Detroit:Where you can Stop and Smell the Flowers and the Stables are Always Greener

I took a March break trip with my daughter and was excited to see that the timing was right allowing me visit the pop-up called Flowers of Vietnam which opens every Sunday night in the  Vernor  Coney Island location in Southwest Detroit.  Starting at 630 pm, after the restaurant closes, the diner is transformed into a makeshift Asian eatery with tables complete with jars of hoison, garlic chili and fish sauce beside a bottle of sriracha, a lantern and a jar of utensils.

I got there around 8 pm and the place was buzzing.  We were seated at a communal table with a quiet couple as a trio of DJs (one who looked like Ashton Kutcher with a porn stash) bobbed their heads up and down to some sort of hip-hop my daughter understood much more than I did.  Our waitress reminded me of the authenticity of Detroit.  Hipsters in this city are naturals; an appropriate mix of angst and oddness that other cities only try and mimic with whatever recipe they read in “Hipsters for Dummies”. She called me darling while at the same time leaving me with my bill to head outside and chain smoke in the rain.

The booze free joint (in fact I think water is your only option) features a small menu with traditional Vietnamese dishes ranging from pho to a fresh mango salad to fried fish as well as a few spins on snack food like caramel chicken wings.

Let’s start with the salad.  The fruit and vegetables were fresh and crisp and I appreciated the ability to use my discretion and add the amount of nuoc mam I wanted and mix the salad myself.  The liberal use of fresh herbs added to both authenticity and flavour of this excellent starter.

flowers salad
Goi Ngo Sen Tom Thjt Salad $14

The noodle bowl,although good, had a flavour profile almost exactly the same as the salad.  That said, the pork was beautifully seasoned and I hoped for a little more of it.  It has the same nuoc mam sauce which they should bottle and sell on the way out. The spring roll hidden within the bowl of noodles and vegetables was a gem and I almost wished I could get an order of them on their own.

flowers noodles
Bun Thjt Nuomg $12

The wings were fried and coated with a sweet caramel sauce (not abnormal in Vietnamese cuisine).  I’m not normally a fan of sweet wing sauces or wings served whole, but there was something about tearing them apart on the side of the  Vernor highway  while listening to Kelso spin vinyl that was the perfect package.  The sauce, when combined with accompanying herbal condiment created a new flavour which I will certainly crave on occasion moving forward.

flowers wings
Caramel Chicken Wings $14

I’m not normally big on Asian desserts but was intrigued by the trio offered at FoV.  In the end, I opted for the Ca Phe Trung and the Yum Yums B cua Rob.  The first was a twist on a Vietnamese coffee which I was hoping had a bit more of the condensed milk (which I consider nectar of the gods) taste than it did.  The second was a dessert which looked like it could be served at a number of fancy places with candles and white table clothes.  The plate as a whole contained a number of South Asian flavours which were great individually but lacked a bit of a togetherness.  The sesame crisps were surreal.

flowers dessert
Yum Yums B cua Rob $8 and Ca Phe Trung $6

Green Dot Stables needs no introduction to any Detroiter.  This iconic eatery is on every “Things to do in the D” list and has been visited by an entourage of the rich and famous. As with Flowers of Vietnam, it is quintessential Detroit.  It’s always busy, non-apologetic, economical (no food on the menu is more that $3) and filled with a mosaic of patrons that reminds you that there is a fantastic diversity in America’s most misunderstood city.

I’ve been a few times and my favorite sliders are the Korean (peanut butter and kimchi) and the Hot Brown (chicken, mornay and bacon). Any of the sides, whether it’s the cucumber, kale, fries or mac and cheese are all well worth a couple of bucks.   The booze is dirt cheap and they carry a small but nice array of craft beer in bottles and on tap.

