Here's part two of guest poster Robert of Cross Key's eating adventures on his recent road trip. His photo and descriptions are making me hungry. EL
Detroit is not a food desert.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, the demise of Detroit has been greatly exaggerated.
Don’t get me wrong, I saw a lot of hurt in the city. There are many vacant and boarded-up homes. There are a lot barren fields that seem out of place in an urban environment. There are numerous abandoned factories.
I went into Detroit, however, expecting to see much worse. I wasn’t expecting to see crowded museums, or rush hour traffic in a city with such high unemployment, or restaurants of all types filled with diners. Nevertheless, that's what I saw. ...
It was probably the filled restaurants that surprised me the most. A lot has been written about how Detroit is a food desert, insofar as the city has no grocery stores. I figured a city that couldn’t support grocery stores probably couldn’t support its restaurants. But I visited restaurants throughout the city, the suburbs and the countryside. Every place I went had decent crowds.
My first dinner in Detroit was at Pegasus in their Greektown. I ordered the old chestnuts of saganaki, calamari, pastichio, moussaka, and spanakopita. It wasn’t different from what I normally get at Ikaros or Acropolis in our Greektown. In fact, I would say the fare at Ikaros is probably better. The exception would be the spanakopita at Pegasus, which was very good. It was a nice contrast of flaky and creamy, and I really liked the nutmeg flavor in it.
The food at Pegasus is good, but what really makes this place is the atmosphere. It's open until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., which makes it like our Sabatino’s, but with much more energy.
It adjoins a casino, but unlike most casinos that isolate themselves from the surrounding area, the Greektown Casino seems to integrate itself with not just Pegasus but all of the Greektown restaurants.
Finally, I love how Greek food is just a part of the Detroit culture. I was there about 11 p.m. The place was filled with people who were at the Red Wings game, and every table was ordering saganaki. It was a constant chorus of Opa! and a spectacle of flaming cheese. You wouldn’t see that in Baltimore after a Ravens game.
I went to Dearborn to visit the Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village and to have lunch at Al-Ameer, a Middle Eastern restaurant. These activities wouldn’t seem to have much common, but they are probably the best representation of Dearborn. This city on the outskirts of Detroit is home to both the world headquarters of Ford and the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the country.
As you drive through Dearborn, you go from a sprawling, corporate campus of Ford to a downtown where all the signs are in Arabic. The latter is quite a sight, and I would be disingenuous if I didn’t say it was a little intimidating (although I’m sure there are some who would be intimidated by a corporate complex). I don't think these feelings can be chalked up to simple xenophobia. It's not the same as being in a Chinatown and seeing signs in Mandarin.
Now, I’ll acknowledge my cultural apprehensions, but I’m not going to let it get between me and a meal. At Al-Ameer I had the house platter, which has two grape leaves, two fried kebbie, chicken shawarma, tawook, kabob, kafta, shawarma, falafel, served with hummus and salad. All of it was good, although you have to really like garlic in order to enjoy the food. The two best things were the falafel, which was the first falafel I ever had that was not dried out, and the shawarma that was flavorful, succulent strips of marinated, fatty lamb.
When I was enjoying my Middle Eastern feast, I was not alone. Al-Ameer’s, like Pegasus, had filled tables. The same was true for my fine-dining meal of short ribs and opera cake at the Whitney and my Belgian beer and bowl of mussels supper at the Cadieux Café.
Every place I went had a decent crowd, and it was really good to see that.