Given all the news about Detroit filing for bankruptcy, I thought it appropriate to draw some attention to some of the more wonderful parts of the Great Lakes State, and even Detroit.
I visited my parents this past weekend, who live about 40 minutes outside Detroit (though, growing up, my brother and I were trained to substitute that for “20 minutes from Ann Arbor, you know, home of the world-renowned University of Michigan. Did I mention that my mom went there? GO BLUE!”)
My quaint lil’ hometown (the photos below don’t do it justice, unfortunately, but you can find some swell pics at I Run These Towns) was hosting their annual Art in the Park, where the streets shut down and super-charming artisans attempt to sell their wares. Given that it’s the Midwest, stuff is fairly crafty and doesn’t really appeal to my senses, but strolling down street after street full of vendors and artists was like stepping back into my childhood.
We hit Art in the Park early on the Friday it opened, so crowds were sparser than they’d be just a few hours later.
We hit up Greek Islands Coney Island for lunch before we left the art fair. For those of you who’ve never been to Michigan and are perplexed by Coney Island restaurants…you’re not alone. There are probably hundreds of Coney Island restaurants in the metro Detroit-area, but they aren’t a chain, per se. While there are some franchised Coneys (like Kirby’s, which has almost 30 locations), they’re all independently owned. Coney Islands are really their own type of cuisine, a mix of Americanized Greek food (think gyros, souvlaki, spanakopita) and…chili dogs. Coneys are often owned and operated by Greek-American families, hence the unusual mix of cuisine.
I wonder if Coney Islands are the Lil’ Sebastian of Michigan. Lance didn’t seem to “get” Coney Islands when we last visited Michigan together. “It’s a hot dog with ‘meat sauce’ on it,” he said suspiciously in his best Ben Wyatt.
Of course, the Midwest doesn’t have the reputation of being a bunch of fat, shapeless people for nothing! My dad loves preparing all of my favorite foods when I visit, so by Day 3 or so I always get “tummy troubles,” but it’s worth it. Below, you’ll see my father’s Texas Toast Bacon Burger (yes, you read that right.)
On one of the last days I was home, we swung in to Detroit, which just got its first Whole Foods (which is, I’m not kidding, a seriously important thing and a sign that there’s budding hope in the revival of the city). When I was a kid, I never spent a lot of time in Detroit, a city plagued by crime, corruption, and nothingness for years. Seriously, the city’s lost more than half its population since the 1950s, so it’s understandable how the tax base dried up, leaving the city in shambles.
Now, as an adult, I’ve become more protective of “The D” (it’s not going to catch on, folks, let’s give it up). I’ve become very interested in the new urban farming initiatives in a city which so badly needs access to fresh (and cheap) produce, or the Midtown section that is being infused with a lot of young, 20-something money (hey, it’s cheap to live there and young people gravitate to city centers).
While we were downtown, we got pretty close to the sets they’re building for “Transformers 4.” A couple of the other “Transformers” movies have also filmed in Detroit, though probably because it doesn’t take a lot of money to make the place look like a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
On the way out of the city, we stopped by Slows-To-Go Barbecue. My parents have been raving about Slows for months, and they weren’t wrong. For those of y’all familiar with Fette Sau in Brooklyn or Fishtown in Philly, it’s a similar idea. Very good and well worth going out of your way for.
Detroit is going to turn around eventually, though it’s going to face even more growing pains as, I’m sure, city employee pensions and even more of the government workforce will be cut. There are signs of hope in the city (when did Detroit get a Starbucks??); I remain hopeful.
Oh, and of course, we also had to check on the progress on Michigan’s first CHEESECAKE FACTORY!!! Lookin’ good, CFac, lookin’ good.