A week or so again my good friend of 18 or so years, “Joe” as he shall be referred to henceforward since that is his name, and I went on a “Tasting of Detroit.” Our goal was simple: we’d start at one restaurant in the morning and work our way around the city plate by plate until we couldn’t possibly fit another Coney or beer in our systems. We had no set itinerary but we had a budget. It meant we had to talk people in order to find out where we would be eating next. Know a good pizza place? Irish bar? Rusted out bakery with the county’s best baklava? We’ll be there! We were along for the ride and it was the people’s role to show us what sort of culinary wonderment their city had to offer.
It is a rainy day and the temperature is on the cusp of freezing as we drive up to the Farmer’s Restaurant at the Eastern Market on Russell Street. A few fork lifts scurry around pavilions, loading and unloading produce into warehouses and a couple of folding tables are set up where hawkers are selling their stock to passersby. You see, the Eastern Market is more than a couple of sheds where farmers and producers peddle their wares on Saturday mornings. It is a full-blown production and distribution center for meat packers, spice toasters, nut roasters, sausage stuffers, vegetable traders, flower fondlers, fishmongers, and cheese waxers. It is a gathering place for salt-of-the-earth cattle rustlers, new age granola eaters, vegans, omnivores, young and old, black and white, urbanites and ruralites. It is concrete proof that food, above most, can bring people together who would otherwise never have the opportunity to meet.
Inside the restaurant it’s 11am, the breakfast rush is over, and most of the commotion has subsided. I have been to this restaurant before but Joe hasn’t and he is in for a treat because this restaurant serves what is possibly the best corned beef hash I have ever wrapped my taste buds around. I have a fixation of sorts when it comes to corned beef hash. Whenever I am out for breakfast I ask the waiter, always politely, “Is it out of a can?” and more times than not the answer is a definitive and unapologetic “Yes.” Disappointed, I end up ordering the waffles. So what does the Farmer’s Restaurant have that others do not? The simple answer is chunks. Again I say, “Chunks” of corned beef tossed together on a hot griddle with potato and onion. There is no aluminum can in site. And the corned beef is good. I mean, it’s really good. It’s made right at the market for crying out loud. And it pairs perfectly with the potatoes because they act as a sponge, sopping up whatever marvelous beef grease would have run down your quivering chin. Like any good meal, all of the components work together for the greater good and this hash does not disappoint. There will be no waffles for me today.
Joe and I found that if we told people our plans for the day that they would be more than happy to describe their favorite places to go in the city. They also told us the best items to grab from their own menu. For instance, the Farmer’s Restaurant has specialty made sausage links strictly for in-house consumption. You cannot find these links at your local Bob Evans. The sausage was sweet, plump, crispy, and filling with a little hint of spice.
It’s little surprises like the homemade sausage that set one’s day in motion and puts a smile on a face. These are the things you find when you simply ask around and that’s part of the reason I started writing about my trips. Joe and I had fun talking to other customers about their favorite Detroit hangouts and what they loved about their hometown. We had a long conversation with John, a mid 30ish man with a graying Seger haircut, a worn Iron Maiden Shirt, and red-ringed tube socks protruding from his grey sweat pants with elastic cuffs. We talked about Detroit’s music scene, Corktown’s resurgence, and out-of-the-way lounges where patrons can listen to jazz, blues, and soul until 4 in the morning. He told us how he moved down to Detroit several years ago from the northern suburbs to be closer to the hustle and bustle that Detroit offers and how he is never moving back. He likes it here.
Forty-five minutes or so have passed; we thank our waitress and John for their input and seek out our next detour. After leaving the Farmer’s Restaurant I have a smile on my face because I realize that even though Detroit is a larger city it still feels like a small town. Though it’s been hit by a hard recession and suffers from blight, poverty, and less than savory news coverage, Detroit still offers a warmth that is hard to find these days. If you were to ask any of the people we talked to where they live they would proudly tell you “I live in Detroit!”
2542 Market Street, Detroit