Hello, my little shallots!
I have no new Martha recipe to review yet. Last weekend we spent five days in Detroit at Movement, the electronic music festival. This weekend we’re home but it is a billionty degrees here, and I couldn’t find a Martha meal that didn’t require some amount of stove/oven time. The first Summer recipe seemed promising, as it involves a grilled entrée, but the dessert is cupcakes. Remember all those times in the dead of winter when I was putting fruit into glasses of wine? I should have been baking cupcakes then, Martha, not when the heat index is 103!
Anyway. We used to live in Ann Arbor and we love Detroit. Having grown up in NE Ohio during the burning Cuyahoga River period, we have a fondness for gritty Midwestern (post)industrial towns. Yes, Detroit is down on its luck, but it’s still got good bones and a lot of heart. One consequence of hard economic times is that the character of the ethnic neighborhoods hasn’t been wiped out via gentrification. Since our current city lacks anything similar, we made an effort to seek out some good ethnic food on the cheap.
Friday we rolled into town around noon and stopped in Mexicantown. We picked Xochimilco because we hadn’t tried it before and discovered that the lunch specials were $3.50. $3.50! I had the ‘two chicken enchiladas, rice and beans’ special, while The Husband had the “mini” botano. The botano was enormous–chips, beans, chorizo, chicken, olives, avocado, etc. piled up on a plate. Plus, fresh-cooked tortilla chips and two types of salsa, one of which nearly burned a hole in my tongue. Our bill was $9 for two lunches and a pop. Yes, they say pop there, and so do I, what of it? The food wasn’t so amazing that it changed our lives, but it was pretty good. And did I mention cheap?
I had read good things about Evie’s Tamales before we travelled, and since it was right down the street, we popped in there for a sample even though I was stuffed. They make several varieties of tamales, but you have to phone ahead two hours to order anything but the standard ‘regular’ or ‘hot.” Luckily, they also had some chicken tamales ready so we ordered a couple of those, and then nearly fainted when we realized they were just 60 cents each! True, they were thin, but the flavor more than made up for it. Delicious! We should have gone there for our lunch. We had planned to stop there on the way out of town to get a couple dozen for the cooler, but the timing didn’t work out, sadly.
Late afternoon found us downtown, so we decided to check out Iron Chef/Cleveland Wonder/Food Feud host Michael Symon’s restaurant, Roast ,in the newly rehabilitated (Westin) Book Cadillac Hotel. It was too early for dinner, so we sat at the bar to partake in the cocktail hour specials, which were also stunningly inexpensive: the Roast burger, fries, taco of the day, stuffed pepper of the day, macaroni and cheese, and chicken livers with polenta were all just $3 each.
I ordered the Grand Traverse cocktail, which, at $11, may have been the most expensive item we consumed all weekend. It was a tasty mix of sparkling white wine with cherry bitters, a sugar cube, and a cherry. The Husband had the house red ($4) which was a blend of Merlot and syrah and terrific. I wish I knew what it was so we could buy some. We split the Roast burger, which was yummy and perhaps has changed my mind about my No Other Proteins on Burgers rule. It consisted of perfectly cooked beef with bacon and a fried egg (over easy) on an English muffin. The bacon was very smoky and just sublime. The macaroni and cheese had an unsual herb seasoning we couldn’t quite pinpoint–tarragon, maybe? Whatever it was didn’t jibe with us so we didn’t finish it. (The mac and cheese at Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor has this one beat hands down but is also 4x as costly). The Husband ordered the chicken livers over polenta, and LOVED it. The livers were breaded and fried, and the polenta (which I suspect was actually grits, but you don’t want to scare the Yankees by calling it that!) had a nice, slightly sweet, vaguely redolent of apple, demi glace on it. He liked it enough that we planned to go back for happy hour on Monday to get it again, but we never made it back over there, what with all the music and such we had to get to.
Friday also found us record shopping at Detroit Threads in Hamtramck, a Polish neighborhood. The Polish Village Cafe is one of our favorites, as are the bakeries, but we weren’t in the area during meal-time so we didn’t get to eat any pierogies this trip, or try any of the several other Polish restaurants nearby.
Our hotel was in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, which has a large population of Arab-Americans. As a result, there seems to be a Middle Eastern bakery, restaurant or meat shop on nearly every corner. Middle Eastern, specifically Lebanese, is my favorite kind of food, so I was happy ro be surrounded by it. What we can get locally isn’t as good as what we used to get when we lived in Michigan, nor is it as affordable.
On Saturday we checked out Yasmeen Bakery for brunch. They have both a bakery and a deli section, with a delectable array of pretty much any kind of Middle Eastern food you could want. We both got the “small” chicken schwarma plate, which came with pita, rice pilaf or hummus, pickles and pickled turnips. The star of the plate ws the supremely garlickly sauce, which is among the best I have ever eaten. The plate was an enormous amount of food for $5.50; in hindsight we could have split one. I also tried one of their mini spinach pies, which was 49 cents, and The Husband got a zatar ($1) that was much bigger than a dinner plate.
It was all beyond delicious. Since they open at 7:30 am, I went back the next morning for a vegetarian grape leaf sandwich ($3) for breakfast while The Husband slept in. Although I meant to try some other places, we ended up eating there two more times, including when we stopped off on our way out of town on Tuesday to pick up more chicken schwarma and a dozen mini spinach pies ($4.95) for the road. Next time we are bringing a bigger cooler.
We spent six hours in the hot sun at the festival during the day on Saturday, so that night we were in the mood for something lighter. We went to Ollie’s, which we had tried on our trip last year. It has a nicer atmosphere than Yaseem’s and table service. We sat on the patio as the sun set and ordered the “small” fattoush salad ($5.95), which was not too oily, as is often the case, and soup–crushed lentil for me and split pea for The Husband; both were fantastic once we added lemon. The best thing about Ollie’s, though, is the house-made pita bread which is served puffed up and hot from the oven. Look how cute it is:
Sunday was the craziest day, as we had to nap a lot so we could be at the festival until closing and then go to the after parties– I was out until 7 am and The Husband rolled in at 9:30 am. We had leftovers and some unremarkable pasta and salad at our favorite pizza place, Buddy’s, where we returned to split a small pizza margherita the following day, Memorial Day. I am happy to report that their pizza remains my favorite pizza ever. We normally go for thin crust pizza, but this deep dish delight has crispy bottom, and the cheese is baked into the crust. What more can you ask for?
Before we left we also visited the Middle Eastern bakery Shatila, which is a block from New Yasmeen. They have a huge selection of French and Middle Eastern pastries, and make their own ice cream in house. We tried several different versions of mamoul, and although they were really good, the shortcake outter cookie isn’t quite as good as what the church ladies bake up for the annual Lebanese festival here. That said, the bird’s nest is the best I’ve had, and the coconut bars that looked like Twinkies were to die for. Both Shatila and Yasmeen do mail order. You are welcome.
To sum up, everyone reading this should go visit Detroit. The residents can be cranky drivers who love to honk at the slightest (or no) provocation, but the town needs our money and your stomach will be happy!