My Take

It’s no coincidence that Anthony Bourdain ended Season 2 of Parts Unknown with a visit to Detroit. People look at me funny when I suggest that Detroit is among the top 10 dining destinations in the U.S but hear me out.  First, people don’t pretend to be cool in Detroit. Unlike other cities, their “hipsters” are authentic and not the ridiculous rip-offs that exist in every other city. This makes for a unique and real experience as opposed to feeling like you’re an extra in the Broadway version of “Angst”. Second, there is a good diversity of cuisine in the D.  The two restaurants featured in this blog are a testament  to this. Separated by the I-75,  one is a brand new Vietnamese pop-up while the other is a well-established iconic eatery which is as recognized as Vernor’s ginger ale or McClure’s pickles and there are many along  the spectrum in between.  Dearborn serves some of the best middle eastern food in North America. Ferndale is a breakfast haven. The Eastern market has everything from killer pizza to fantastic BBQ and entertainment at Bert’s. Even if you want fine dining, you have a plethora of choice including TV celebrity chef Michael Symon’s Roast or Joe Muer’s seafood haven.   Third, the restaurant scene is economical.  As a rust belt city, Detroit has not lost it’s appreciation of value.  You can still get a $1.50 Coney  dog at many places in town.  Mexicantown almost gives away authentic and delicious food.

In the end, I never just drive through Detroit to get to my destination…I stop every time.  It is the perfect place to stop to get everything from a taco to a shawarma.  You can go to Slow’s BBQ for some ribs or grab a pint of one of the many craft brewhouses that have opened in recent months. Both the patrons and the staff of the city’s eateries are fun, authentic and refreshing so I encourage you to go and smell the flowers and see for yourself that the stables are in fact greener on the other side (of the Detroit river that is).

Flowers of Vietnam Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Green Dot Stables Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Winning the Triple Crown at Green Dot Stables

I owed my daughter a trip to Detroit to search for her grade 8 graduation dress.   In order to maintain my sanity, I insisted on lunch at Green Dot Stables.  Green Dots Stables is a well known destination in Detroit famous  for it’s $2 and $3 menu items consisting mainly of sliders with a few soups, salads and sides as well.  In addition, there are a slew of beer and cocktails for under $3, including a few local drafts from Bell’s and other local breweries. Plus,  I found it a bit nostalgic that California Chrome  had just won the second leg of the triple crown, so lunch in a converted stable with jockey-sized burgers and a horse racing theme seemed fitting.

The monotony of a horse owner’s life of sipping mint julips and wearing ridiculous hats or other accessories while watching workers tend to the rolling green hills of their ranches is thrown into chaos for a month during the spring when the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes put their prized equines at the forefront. The four legged athletes with names like Dutch Delicacy or Hoof Him to the Curb are centre stage along with their 5-ft sidekicks who can “stand tall” and not worry about getting beat up despite the fact they are dressed up like pastel leprechauns.

I started with the $3 Chicken Tortilla soup.  It was thick, spicy and hearty and was nicely garnished with slivers of tortillas and sliced hot  peppers. The kale salad with quinoa, lemon and shallot was simple and delicious.  I only had one bite before my daughter laid claim to the rest.

Chicken Tortilla Soup $3 and Kale Salad $3
Chicken Tortilla Soup $3 and Kale Salad $3

With the triple crown on my mind, I ordered a trio of slides which included the mystery meat (wild boar au poivre), fried chicken (with panko sage maple syrup)  and a hot brown (Chicken, monray and bacon) for $3 a piece. Each of them were race winners.   The liberal use of pepper, the sweetness of the fried chicken and the perfectly cooked bacon on the hot brown demonstrated the attention to detail put into the simple slider.

Trio of sliders $3 (Mystery Meat, Fried Chicken and Hot Brown)
Trio of sliders $3 (Mystery Meat, Fried Chicken and Hot Brown)

My daughter ordered le poutine which was quite true to form. Gravy and cheese curds modestly topped the skinny crisp fries to create a tasty $3 snack worthy of partnership with the sliders.

Le Poutine $3
Le Poutine $3

For the home stretch, my daughter went with the corktown smore (with cinnamon, nutella and fluff) while I went with one of my favorite comfort desserts, the ice cream sandwich ($3 each). The warm smore together with the cold sandwich was a blissful end to the meal.

