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Quintessential Detroit Food

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My wife and I are going on a Midwest baseball tour starting tommorrow - Kauffman, US Cellular, Miller, Comerica & Wrigley.

KC is known for their BBQ, Chicago is Pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef, Milwaukee is Brats and beer.

What is the essential Detroit chow and where do we get it?

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  1. The coney. There are a lot of joints but the tops in my opinion is Lafayette which is on Lafayette in downtown, a few blocks off Woodward. You might even be able to get to it from the ballpark by taking the people mover.

    There is a large middle eastern population in the area, especially around Dearborn, and that's worth a try too. Lots of people like La Shish, which is a chain, but darn good.

    1. I'm not from Detroit but have lived here for almost a year. Thus far, this is what I have learned to be quintessential detroit food.
      1) The Coney Dog: the coney dog is a hot dog that is covered in beanless chilli, raw onions and yellow mustard. The dog itself is skinny and has a nice snap to the skin when you bite into it. The chilli again is beanless and compared to the coney dogs in the Flint, MI area are runnier. The two most famous adn the original Coney Islands are right next door to each other and walkable from Comerica park. The first was American Coney Island and it was started by Greek immigrants. At some point a relative of the original owner (possibly brother) then opened up another one right next door called Lafayette Coney Island. Both are good, both have ardent supporters and both stay open nearly 24 hours.
      2) Square Deep Dish Pizza- another quintessential Detroit Food is the square deep dish pizza together with antipasto salads. I'm from Chicago originally and love Chicago Style Deep Dish but Detroit deep dish certainly has its charm. What I like about this style of pizza is the crispy and crunchy crust that it gets. The original place is called Buddy's pizza- there are a couple of outlets but the original is on Conant. Other ones that I have had or heard that were good include: 1) Loui's; 2) Shield's; 3) Jet's (like a weed). Every pizza place I have been has had antipasto salads- often times its made with merely iceberg lettuce, tomato, cheese, olives, onions?, ham, and salami. Don't know why I like them so much but always order them.

      After that- close to the ball park you'll be near an area of town that is called Greektown (casino also nearby) which has pretty good greek food pastitsio, mousakka, saganaki, etc... and is the area of town with tourists/locals. There is the oddly named Mexicantown which boasts what else... Mexican food. The Detroit Style Mexican food (tons of cheese, tons of food, not very spicey) can be found at Oxchimilco (the one that started it all). The more authentic can be found done the street at "Tacqueria Lupita" see David de Berkely's posts on this place- he's a true believer, as am I.
      I'm sure there is more quintessential Detroit food, but again I have been here less than a year here.

      2 Replies
      1. re: swygz

        Greek brothers opened LaFayette and American Coney Island in 1917. One is still in the original family.

        BTW: If anyone here happens to fly through the Detroit airport, National Coney Island in the NWA terminal has a good Coney.


        1. re: swygz

          an aside on detroit deep dish square pizza (with the devine crispy crust):

          buddy's, shield's and louis' are all well known and loved places (with buddy's widely recognized as the king - 9 locations and numerous "best pizza" awards). it was all started by one man, gus guerra, who opened the original buddy's location at six mile & conant in 1936 as a blind pig. he went legit in 1944 and in 1946, added sicilian deep dish style pizza to the menu.

          gus sold the place in 1953 but part of his deal was that he could open and run one place on the east side. that place is called cloverleaf and it's been on gratiot between 9 & 10 mile for 50 years. i grew up going there many times with my family in the 1970's. it used to be a small, dark, and kind of dumpy. but after a fire & remodeling 10-15 years ago, it is much bigger with outside seating, big screen tv's, and karaoke nights. i live on the other side of town now but try to get back once a year for a few slices of "the original." after all the years, it is still fantastic. check it out, you won't be disappointed.

