Does that evoke a strong image? Perhaps a confused image? Well, that’s exactly the restaurant design I discovered in Detroit – and it is surprisingly and wonderfully cohesive.
Oh, and the food and drinks are F*UCKING AMAZING. Italics, caps, and four-letter word well earned.
Didn’t expect that from Detroit? Me neither.
But it’s for real. My recent business trip to the Motor City gave me the opportunity to spend time downtown that I would have normally spent in the suburbs with family. And the absolute highlight of the trip was everything I ate…and drank.
Thankfully, I was joined in the city by a colleague who enjoys great food and drinks as much as I do, so we dove head-first into the menus at two of Detroit’s most popular establishments.
Before I go on: my qualifications to make such a bold claim.
You’re probably asking yourself what qualifies me to declare Detroit to be the most exciting food scene in America right now. The honest answer is nothing. But that won’t stop me.
In the last year I’ve visited renowned foodie cities the likes of Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Lyon, Venice, and, of course, Washington, D.C. And while Fond Rose by Paul Bocuse is still ranks as the best meal I’ve ever had in my life, aside from that I’ve never been more excited about the total atmosphere and culture of eating as I was in Detroit.
A quick aside for those who haven’t kept up with the latest on Detroit.
Even if you’re not familiar with Detroit’s recent history, you’ve probably at least been filled in on its reputation. Which is not good. But in reality, the city is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Here are some quick bullet points that you should know before we dive into FOOD.
- The city of Detroit has been in decline for decades. It hit its low point in 2013 when it filed for bankruptcy.
- As you might have figured, a city going through bankruptcy is no bueno. Lots of people lose when their government fails them. Oh, and don’t forget that this was the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history (as measured by debt). So, yeah, really not good.
- The irreplaceable Detroit Institute of Arts was at the front of the line for sale of its property and priceless works of art – what would have been a complete tragedy if it would have come to fruition (thankfully, it didn’t).
- One bright spot emerged in all of this: Due to some creative thinking by the city and significant support from charitable foundations, Detroit was able to emerge from bankruptcy quickly and not get suck in a decade-long litigation battle that would have been bad for everyone.
- Investor dollars to revitalize the city, low housing prices, and other incentives have attracted businesses and young professionals back into the Detroit. The city is now considered to be turning around, though progress is slow, unsteady, and certainly not resulting in prosperity for everyone (especially kids in Detroit’s failing school system). On a much more trivial level, food lovers can be thankful because the restaurant scene is ON POINT.
Ok, Marissa, enough with the history lesson. Let’s get back to food already.
Fine, you win. But I just have one question for you: ARE. YOU. READY?
Our first stop: Grey Ghost.
Grey Ghost is a brand new restaurant that is among the buzziest in Detroit right now. I hesitated to make a reservation there (I generally avoid “hot new spots in town,” don’t ask me why), but the reviews were so universally positive that I had to try it out.
The restaurant features a tapas-style menu for everything but its meat portions (which it is known for), so we opted to order a bunch of stuff and share.
You’ll notice a trend with both of the restaurants in this post: dim lighting. Apparently Grey Ghost and Wright & Co. did not have their friendly neighborhood blogger in mind when they opted for the dimmest of mood lighting. However, it created for a great atmosphere at both restaurants – equal parts intimate, trendy, and comfortable. It certainly beat the overly-bright Jaleo experience I had a few weeks back.
One could submit that the lighting speaks somewhat to Detroit’s character: gritty, dark, industrial, understated, preferring to linger in the shadows. It’s like the restaurants in this city recognize it and embrace it, in stark contrast to a place like Washington D.C. where many feature natural light seemingly in an attempt to portray brightness and transparency in a city known for its shadiness, bureaucracy and scandals. D.C.’s restaurants are aspirational, Detroit’s restaurants are real.
As far as food goes, Grey Ghost’s selection was seemingly simple but exceptionally thought-out in the details. For instance, my fried bologna (you read that right) was as salty and gamey as you would expect, but balanced with sweetness, creaminess thanks to the cream cheese fondue on top. Certainly I not for one person to take down on their own, but perfect to share.
