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Jun 6, 2006 12:33 AM

Quintessential Detroit Food

  • b

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!


          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.