Since 2004, Icrontic has been a gateway into the Detroit area for many people. The annual Expo Icrontic (formerly Short-Media LAN) brings friends and community members together for a few days’ worth of fun and camaraderie. I have always been inordinately proud of our region’s culinary excellence, and have always felt that the Metro Detroit area is under-appreciated in this regard. Since 2006, I have organized the Tastes of Detroit Food Tour to help rectify this situation, and to act as a regional food ambassador for this large group of tourists.
At times, it may seem that Detroit doesn’t have much going for it, but one of the riches of this region is in its huge cross-section of global culture. Detroit is extremely ethnically diverse, and one of the many treasures resulting from this diversity is a spectacular rainbow of cuisine.
In 2006, we went on our first food tour. It consisted of visits to a few of my local favorites (one of which is sadly out of business now), and a special visit from the staff at Pi’s Thai in Hazel Park, where we were given a few gallons of soup for a hungry crowd (since the restaurant was too small to accommodate us). Since then, the Food Tour has been the single most requested and participated-in event at the Expo Icrontic. We routinely fill restaurants and spend hundreds of dollars at local businesses, all in the name of good eats.
I’ll tell you, though—it gets harder and harder for me every year. Here are the specifications that I strive to adhere to:
- The restaurant must be unique. It’s safe to say that if a restaurant has a “corporate office” somewhere, we’ll probably never go there.
- The restaurant must have some compelling theme or specialty that makes it truly a step above the normal establishment. This can be service, a menu item, decor, price, character, etc.
- The restaurant must able to at least try to introduce people to something they’ve never had before.
- The restaurant must be able to accommodate 50 or more people at once, as this is the average size of our group.
I try to accomplish these goals without any repeats, although tour favorites have made re-appearances throughout the years. Here’s the historical list of places we’ve covered so far:
- Raj Mahal (Indian), Sterling Heights
- Josephine Crepes (French), Ferndale
- Thang Long (Vietnamese), Madison Heights
- Pi’s Thai (Thai), Hazel Park
- Passage to India (Indian), Berkley
- New Seoul Garden (Korean), Southfield
- Red Coat Tavern (British), Royal Oak
- Thang Long (Vietnamese), Madison Heights
- Xochimilco (Mexican), Detroit
- Sala Thai Eastern Market (Thai), Detroit
- Hu Hot Mongolian Grill (Mongolian-style), Fraser
- Original Pancake House (American), Grosse Pointe
- Shilla (Korean), Troy
- Anita’s Kitchen (Lebanese), Troy
- Passage to India (Indian), Berkley
- Polonia (Polish), Hamtramck
- Tivoli’s (Italian), Utica
This year’s choices have been tricky. I’ve been wanting to cover cuisines that haven’t been represented yet on the food tour, and yet still matched the rest of my criteria. I was talking to my girlfriend the other day (a chef), and I had mentioned that I was sad that I had never taken anybody to a restaurant in my own hometown (Warren, where ICHQ is located) because I wasn’t sure there were any worthy restaurants. We got into a long discussion about possible venues, and came up with the final list for this year’s food tour, which include not one, but two Warren restaurants that I am proud of.
After the name of the restaurant, you’ll find the style of cuisine, followed by the city with links to maps and their website, whether or not the restaurant is vegan or vegetarian friendly, and the approximate price (without beverages or tip) that you can expect to pay for your meal
Without further ado, I present the choices for the 2010 Tastes of Detroit Food Tour:
Thursday, June 24th, 5pm
I’ve had many discussions about regional varieties of pizza. Most know that there is a distinct Chicago-style pizza and a distinct New York-style pizza. Fewer know that there is also a unique and distinct Detroit-style pizza, and Buddy’s is probably the place that invented it.
Detroit pizza is generally deep-dish, generally square, and is characterized by a crispy outer crust that is soft in the middle. Having actually worked at a Detroit-style pizzeria myself, I can tell you that one of the key elements is a heavy pan (usually cast-iron) coated with oil, cooked in a hot oven. This gives a “burned edges” character, and a slightly oily finish to the crust (yet not greasy!).
Buddy’s is not a chain, but some local chains have adopted the style and run with it, and a style was born.
The original Buddy’s is still open, in Detroit, but we’ll be going to the Warren location which is newer, larger, and much closer.
UPDATE: We will be pre-ordering for Buddy’s. Please visit their online menu, and know what you want the day before, as we will be collecting the orders on the 23rd via email.
Taqueria Mi Pueblo
Friday, June 25th, 5pm
Detroit has a large, vibrant, and proud Mexican community. From Mexican holiday celebrations, to architecture, to the treasure trove of authentic restaurants, there is something for everybody here.