Corktown Smore and Ice Cream Sandwich $3
Corktown Smore and Ice Cream Sandwich $3

My Take

Green Dot Stables is a Detroit icon and rightfully so.  Cheap but delicious food and drink  mixed with a trendy atmosphere and funky staff make for a great experience.  Every slider, although simple, is carefully thought out and the product is a mix of  sweet and savory smarts.  Even the desserts are brilliant, especially the ice cream sandwich which screams local pride with the use of Blue Moon ice cream from the local Guernsey dairy farm stuffed between a Mexican tea biscuit.   As I anxiously await the outcome of the Belmont Stakes, especially among  the controversy surrounding the use of nasal strips by California Chrome (nothing like a good rumpus over performance enhancement among equines), I can’t help but wonder if Blue Moon might edge out Mexican Tea Biscuit by a nose at next year’s Kentucky Derby.

 

Green Dot Stables on Urbanspoon

From Mexico to Lebannon- A Quick Trip Through Detroit

I love Detroit.  Once the leader of the industrial revolution, it has become the poster city for the collection of  cities that now compose the infamous rust belt.  That said, the pride and determination of the residents has been the blueprint in the evolution of a new Detroit; one which is humble, thankful and kinda cool.

Day one of a March Break getaway was a quick stop in Detroit to get a little closer to my ultimate destination of Tennessee.  After crossing the border, I veered off the highway immediately for a quick stop in Mexicantown. If anything, this area of Detroit is a microcosm of the city as a whole.  It’s wonderfully worn down, bleeding character which leads you to empathize instead of pity the situation.  There are no shortage of eateries within the cramped quarters but I opted for La Gloria, an all day bakery specializing in cinnamon conchas, churros and even a tamale if you’r so inclined. After becoming somewhat confused by the narrow streets and haphazard parking job of the locals, I nestled comfortably in lot beside the noticeably pink building and walked in.

The procedure is rather simple.  Grab a plastic tray, line it with some paper, get a set of tongs and walk by the numerous offerings enclosed within plastic bins.  Most things (from turnovers to heart shaped cookies which say “Te Amo”) range from $0.50-$2.00. When you’re done, your order is rung up and placed in a bag or box depending on quantity.

The conchas are sweet breads similar to donuts that would be considered their “signature” item.  I scooped up a cinnamon one as well as a few churros, a tart and a few other baked treats.  The grand total was about $7.  Collectively. they were quite delicious and well worth the price.  I rolled in around four and was left to imagine how divine everything would taste at 5 am when the place opens.

Assorted Baked Goods ($7) minus one churro (likely the result of a suspicious 14 year old).
Assorted Baked Goods ($7) minus one churro (likely the result of a suspicious 14 year old).

La Gloria Bakery on Urbanspoon

After navigating the narrow streets of Mexicantown and taking a wrong turn or two, it was off to the airport area to crash before the long trip to Nashville.  Romulus is not a mecca for food (it seems confined to a few fast food joints and one strip plaza which has a grille, Chinese place, a Subway and Beirut, a small Lebanese place.  My daughter had a craving for the latter, so I ordered a couple of chicken shawarmas and a appetizer plate which consisted of hummus, baba ghannouj (which is Arabic for pampered papa), a few falafels, grape leaves and fattouch. The total was just shy of $30 (there were also three drinks).  This is the point in which I put in the disclaimer that some of the best Lebanese food I have had is in the Detroit/Windsor area. Toronto lags significantly behind (just read my Dr. Laffa review).  The starter plate was delicious.  The hummus was smooth and full of flavour, the baba ghannouj was smoky and grape leaves were some of the best I’ve had.  They were almost crispy but melted in your mouth afterwards, a far cry from some of the soggy offerings I’ve had at other places. The falafels were average in flavour a little too dry. The soup was piping hot, had a great texture and was seasoned nicely.  The shawarmas were more than acceptable but were a little flimsy in construction (although it’s hard to complain that much for 5 bucks). I like shawarmas that are stuffed with pickles and lettuce and drip toum, tahini or hummus incessantly, making for a ridiculous eating experience.  These were almost too easy to eat given the sparse use of condiments although the chicken was seasoned well.

