One Chef’s Guide Through the Rising Culinary World of Detroit

There is a new wave of culinary offerings flooding Detroit setting a new appetite for Motor City and there is some you can bring back too.

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Editor’s Note: In the second part of our Off the Beaten Path series in partnership with Montblanc, we’re telling the stories of Detroit — America’s off the beaten path, but rising, city. In this series we look at Detroit through the lens of those who know it best, its tastemakers, experiencing the very places they feel are worth a stop.

To say the food scene in Detroit used to be bleak might have been an understatement. There wasn’t much of a market for new eateries in 2014 when 50,000 of the city’s 261,000 builders laid abandoned. “Coming up in the city and seeing the food scene was pretty grim,” says John Vermiglio, Detroit native, chef and co-owner of Grey Ghost and Second Best, both set in Detroit’s Brush Park neighborhood. Vermiglio and his three-years-old Grey Ghost is part of the hearty culinary scene cropping up all across the city. “Essentially my entire life has been in the downturn of Detroit and only now, recently are we seeing it come back,” says Vermiglio. And part of that comeback is of course in the dining and drinking options which now abound. “In present-day Detroit, the food scene is incredible. I would put it on par with some of the best cities in the country and the world.” With Vermiglio as our guide, we dove belly first into his well-fed — and thirst-quenching — city, rounding up some treats that are worth bringing back from a visit to Motor City.



Even with Detroit’s culinary scene on the upswing — thanks in large part to new industries calling the city home, cheap rents and abundance of urban farms — opening a restaurant here is no easy feat. 2019 will likely see dozens of restaurants opening in the city, but it will also see a significant number of closing. As the food scene in the city expands and adjusts, Vermiglio says the chefs of Detroit stay close-knit. “When a new restaurant opens, no one’s looking at it as competition, but rather, somebody else that’s going to help boost the economy of Detroit,” says Vermiglio. “When I moved back here and we were building Grey Ghost, every chef in town reached out and every one of them opened their kitchens to us.”

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Some of our favorite new-wave culinary offerings flooding the city skew towards a lighter fare, sourced locally and rinsed down with the myriad of Michigan brewed beers and distilled spirits. The abundance of urban farms, breweries, and distilleries have helped to launch Detroit’s food scene. One such endeavor is Bees in The D, a non-profit with a mission to help honey bees thrive in Detroit. Bees in the D honey works its way in plenty of the local food scene and they have over 160 hives around the city. Out in Corktown, you’ll find the cozy Astro Coffee slinging espressos pulled from their in-house roasted beans. Be sure to grab a bag or two. Across town in Cass Corridor is Rocco’s Italian Deli. You won’t be able to miss it with its colorfully painted exterior. With a small bar and ample seating, you can easily see yourself downing one too many negronis and losing yourself in one of their well-stacked sandwiches. “The Love Letter to The Corner Deli” is a mouthful from title to last bite and Vermiglio’s favorite on the menu. Rocco’s also makes a homemade hot sauce that is worthy of a place in any home. Vermiglio’s own Grey Ghost is always well attended, with a playful menu that feels both familiar and adventurous with a penchant for a good steak. With a deep and well-stocked bar — and skillful barmen — Grey Ghost would be a hit anywhere.

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Of course, the food scene in Detroit isn’t all-new and well-heeled. While the city may be undergoing a renaissance of sorts, there are gems that Detroiter’s have been patronizing long before anyone from out of the state gave the city a second thought. One can’t write about food in Detroit without mentioning the famous Coney Dog (a hotdog topped with chili, mustard and white onion), of which every native has a recommended number one spot. Similarly, there is the heated debate over the best eateries to grab a Detroit style pizza (We at GP are team Buddy’s).

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“What you have now is a combination of old school spots, little mom and pop delis and pizzerias, and little Coney island restaurants that have been around forever — They’re intertwined with these avant-garde places.” One of Vermiglio’s favorite old school haunts is Taqueria El Rey, serving up some of the best Mexican food in Detroit. Scotty Simpson’s Fish & Chips on Fenkel Avenue also has a fond place in Vermiglio’s heart. “It’s been around since the ’60s, all they do is fry fish and shrimp and chicken and it’s all the same batter, same fryer — and it’s incredible,” says Vermiglio. “It’s just this nostalgia.” From the old-time greasy spoons to the new generation of restauranteurs making their mark, America’s Motor City is about more than cars these days. The food alone is worth a visit to Detroit. And when you do, be sure to bring back something for the memories.

The Bag for the Journey

The Montblanc Extreme 2.0 Backpack is a perfect daily companion for a new city or your everyday commute. The combination of classic old-world craftsmanship with new-wave technology comes together to form a sleek and chic bag are made from leather with immeasurable protection. The backpack features three main compartments along with a padded laptop pocket, two cell phone pockets and three pen loops, making it a great choice for the on-the-go pro or for a Detroit getaway.

Material: Leather
Dimensions: 32 x 17 x 46 cm
Leather type: Italian split calfskin, chrome-tanned,
dyed-through, plain and with carbon fiber print

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The Food Staples

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Extreme 2.0 Backpack by Montblanc Learn More
Tortilla Chips by Aunt Nee’s Learn More
Capo Amaro Soft Drink by Casamara Club Learn More
Hot Sauce by Rocco’s Italian Deli Learn More
La Folie Lot #2 Guatemala Coffee by Astro Coffee Learn More
Raw Honey by Bees in The D Learn More

Where to Go

Along with Vermiglio, we put together a directory of the must-visit food destinations in Detroit.

Astro Coffee

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The comfy light-filled Corktown cafe with coffee beans worth bringing home and pastries perfect for a mid-afternoon pick me up.

2124 Michigan Ave, Detroit
(313) 808-0351
www.astrodetroit.com

Rocco’s Italian Deli

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Not Your Nonna’s Italian deli, Rocco’s serves up choice cuts, imported dry goods and a small bar where amaros and wine abound. with a visit.

3627 Cass Ave, Detroit
(313) 315-3033
www.Roccosdetroit.com

Grey Ghost

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Named for a Prohibition-era rum-runner, Vermiglio’s restaurant has a bit for everyone all wrapped up in a splendid dining room with floor-length windows, long open kitchen and long bar.

47 Watson St, Detroit
(313) 262-6534
www.greyghostdetroit.com

Western Market

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Out in Ferndale right outside the city, this family-owned market is the perfect place to hunt down Detroit specialties and locally made goods like Aunt Nee’s Tortilla Chips.

447 W Nine Mile Rd, Ferndale
(248) 546-7288
www.Westernmkt.com

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