A month in Motown

I’ve been spending more time in Detroit lately since I got a membership at FitnessWorks.  It’s just a couple of blocks from my man’s condo, so I no longer have to choose between going to visit him and getting a workout in.

We celebrated our anniversary a month ago with dinner at Atlas Bistro, then wandered from the softly lit refinement of the restaurant to the raucous college street party of Dally in the Alley.  As an alumnus of two Big 10 schools, I’ve witnessed plenty of drunken student bacchanalia, but Dally offers a pretty unique experience.  Being Detroit, it’s way more racially integrated than anything you’d see in East Lansing or Ann Arbor, and Wayne State students seem edgier, more worldly, than their peers in those towns.

As I’ve previously mentioned, we’ve been biking a lot lately.  (Seems like everybody bikes in Detroit these days, maybe because the DDOT bus system has collapsed.)  We rode in the Tour de Troit a couple of Saturdays ago.  There are plenty of great photos from this year’s event online (see this Flickr set from LarryTheBiker) that will give you a sense of the unexpectedly great weather we had.  I made it all the way around Belle Isle, which I’d been planning to skip, and was glad I did — the island was beautiful in the early morning light, with downtown shimmering across the river in the distance, and we still easily finished the ride from New Center (where we joined it) in two hours, beating most of the crowd for the after-party.   The food and beer provision was much better organized than last year.  People seemed happy, &  Roosevelt Park looks like a million bucks thanks to the efforts of Corktown residents.

We enjoyed wings and some tasty sides from City Wings that night.  The place was empty when I went in to place my order, so we’re worried it might not make it too long.  (Get your asses over there to enjoy it before the place closes.)  The next morning I finally made it over to the new Astro Coffee, which by contrast was bustling and crammed with hipsters (as well as Toby Barlow).  So I’m optimistic that Astro will make it longer than did Mercury Coffee, its predecessor across the street.

This past Friday night, my man took me to Los Altos, a Mexican restaurant buried much further in Southwest Detroit than we usually go.   As with the Pupusería I mentioned back in the spring, some of the best values in Mexicantown lie off the beaten path.  Los Altos had a huge menu with a wider and more exotic range of authentic Mexican dishes than you find in most restaurants in Mexicantown.  I’m an adventurous eater, and ordered the lengua (beef tongue) entree.  For $6 it came with a huge pile of lenga, corn tortillas, charro beans (which I prefer over refried), rice, and a pile of lettuce, tomato and onion to garnish.   Almost as soon as we were seated a huge tray of chips, guacamole, two salsas and pico de gallo appeared.  My boyfriend had tacos with carnitas, the tacos running $1 or maybe $1.50 apiece.  It wasn’t a flawless experience: the queso flameado was soupy and the horchata unmemorable (but it was $1 so what did I expect?).  The other main drawback is no booze, but it helped keep dinner cheap.

Saturday morning we biked over to Eastern Market, a 25-minute ride from New Center.   Across from the Urban Grounds coffee truck, a vendor called Sweet Delights lured me away from the pricy French pastries I’d been eyeing.   This modest one-man operation more than lived up to its name — I bought a slice of frosted banana cake and an M&M bar, both decent-sized, for a dollar each.  Imagine my surprise when I turned the bar over to unwrap it and found out Sweet Delights is based in my hometown of Bay City and that, moreover, they sell their goods at a number of stores there.   No clue how they manage to make any profit driving all the way down to Detroit and selling at those prices, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a steal.

Whenever I’m fighting through the bustle of the market, I think of Ed Glaeser and all the other experts across the country busily dissecting Detroit’s decline.   I wonder if they might see things a bit differently if their local guides had brought them to Eastern Market on a Saturday morning, or to the seedy chaos of Dally in the Alley, or to Roosevelt Park right after the Tour de Troit.  The national media flock to Detroit to revel in the emptiness and strangeness of its empty quarters.  For us locals, it’s bemusing; there’s nothing novel about the environment in which we go about our daily business.  We go where the action and the people and the good food are;  we know where to find celebration, conversation, entertainment any night of the week.  We just don’t get what the fuss is about.

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