Appetizer platter $10.99, Lentil Soup $2.99, Shawarmas $4.49
Appetizer platter $10.99, Lentil Soup $2.99, Shawarmas $4.49

Beirut on Urbanspoon

Detroit dining is a mosaic of cultures highlighted by really cool Mexican and Lebanese food. Both La Gloria and Beirut represent their respective cultures in an inexpensive but delicious way. Chances are I’m unlikely to chow down on authentic middle eastern fare as I dive into the depths of Tennessee in the coming days.

Review:DDD:Detroit:Polish Village Cafe

Another older yelp review with a bit added….

It was three o’clock on a Saturday, and the regular crowd shuffled in. There was lots of old men next to me,  making love to their surowa kielbasa with Sousie piwnym.

That was the scene.  I tend to go to DDD during off hours to avoid crowds but it looks like there is no lull here.  There was a short wait list and 5 of us were seated within 15 minutes of arriving.

I agree with many other reviews about  the no nonsense attitude of the waitstaff.  It’s not a bad thing.  If you want traditional Polish food served traditionally, you got it!  Goblets, bowls and plates are slammed down throughout the meal, but in an efficient and endearing way. I mean, they carry 5 or 6 glasses at a time on a tray and I needed two hands just to lift it up to my mouth.

Big Heavy Beer
Big Heavy Beer

Any place that makes 6 soups a day is a friend of mine. I had two..the dill pickle and the chicken noodle.  Based on the DDD endorsement and other ratings of the pickle soup I expected a bit more but it was good.  The chicken noodle soup was straight forward and delicious and somewhere around $2.50.

Dill Pickle Soup
Dill Pickle Soup

Five of us tried the cabbage rolls and five of us were happy.  The tomato sauce was simple and tart.  The cabbage was cooked but not soggy.  The filling was zachwycający (delicious). Even the beans and mashed potato fit the theme perfectly….simple, traditional and homey.

Cabbage Rolls
Cabbage Rolls

The Surowa kielbasa with Sousie piwnym is sausage with beer sauce.  The kielbasa was tasty, seasoned well and big and the  sauce was a nice,  heartwarming compliment. The kraut, however, stole the show.

pv kiel
Surowa kielbasa with Sousie piwnym

I was talking to Davy, who sure liked the gravy…..the Hungarian pancake was over the top.   I saw it on DDD and thought Guy was pulling tricks on me. He wasn’t.  Everything was done exactly as described on the show and the flavours were rich. This dish was phenomenal.  Even bite was different but with an underlying sameness that was delicious.  From an authenticity perspective, pork vs beef  is a mundane argument when the seasoning and complexity of the dish is so incredible.

pv stew
Hungarian pancake-

The biggest disappointment was the pierogi.  They were rather bland and overcooked. This may be a difference of opinion, but I prefer a softer dumpling, not one with a crunchy exterior.  They were decent but not what I had hoped for.

Pierogi
Pierogi

Dessert was two crepes, one apple and one cheese.  I ordered this  because the waitress said they were both homemade.  Apple was great.  Cheese was a bit chalky and wasn’t helped by the sour cream.  Some of the tasty apple compote on the side would of been a better balance in regards to taste and flavour.

My Take

Portions are plentiful and the food is good. The menu is diverse enough to appeal to any combination of people you choose to dine with.  Just don’t expect too many smiles, except for the mischievous…..ok, creepy dolls which adorn the walls. Polish Village cafe…..we’re all in the mood for a melody and you got us feeling alright.

Oh, la la la,  di da da
La la, di da da da dum.

Verdict

Despite the pierogi, this place still gets 5 Guyz!

Polish Village Cafe on Urbanspoon