During the food tour of 2008, I took the Icrontic community to Xochimilco, and it is my only food tour regret after all these years. I wanted to show everyone the wonderful Mexican Town region and have them go home and talk about how cool Detroit is. My plan backfired, as our trip was marred by massive construction headaches (since completed) and absolutely terrible service at Xochimilco. The manager was exceptionally rude, the staff was unpleasant, the food wasn’t great, the prices were high, and the whole experience made me look bad. I have since been looking for a way to apologize to the Icrontic foodies, and I am submitting this as my official apology.
Taqueria Mi Pueblo is off the beaten “tourist” path of the area normally considered by outsiders to be “Mexican Town”, yet it is still very firmly entrenched in the real Mexican Town of Detroit. The food here is authentic, having been here with Mexican friends who can attest to the “hey, this is like my mama’s caldo!” that I look for.
UPDATE: We will be pre-ordering for Mi Pueblo. Please visit their online menu, and know what you want the day before, as we will be collecting the orders on the 24th via email.
Saturday, June 26th, 5pm
Six or so months ago, one of my all-time favorite Indian restaurants shut down (Passage to India). Not only was it one of my personal favorites, it was a tour favorite as well: After being introduced to it, many Icrontians went back “off the tour” in following years, and during other events, because they enjoyed it so much. I was on a first-name basis with the owner, because he always enjoyed having our huge group in his venue. I lamented ever finding a new Indian place that could replace Passage as my “go-to guy”.
Then I found Ashoka.
The first thing I noticed about Ashoka was that the place was full of customers; Indian customers. Anyone who knows a bit about Indian culture knows that most Indians are extremely picky about Indian restaurants, and generally won’t visit them unless they are absolutely the same as home cooking.
Ashoka lays before you a traditional Thali-style meal; a profusion of colors, scents, and textures in small bowls. In addition, there is an intriguingly-named “Chinese/Indian” section on the menu, where you will find a wonderful fusion of Asian flavors and styles. Regional specialties like minty lamb prepared in the Hyderabadi style are also prevalent. In addition, they have excellent versions of the dishes most Americans are probably familiar with: Tikka Masala, Vindaloo, Biryani, and more. Still, this is a place that encourages experimentation, because you are sure to discover something amazing.
UPDATE: Ashoka has been replaced with Red Hot & Blue. Ashoka’s Troy location could not accommodate us, and their Canton location is too far away from ICHQ for this event.
Red Hot & Blue
Saturday, June 26th, 5pm
While Red Hot & Blue does not technically qualify for the Food Tour (it’s a chain restaurant, after all), it has long been a group favorite for other (smaller) Icrontic events. The food is delicious, the service is great, the prices are right, and most importantly, they can accommodate 50 people on short notice. This is straight-up American BBQ. Ribs, in one of three styles (Dry rub, wet, or sweet), pulled pork and chicken, greens, sweet potatoes, and more. This is food my Arkansas-born Grandma loved and taught me to enjoy. Come hungry, because the portions are huge and beverages are served in pitchers.
Sunday, June 27th, Noon
Most Americans are familiar with “Chinese food”—but may not realize that what we consider Chinese food in this country is absolutely nothing like what everyday people eat in China. While certainly, many people enjoy an almond boneless chicken or a good old Mongolian beef every now and again, there are those of us who crave the real deal.
Golden Harvest is there for us.
Have you ever watched a Chinese movie and seen a traditional family-style meal? Everybody has a rice bowl, and small bowls of various meats and vegetables are placed at the center of the table. Everybody grabs chunks with their chopsticks and uses the chopsticks to scoop rice into their mouths from the bowl.
Put it this way: When you walk into Golden Harvest, it’s like walking into a Chinese movie. Families are gathered around large round tables while waitstaff wheel carts around with various steaming delicacies. This is real Chinese food.
It is called Dim Sum, and if you’ve never tried it, this is your chance.
You are seated at an empty table with a bowl, a plate, a teapot, and chopsticks. You patiently wait for the waitstaff to roll a cart by, and ask what you would like. You point as they open up the various baskets and bowls, and they will place a small bowl on your table while marking off what you buy on a small check.
This is for adventurous people: don’t expect your traditional favorites, and don’t expect a waitress who even speaks English. You may point and ask, “what is that?” and you will get a sheepish grin and “Not sure how to say..” There is a great deal of adventure involved in that the chef may finish something and send it out on the carts. There’s no rhyme or reason to it; things just appear. It’s incredible.
Picky eaters, vegans/vegetarians, or high maintenance whiners need not apply! If you’re up for an exquisite culinary adventure, this is the place for you. There are so many amazing things to try, from delicately sauteed baby octopi, barbecue pork-stuffed steam buns, to chicken feet. You will be blown away at the variety of foods presented to you.
My only hint is: Don’t gorge yourself all at once. Pace it slowly, enjoy, and relax—something incredible may be coming around soon, and you don’t want to be too full to enjoy it. As this is a dim sum restaurant, we will be going early (Dim Sum is served from 11am – 3pm only)