The gem lettuce was just ok, though it was taken up a notch by the crunchy toast and soft egg on the side. The dressing was tart and sweet and “woke up the egg,” as my colleague put it. The combination together was excellent, but any of the parts alone would have been underwhelming.
Our next round was the “main course,” if you could call it that at a restaurant of small dishes. We ordered gnocchi, sea scallops, fries, and carrots with pesto. The highlights were the scallops and gnocchi. The scallops were sunk into a rich brown butter sauce that was unbelievably flavorful (those who love brown butter like me can probably taste it now). The scallops themselves had a parmesan crust on top, and were seared on the bottom. They were perfectly cooked.
The gnocchi was exceptional, with whipped ricotta adding a dimension that I’ve never experienced with potato dumplings in the past. It looks like Grey Ghost has cycled it out of their menu, but if it is ever brought back, get it.
I was so stuffed from our meal that I barely touched the carrots. They were great, but my stomach was almost to the point of rejecting anything else that would enter it. I left them mostly untouched.
All in all, it was a solid first night out. For those who are familiar with Nashville, the vibe and food are reminiscent of Rolf & Daughters, though R&D still holds the distinction of being my favorite restaurant in the United States.
Up next was the local favorite recommended to me by a good friend.
Our second stop: Wright & Co.
We stepped into Wright & Co. and I immediately felt comfortable. Sure, the ceilings were high and shiny and people seemed hip and it had great decor, but it felt more accessible than Grey Ghost did. Maybe less of an air about it. I can’t completely pinpoint it.
I immediately fell in love with the interior design, however. The exposed brick, buffed metal-plated ceilings, exposed metal ductwork, industrial light fixtures and ornate chandeliers had such a funky contrast that I found them to be oddly complementary and inviting. The huge canvas painting of a boat on rough seas behind the bar gave the restaurant an artistic and mysterious vibe that would have been subconsciously missed if it wasn’t there.
We were not shocked to find that the menu was tailored for the tastes of the moment: small plates, with a range of different twists on regional dishes along with some featured ethnic cuisines.
I was told that the highlight at Wright & Co. was the drinks, so I immediately set myself to ordering a cocktail. The “South of Somewhere” (rye, Fino Sherry, Angostura, maple syrup, lemon) was my poison for the night, and it was exceptionally delicious and balanced.
Our waiter expertly guided us through the menu and helped us land on our selections, each of which were phenomenal in their own right: crisp gulf shrimp, heirloom tomatoes (caprese), tuna tartare, and cannelloni with eggplant-ricotta filling.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for dishes with cream, and the caprese and cannelloni delivered. The cannelloni in particular was drenched in béchamel, so how could I not love it? But equally flavorful were the shrimp and the tuna tartare. I actually saved the tuna tartare for last because it was so light and refreshing; a palate cleanser of sorts. The fried shrimp was everything you ask for from that kind of dish: crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, with a sweet and spicy chili sauce. That dish in particular was the highlight for both myself and my colleague, though everything was delicious.
We both left Detroit feeling excited about the restaurant scene, and desperately wanting to go back to try more. I even overheard some people from Manhattan – Manhattan – saying that Selden Standard was the best meal they’d had in a long time. If you weren’t convinced already, that should be enough to sway you.
Planning your visit
- Location: 47 Watson St., Detroit, MI
- Menu: Food | Drink
- Reservations: Yes – make them in advance!
- Attire: Trendy/casual
- Price: around $50-75 per person with drinks
- Location: 1500 Woodward Ave., Floor 2, Detroit, MI
- Menu: see website (no direct link)
- Reservations: No. First come first served.
- Attire: Trendy/casual
- Price: Around $30-50 per person with drinks
Additional Reading and Resources
- Detroit Bankruptcy (Wikipedia)
- Detroit is out of bankruptcy, not out of the woods (New York Times)
- Bankrupt Detroit doles out corporate subsidies (BloombergView)
- Detroit’s emergence from bankruptcy (Emsi)
- The Grand Bargain (The Detroit News)
- Detroit after bankruptcy (Forbes)
What’s your take on the Detroit food scene and these two restaurants? Any others that my readers should try on their next visit? Let me know in the comments!
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