An Evolving Culinary Scene: Detroit Restaurants to consider

The culinary outlook in Detroit has taken quite the turn. The progress in downtown Detroit with respect to their restaurant and bar scene left me a great selection of old preferences combined with the new and now. My “go to” staples were just as I remembered them, and the up and coming restaurants proved they have a lot to offer. This selection is going to focus primarily on restaurants that are relatively close to the downtown area. Although I have a proclivity for the familiar favorites, read below as I gather my thoughts and opinions on everything from a 1935 staple to those that just opened their doors.

1. Leila. This is a trendy Lebanese restaurant with a great atmosphere. It is right in the middle of it all being a short walk from the Shinola Hotel and the Westin Book Cadillac. The layout is open with a large bar in the middle of the restaurant. I sat in a spacious booth close to their nicely displayed wine cellar. Starting with their drink menu, I found myself torn between a glass of wine and craft cocktail. The selection is not massive, but oftentimes I find this to be overwhelming. If you are after a large selection, this is not the place for you. My choice was the Anne Hathaway cocktail with vodka, elderflower, cucumber, and mint. It was worthy of a second. For dinner, we ordered several shared plates including labneh, tomato kibbeh, and falafel. If you enjoy Lebanese food, this is a place that offers a modern atmosphere with well presented dishes. I found myself loading up on carbs as they kept refreshing our pita bread that always came out warm.

2. Cliff Bells. This is a jazz club in downtown Detroit that originally opened in 1935. The inside is a timeless beauty, including everything from the bar to the stage. For me, this is a must do on a trip to Detroit. It conjures up feelings of being in Detroit in the old glory days. There are a few things to consider for Cliff Bells. First, they do have a happy hour. Next, if you plan to go on the weekend, make a reservation to guarantee you have a spot. They do have traveling performers, so if you are a big fan of jazz, check on their website for all the details. My last recommendation is have drinks only unless you are taking part in Happy Hour. We had a couple of dishes for dinner and, given the other options in Detroit, this is not the place to have food.

3. London Chop House. This place is old school. I think you will understand exactly what I mean when you arrive. It is on a street in downtown Detroit that is typically rather abandoned on the weekend, but the London Chop House stays busy. The doorman will greet you and direct you downstairs to the hostess stand. This basement steakhouse looked exactly the same as I remembered it from years prior. This is not a place that you will find trendy drinks or craft cocktails. They have quite a selection for their bar menu, but it remains embedded in the old classics. My last visit, we did not have food, but I have tried many steaks at their establishment in years past. Their food is always fantastic, and my last visit they had live music playing as well. The perfect evening might just be a dinner at London Chop House followed by drinks and jazz at Cliff Bells.

4. Green Dot Stables. If you want the perfect lunch spot, this is absolutely the place. It is super casual and serves up mini burgers of just about every variety. The selection is extensive, but the good thing is the burgers are small, and you can try several and not feel like you are overindulging. This visit I tried the Korean, cheeseburger, philly cheesesteak, and buffalo chicken just to name a few. Outside of loving just the classic cheeseburger, the Korean with peanut butter and kimchi was so good. I know, it sounds weird, but it was a standout. You can add le poutine or truffle fries if you so choose. They also serve up a selection of cocktails, beer, and house wine.

5. Townhouse. This is a newer addition to downtown Detroit located closer to the river. It was packed on Sunday morning for brunch. They have two locations with the second being further north in Birmingham. There is a large room in the front that almost felt like a large enclosed porch with big windows. We sat just outside this room in one of their booths closer to the bar. Our service really was exceptional. The waiter was very attentive despite the fact that the place was completely packed. As far as their food, I thought it was good, but I would not return on a future visit. I say this only because there are so many options in Detroit, and if you are spending a quick weekend, I think there are better choices to pursue.

6. Prime & Proper. Decadent is the word I would use to describe Prime & Proper. This steakhouse is as fanciful as it sounds and the service they provided was exemplary. When booking, I noticed that they had a Chef’s Table, which sounded like a great way to add to the experience. I booked our reservation from the website through Resy. In doing a follow up search, I noted that Chef’s Table may no longer be an option. That being said, their main dining room is gorgeous and may actually provide better seating options. Another new rule on Resy for Prime & Proper is a minimum spend requirement that differs depending on the time of day. Although I would have tried the restaurant regardless, seeing this was a turn off. I have never seen a restaurant impose a minimum spend requirement. If it is not met, you are charged a fee up to that total for a room rental. Given the price for their food and beverage, it is hard to imagine how the minimum would not be met, but it still was shocking to read this on Resy. As far as the food and drink, it was very good. You definitely have to be in the mood for a big meal. We had the zucchini and eggplant chips to start followed by a wedge salad. It was a ton of food. I followed this with a wagyu filet and sides to accompany. One side was the grilled swiss chard and spinach gratin. The reason why I ordered this was it seemed like an innovative option outside the norm for your typical steakhouse side. It was tasty, but all of the food was heavy and rather rich. In retrospect, I think we just ordered too much wanting to try a little of everything. So, it may be well suited for a larger group. If you are going to try Prime & Proper, keep in mind a couple of things. You need to be ready for a pricey meal. You will leave quite full, so eat light the rest of the day. If I lived in Detroit, Prime & Proper would be a once yearly event for a special occasion.

7. Shatila. This fantastic bakery is actually outside of downtown in Dearborn. My recommendation is to make a stop here on your way to or from the airport. The choices are absolutely overwhelming. There are desserts galore. One of the most difficult parts for me was not really knowing the actual name of the desserts outside of the baklava. I did get an assortment tray of baklavas and a piece of knafeh. The Knafeh might have been my favorite, and it is served with a lick your lips yummy sugar syrup. It was phenomenal. I don’t think that you can go wrong here. You can order online, but at the time of this article, their online orders were suspended due to such high volumes. I’m not surprised. If you have a sweet tooth, you will not regret making a stop at Shatila. I brought their assorted baklava tray home with me. It traveled well and was packaged perfectly for a flight. I was able to enjoy it at home for a couple of weeks, and you have the option to freeze it as well.

8. Roast. I have to make brief mention of Roast even though I didn’t go back for a visit on my most recent trip. Roast is located in the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel downtown. Their happy hour running Monday to Friday from 4-6:30pm offers some great deals. The Roast Burger has been on the menu for years and is only $6 during happy hour. Get there early to secure a seat at their bar. The crowd used to get rather heavy particularly on Fridays.

9. The Apparatus Room. This restaurant is located in the Detroit Foundation Hotel, which is further south and closer to the river. I was quite interested in the Chef’s table here, but I was unable to secure it for our weekend dates. That being said, I still wanted to see not only the restaurant but the hotel as well. It is located in the old fire station. They did a great job of keeping some of the history alive, which is always refreshing. I sat at the bar and ordered a tiki style cocktail similar to a Zombie. It did not disappoint. Although I cannot speak to the food, this restaurant offered a hospitable atmosphere and served up a lovely cocktail. Sugar House. I dare say this might have been my introduction to craft cocktails many years ago. It was my first look at a refined concept for enjoying drinks. Get on their wait list and when a seat is available, they will let you know. Or, make a reservation online to guarantee your spot. If lucky enough to receive a seat at the bar, it not only provides you with a great drink, but some pretty fantastic entertainment. Making a craft cocktail does take time, but they are worth the wait. Of course, they have The Last Word on the menu. I know I’ve talked about it before, but this equal parts prohibition era cocktail was first served at the Detroit Athletic Club. What better place to enjoy a Last Word than the city it was born!

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