articles and online forums was created. Anyone is welcome to join in the discussion on the forums, where you can find out about any upcoming events.

Corktown rising in 2011

2011 will most certainly be the year that Corktown's status as "the" neighborhood to sate one's appetites is cemented. Its anchor, Slows Bar BQ, added a take-out only location in Midtown in 2010 to help alleviate the crush of patrons at the restaurant. This year, however, visitors to the area will have a choice of burgers (Mercury Burger Bar), upscale Italian fare (Ottava Via), or diner food (Onassis Coney Island). Thirsty? Keep an eye out for Astro Coffee and the aforementioned Sugar House Bar.

In other Corktown dining news, Mudgie's is moving downtown this spring, but owner Greg Mudge tells Model D he hopes to transform the beloved Brooklyn & Porter location into a different restaurant, while maintaining the same overall feel and dedication to local products. PJ's Lager House, which started serving food last year from a small stand on their patio, continues to expand their menu now that they have a full kitchen (more on this in a future column).

Lest Corktown have all the fun, the revival of the London Chop House awaits downtown, and rumors of a specialty coffee shop and roastery to open in Midtown swirl like the foam on a pricey cappuccino. For these and other culinary delights Detroit dishes up, we'll be there, our appetites honed, our senses thirsty for new experiences, and our cameras and pens at the ready.

Noelle Lothamer blogs about food, recipes and life at Simmer Down! She lives in constant anticipation of her next meal.

All photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here


2010 Holiday Food Bazaar at the Whitdel Art Building in Southwest Detroit

Chicken and Waffles dinner party at the Milwaukee Lofts

A few of the members from the group Gourmet Underground Detroit photographed at the historical T-Plex

Neighborhood Noodle on Monday nights at Supino Pizza in Eastern Market

The newly renovated Shed 3 at Eastern Market during MOCAD's Homeslice event

On the go with PinkFlaminGo's mobile Airstream

cottage vendor Beau Bien Fine Foods offers sweet and savory preserves

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