        2. True on both. The coney is a chili dog with onions ... despite its name, it's distinctive to this area, and some places in upstate New York call it a "Michigan." The Lafayette, a true institution, dishes these things up for 24 hours a day but has little else on the menu. More typical are the places on many streetcorners called "coney islands." These are the metro Detroit version of the diner, with other short-order standards. They're usually owned by Greeks (or, nowadays, Albanians or Chaldeans from Iraq), and if you like chicken-lemon-rice soup, that's always on the menu, too.

          After you get past Ann Arbor, the coney dog changes--they use spiced hamburger in place of chili. Odd, eh?

          The Middle Eastern population in this area is so large that places just can't get away with serving bad food--the competition is too intense. La Shish is a good sit-down place, but there are numerous more modest restaurants that serve great food. If you're driving from Detroit to Chicago, pull off in Ypsilanti and head for Al Noor at 2333 Washtenaw. See charming photo below--hey, it's got outdoor seating!

          Link: http://www.notfoolinganybody.com/1aln...

          6 Replies
          1. re: Jim M.

            I'm in Ann Arbor and don't get to Detroit much. Any places in AA/Ypsi that you'd recommend for a good Coney? Or the Detroit-style deep dish?

            1. re: Darren

              In AA I'm partial to the Mark's Midtown coney island restaurants, especially the one on State just south of I-94. It's not so much the coneys (which, let's face it, are pretty similar wherever you go). It's the waitstaff--they're pretty, they're fun, and they've got the operational intelligence of air traffic controllers. If you enjoy the kind of diner where everything runs like clockwork, that's your place.

              Deep dish in AA is tougher ... I like the NY style thin pizza at NYPD (New York Pizza Depot), though. E. William location is the original. I guess for top-notch deep-dish I'd go to Greektown in Detroit, but maybe someone else has a suggestion.

              1. re: Jim M.

                Thanks. I actually live close to Mark's Midtown and have been there several times. I guess I never realized there was such a thing on the menu as a coney! :)

                Regarding pizza in AA, my favorite is Anthony's. They are in a shopping mall on Packard, with a Kroger. I don't think I've seen this square deep dish on the menu though. I'll have to search around for that.

                1. re: Darren

                  if you want to try the detroit square deep dish style without leaving ann arbor Jet's Pizza is a chain but has a decent version of it (at least at the location I order it from in detroit):
                  Jet's Pizza
                  3127 Oak Valley Drive
                  Ann Abor, MI 48103
                  (734) 222-7544

                  1. re: Darren

                    i think the Anthony's in Georgetown Mall closed & will reopen soon in the strip mall on Maple near Miller

              2. re: Jim M.

                Are there any Onassis Coney Islands left? The one I used to like on Allen Road is long gone.


              3. i second the lafayette coney island recommendation. its a few blocks from comerica park and it is open 24 hours. lafayette is small and cramped while american coney island next door is more expansive. walk up and linger outside the windows and the cooks will attempt to lure your business by calling out to you and tapping on the window. i tend to choose lafayette. they have counter seating and tables that seat 6 to 8. depending when you go, you may be sharing a table with detroit cops, businessmen, after-bar crowd, local politicians/celebs, or regular joe's. i always get "one of each with everyting" - a coney and a loose hamburger with chili/mustard/onions. they also have fries which you can get with chili if you want. wash it down with a cold bottle of stroh's or a vernors ginger ale (both original detroit products - though no longer made in town).

                two other detroit foods are better made potato chips and sauders hot fudge sauce (best on an ice cream sundae).

                five blocks south of comerica park/ford field is greektown which has a bevy of good greek places on monrow street. i am partial to new hellas cafe.

                a six minute drive south on - 75 will lead you to mexican town (vernor st) which has a row of good places - los galanes, el zocalo, xochimilco, taqueria lupita, etc.

                next to comerica park just east of the right field foul pole is cheli's chili - a good three level bar owned by red wing chris chelios (the original is in chicago and a second is in dearborn).

                my friends and i like to go to the elwood which is just beyond center field. it's an art deco bar/diner with a good patio.

                inside the stadium: i just discovered this at a game last week: most beers are 24 oz and cost $8. however, at the inside bar at the brushfire grill (the court where the baseball ferris wheel is located) they are $6.50 with a wide variety of taps including imports. food is run of the mill ballpark with nothing to write home about. if you like ribs, you might want to check out the montgomery inn (imported from cincinnati) stand perched up in right field.

                extra: bring your passport or a birth certificate and head south to widsor, canada for some good canadian beer at one of the many bars/pubs/cafes/restaurants (strip bars?) on oulette just off the tunnel (which you access right next to the ren-cen). there is also a great italian district on erie road just 3 or 4 minutes from the tunnel.

                welcome and enjoy your stay. go tigers!

