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

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.

 

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