The Food and Wine Hedonist

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What We Saw in Detroit

This past winter we were supposed to go skiing  in scenic Colorado, but there were some circumstances that prevented us going.  So we decided to go to exotic Cleveland.  Ok, I came up with the idea to go there because I wanted to hit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  That idea got shot down and we were resigned to a “Staycation”, also known as “couldn’t get our act together to plan something else.”  But after a few days of the Pieholes driving us nuts at home, we decided we had to do something.  So we went to Detroit.

This is a particularly tough post for me to write because I expect it will piss off a lot of people – especially people I know who’ve spent their whole lives here.  So I might as well just let it loose – Detroit’s a shithole.  Worse than you can ever imagine.  I’d say it’s a lot like Beirut, but I think I’d be doing Beirut a disservice.

While television commercials try to show Detroit as tough and resilient, I saw a place that was beat down.  As much as politicians try to say it’s rebounding, it’s in a sorry state.  Do you want proof?  These are just a few of the pictures of houses we saw.  This wasn’t just a me finding a couple bad spots, these were literally on EVERY SINGLE BLOCK.

I have some theories on how it got into this sorry state.  I think the biggest reason has to with too much power in hands of too few.  In this case, it wasn’t a few rich people, it was the Auto industry.  There used to be vibrant neighborhoods, but they built highways right through it.  They had plans for a subway system and other mass transit, but there was a fear no one would buy cars.  There is a beautiful waterfront, but instead of public spaces there’s the impossibly ugly UAW headquarters.  So at every turn, the auto industry influenced local pols to make decisions that weren’t for the greater good.

The shell of what used to be a glorious train station.

Is there a future?  Can they lift themselves out of it? I sure hope so.  There are some very warm, friendly people here.  There’s stunning architecture and glimpses of a glorious past.  There are a lot of people who want it to do well, but are well wishes enough?  I’ve heard there’s a burgeoning artist community and I’ve seen traces of hipsters trying to make it a go.  But I also saw a lot of closed down coffee shops indicating it’s easier said than done.  The latest big idea I heard was to raze a lot of the blight and change it to a farming landscape. I think it’s a great idea, but I’ve heard people say that manufacturing is still the only thing that could save it.  I don’t know.  Seems like there’s a helluva lot of hoops (financial, regulatory) to go through and variables and unknowns to build a factory there.  Plus it’ll take forever. I can’t see how farming would hurt.  Hell, you could still put up your factory, but in the mean time why not grow some crops?

But what do I know, I’m food and wine blogger who’s not even from the area.  So let’s get to what I’m qualified to talk about.  I already posted on Slow’s BBQ and a so-so burrito at Los Galanes.  Here are some other highlights.

Eastern Market

This is a huge indoor/outdoor market where people can get produce, meat, and flowers year-round.  There’s a great selection with very good prices along with specialty shops across the street.  The sad part is that this is literally the only place to get food in Detroit outside of small corner shops.  Literally, Detroit is a food desert.  There’s talk of a Whole Foods opening up in Downtown and I hope it does well.  But it seems that’s still trying to attract outsiders since 98% of Detroit residents can’t afford to shop there for everyday food.  There’s nothing wrong with bringing in outsiders, but I certainly wouldn’t overlook awful schools, crime, and urban blight because of a Whole Foods.

Mexican Town

This is a joke that’s nothing more than a tourist trap.  A few Mexican restaurants that cater to post-baseball game crowds and one or two gift shops don’t make a vibrant ethnic community.  Heck, the restaurant we went to flat-out sucked.  Nice décor, but would be laughed out of existence in Chicago, California, or Texas.

The store had some fun stuff, though.

Belle Isle

This is 1000 acre island park between Detroit and Canada.  It’s home to a Conservatory, yacht club, aquarium, museum, and several parks. There used to be Indy car-style racing events on the roads there, but those fizzled with the economy two years ago.  There are beaches and nature trails, but we were there in the middle of winter so it was deserted.  It’s actually a beautiful park and can imagine it being lively in summer.  The problem is that the city hasn’t been able to keep it up and provide security.  Just this morning a plan was announced where the state is going to start operating it, so there’s hope.

Motown Museum

I LOVED this and anyone with more than a passing interest in music would love this.  Motown was a record company started in the 1960 and was a major influence in Detroit, music history, and popular culture.  Motown was responsible for discovering, grooming, producing, and promoting legendary acts like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and The Jackson Five to name a few.  Due to their huge success and ability to cross into the mainstream, they were pivotal in integrating popular music.

Visitors to the museum are given a guided tour of facility that started out in an old frame house that eventually spread to surrounding houses.   The guides were highly energetic young guys with a ton of wonderful anecdotes.  At various times along the tour they started singing and successfully got everyone to sing along.  You’d be surprised at how many old Motown songs you know.  Even the Pieholes knew many of them.


Prior to these couple days there, the only times we were in Detroit were for dinners, baseball games, or concerts.  We’ve heard all about the city from people who used to live there and from those who have spent their whole lives in the suburbs.  All of their stories mix in pride, pity, disgust, and hope.  I witnessed all of that in the limited time we were there.

Has anyone been or are from Detroit?  How did it get so bad?  Is there hope?


About thefoodandwinehedonist

I don't know everything about the world of food and wine, but I'm not going to let a small detail like that stop me from blogging about it.

10 comments on “What We Saw in Detroit

  1. Nicolle
    September 13, 2012

    I was in Detroit about a year ago to test-drive some cars and stayed at the MGM. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get to explore the city much because I was told it’s not a good idea to just go walking around by myself because I would get mugged or something like that. That was the first time I was in a city and felt like I didn’t have the freedom to explore.

  2. the winegetter
    September 13, 2012

    When I was first riding into Detroit with a friend one night shortly after my arrival from Germany last December, I was shocked. I felt transported into The Wire. The decrepit housing, the search for a safe parking spot, shuttered windows. It was depressing.

    I have been back since twice or three times, but my image of the city has not really changed. It is just sad…

  3. Hippie Cahier
    September 13, 2012

    I have a bucket road trip list of music-related places I’d visit. The Motown Museum is the reason I would visit Detroit.

    Am I making this up? Sometimes I do that: I have some vague memory of reading about a plan to develop a section of Detroit into some sort of zombie-themed theme park. Does that sound familiar?

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      September 13, 2012

      Not at all, but I like it. The construction- or should I say deconstruction – is already done. Just gotta get the Zombie job fair organized.

  4. Miss J
    September 14, 2012

    Gotta quibble with your view that the auto industry ruined Detroit. Decades of corrupt crooked politicians ruined Detroit, starting with Coleman Young and continuing right on through to Kwame Kilpatrick.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      September 14, 2012

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting… I’m not a native so I don’t have a lot of history about Young, but I do know about Kwame. I think the D was in terrible shape way before him, but he definitely made things worse. You’re right – I didn’t mention that the auto industry wasn’t alone. Politicians were the ones who made those decisions and they could’ve said no. But it’s hard to really blame them considering how much the industry means to the city and the people how vote.

      I think they’re trying to do the right thing by luring business to come back downtown (as opposed to trying to get tourists there). I think it’d be an easier sell if there were commuter trains so employees don’t have to make the commute from the burbs. I don’t know that the big 3 would have the opposition any more to trains, but I think we’re way past that now.

  5. the drunken cyclist
    September 19, 2012

    Excellent piece—I have been avoiding reading it though. I grew up in Detroit and I still consider myself a Detroiter at heart even though I have not lived there since in close to 20 years. It breaks my heart.

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