SimmerD: The week we write about cooking, dangerously

We love when our loyal local readers have nice things to say about our publication- after all, they’re our raison d’être. But it’s also pretty cool when people from a different city (like, say, New York) go out of their way to contact you and tell you that they appreciate your work -- so much so that they’re planning a visit, and could we possibly put them in touch with some locals in the food scene?

That’s precisely what happened last month, when our publisher Claire Nelson got an email from writer and NYU professor Cheri Magid. Magid explained that she’d been following Model D for a while now, and that she and her friend, author Julie Powell (who wrote Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, later turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child), were working on a script for a TV pilot to be set in Hamtramck.

After Powell’s blog became a book, and then a movie, she spent time learning butchery, which became the subject of her second book, Cleaving. She and Magid, who had experience writing for television, decided to combine forces to create a show about a young woman who opens an artisanal butcher shop. 

Magid had written to me in an email, "I'm pretty sure part of the reason we chose Hamtramck was from reading your articles," published in Model D last fall about Hamtramck’s diverse ethnic markets. So when the two came to town, I volunteered to give them a tour. We met up at Al Haramain on Caniff, walked down to Jos. Campau where we stopped in some of the old school bakeries, and on to Srodek’s Quality Sausage, where Rodney Srodek gave us the grand tour and wowed us with some facts and figures about the astonishing number of pierogi they’re currently cranking out. 

Once Magid had purchased some Polish liquor as a souvenir, we cut down Yemens St. past Polish Village and its rival Polonia to Conant to check out some of the Bengali shops. I called our managing editor Walter Wasacz to see if he’d like to join us for lunch. Walter was born and raised in Hamtramck -- and still lives there -- and I couldn’t think of a better brain for them to pick than his.

We had lunch buffet at Aladdin and talked about the city, the women’s agenda for the remainder of their visit (an urban garden tour; Eastern Market; dinner at COLORS; Tashmoo biergarten), and their ideas so far for the pilot. Mum’s the word for now, but we can’t wait to see what they come up with. 

If Magid & Powell hadn’t chosen Hamtramck as their backdrop, Eastern Market would have been a great runner up. The area just keeps getting better, with the addition of a beautiful new coffee shop (Germack), collaborative maker spaces like Signal-Return and Omnicorp, cool new retail options like Detroit Mercantile, and -- best of all for food lovers -- the re-opening of the former R Hirt Jr. as Devries & Co.

We collectively gasped at the news it was closing, and now we can breathe a collective sigh of relief to see that it’s back, better than ever. The wood floors have been refinished, and the area that previously contained the cashier behind a thick plastic window has been torn down and replaced with a series of large, kitchen-island style butcher blocks, giving the space an updated, airier feel.

Former Hirt devotees will be pleased to see much of the same merchandise as before, and most of the Hirt employees have returned. The overall effect is enhanced by what a friend described as "a more lighthearted feeling" among the staff, who seem bolstered by pride in the refurbished space, and extra-eager to help.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Detroit food column without a mention of Corktown. We had a chance this past month to check out two recent additions to the ever-growing roster of dining options -- the Green Dot Stables and Brooklyn Street Local.

The Green Dot, purchased and re-opened by husband and wife Jacques and Christina Driscoll, has been serving their mostly $3-per-item menu at lunch since late March. A couple weeks ago they finally opened for dinner, to the delight of many whose tastes exceed the contents of their wallets. Serving a variety of dressed-up sliders and sides (including some of the most killer fries in Detroit), the Green Dot’s food is as good as it gets at that price point, and better than many more expensive joints. You may not be able to drink a beer there at 3 a.m. with a bunch of off-duty cops anymore, but we think it’s a worthwhile tradeoff.

Owned and run by two Torontonians who recently relocated to Detroit, Brooklyn Street Local fills a Corktown niche by offering breakfast 7 days a week and lunch Monday through Friday. As the name suggests, they are committed to sourcing as much locally as possible, from Pointe Dairy cage-free eggs to J&M pork and Brother Nature greens and herbs. We’re especially intrigued to try the eggs Benedict -- since the couple couldn’t find a local source for traditional peameal bacon, they decided to cure their own.

Like its neighbors the Green Dot and Mercury Burger Bar, BSL also serves newly-trendy poutine, a French-Canadian dish consisting of fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. Does their Canadian-ness give them an edge in this department? We suggest a field trip to Corktown to sample and find out. 

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention a couple of upcoming events that any serious food lover should put on their calendar. This weekend, June 15 and 16, the Jazzin’ on Jefferson festival moves away from carnival food, and instead will host a FoodLab pop-up shop with a variety of small local food entrepreneurs like Detroit Vegan Soul, Beautiful Soup, Beau Bien Fine Foods and Pete's Chocolates, as well as a variety of local food trucks. And on June 23, the third annual Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic -- an epic extravaganza of eating and drinking -- will take place on Belle Isle, the same day as the opening of the Belle Isle Art Exhibit. All events are free and open to the public, and we can’t think of a better way to kick off summer in the city.

Noelle Lothamer authors the food blog Simmer Down.

Photos by Marvin Shaouni
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