                1. I would agree with most of the recommendations.

                  Personally, I prefer the Greek food on Halsted in Chicago to what you will find in Detroit.

                  Detroit has some very good upscale soul food. Beans and Cornbread in Southfields is an excellent choice.

                  Detroit's Eastern Market is one of the best midwestern farmer's market. At this time of year, there is a wide variety of produce available from Michigan and Southern Ontatio farms.

                  Windsor has a nummber of good restaurants. There are a wide variety of Asian restaurants along the University Ave. corridor.

                  1. bzzt on the coney dogs being invented in michigan. long before detroit, the first coney island chili dogs were served up by the greeks in cincinnati at the coney island amusement park. they are an off shoot of the local chili. there are coney island hot dog spots in most ohio cities too. so not invented up there nor unique.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: mrnyc

                      See the Wikipedia article on "Coney Island Hot Dog," which places the origins in Michigan, with competing claims by the downtown Detroit places and Todoroff's in Jackson (which is indeed very old). They mention the Ohio presence, including Cincinnati, but it's nowhere near as common in Ohio, even in Toledo. You can get Cincinnati chili in Michigan, too; Skyline just opened a place in Monroe.

                      Don't have any stake in the matter, and in fact I would rather eat Cincinnati chili than a coney any day--much more complex flavors.

                      1. re: Jim M.

                        While I agree about the origin being in Michigan, quoting Wiki, does no good. It just says whatever the last person who visited the site before you wants it to say.

                        As far as eating the coney's, I love the Detroit products. But I've tried both Skyline and Gold Star Coney Islands, and don't want to ever have one again.

                        I will be in Cincinnait next week. If anyone has some other Coney recomendations out around the Sharonville Doubletree, I am all ears.


                        1. re: Jim M.

                          no, even wiki couches it is not definitive. however, what is definitive is its early popularity at amusement parks....which leads one to cinci's coney island amusement park, the origin of the coney dog (no relation to and not a specialty at coney island in nyc). also, think about it. cinci is historically waaay more german than detroit & already has the exact same local chili topping flavor, not much of a leap to put it in hotdogs -- in fact chili dogs are served in those cinci chili parlors all across the region along with the regional spaghetti/chili specialty. anyway, it would be a rather amazing coincidence for detroit to have independently invented that exact same chili for the dog topping dont you think? cinci has all the history -- the germans, the coney island & the chili parlors & chili dogs so i rest the case.

                          ps -- regardless --- you might want to read up on wiki before you post "facts" off it as definitive, locals tend to take over & prosletyze a lot on there. also, coney dogs are indeed the popular hotdog style in ohio i dont know where you see its not as common there. however, while looking i found that detroit isnt even in the top ten hotdog cities, rather surprising for a metro of 4M and such a claim as this.

                          1. re: mrnyc

                            What does having German roots have to do with chili? I grew up in the Detroit area and live within 45 minutes of downtown Cincy and have had both. Cincinnati chil is not the exact same chili, it's not really close. Even further apart are the hot dogs used in both locales, that's where Detroit really wins. The stuff they have in Toledo/Northern Ohio is far more comparable.

                            Maybe Cincy did invent it. So what? Detroit simply bettered it.

                      2. Not till I left Detroit and moved to various places around the country did I realize that the Metro area is home to the BEST Lebanese food in the country.....From kibbeh neyeh (raw lamb) to chicken schwarma, Detroit rocks and everyotherplace (including NYC) has nothing compared to michigan.
                        My rec's:
                        Bridgets in Clinton township - best kibbeh/grapeleaves/coosa
                        Cedar gardens in St. clair Shores: chicken schwarma

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: sixelagogo

                          not totally, toledo & cleveland regions have leb food that rocks nyc too.

                          1. re: mrnyc

                            Maybe it's because my family comes from North Lebanon, which I think most Detroit lebanese originates and it;s the food I come to love...where else in america are there more pita huts than pizza huts.

                        2. I must agree , a coney with a baby greek and a side of chili cheese fries may be the quintessential Detroit food , but the best food is our Lebanese and other Middle Eastern , followed closely by our small but excellent Vietnamese , and spotty but good Mexican .

                          1. The chili in a Detroit coney is a puree-no chunks till you get to the onions. Do you know that most coney places will sell you frozen cubes of the stuff?

                            I think every refrigerator in the metro Detroit area has a tub of hummus somewhere in it.

                            Evie's Tamales. On Bagley. Call ahead and get the ones with the peppered masa with a chicken filling. Or just load up on the house tamales. Cold beer, Evies Tamales.

                            1. If this post isn't too late-

                              I second and third Beans and Cornbread. I just moved back to Cleveland from the burbs of Detroit and it is one of the pplaces I will really miss. Their sides are fab especially the greens and the black-eyed peas. Both the best I've ever had. Best fried chicken and darn good ribs too.

                              If you have a chance check out the Syrian baker at 17 and Dequinder. The name of the place is Pain D'or. The bakers are two brothers who make flatbread that is perfect. Try the cheese and parsley and the ztar (sp?) which is ground parsley and sumac with lemon and sesame seeds. I have had middle easter breads from many bakers around the country and these fellows are in a league of their own.

                              1. And for Kibbeh Nayee (Labanese raw lamb with bulgar and spices) I strongly suggest checking out Bridgets in clinton township between 19 and Hall road on Garfield...I have to say in a head to head with my dearly departed lebanese grandma, Bridgets would win.

                                1. If you want to stock up on Detroit stuff to take home with you, don't forget Vernor's gingerale, Kowalski sausage, Sander's hot fudge sauce and Better Maid potato chips!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: houndgirl

                                    If you go to detroit and all you eat is coney dogs, you really missed out IMO. Hit up Conant street in Hamtramck (city inside detroit limits) to check out three awsome bangladeshi joints, all are very inexpensive and very good. Bengal Masala would be my favorite, but Al'ladin has the best breads. Al'Amin has its great items too.
                                    Go over to Jos Campeau and check out Yeman cafe or Sheba restauraunt for yemenese which is delicious. Also on this street is Under the Eagle polish restauraunt. Or juant over to Yemans st and check out Polonia and Polish Village, the latter two of the polish places are known as being some of the top polish in the country. On caniff there is a bosnian place.
                                    This is just hamtramck, it is only 2.1 square miles in size surrounder by detroit 143.
                                    Now for dearborn which borders detroit and houses the largest arabic poulation outside of the middle east. Tons of awesome arabic food here. On of my person faves is cedarland on warran. There are countless other arabic places which are delicious everyone will have a different opinion.

                                    Whoever recommended Beans and Cornbread: the place has awesome food, I agree. It does not compare to the greatness which is bakerskeyboardlounge.com
                                    You have to go here, it is a detroit landmark, the oldest jazz bar in the world and has the best southern food(soul food?) in the area I can find and believe me I have looked. Google the place, the best of the best have played there and still do every week. This place has been around since something like 1932 as a jazz bar and restaurant. Truely a detroit gem.
                                    Notice I said southern food. Most northerners and trendy yuppie types refer to southern food as "soul food" because they mistakenly think it is a black thing. I grew up in the south and nearly everyone of my friends from town or school would have stuff like collard greens, black eyed peas, fried okra, porkchops, fried chicken (tcetera you get the point) and the like on the table every night. Whether you are white or black that is what people eat down there, not just a black thing. A southern thing.