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Fragments against ruins: Detroit and Indianapolis

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I'll be travelling to Indianapolis in August [14-17] to attend G̶e̶e̶k̶ Gen Con. I thought I might spend the entire week on holiday and visit Detroit in the first half of the week. I must admit I'm interested in Detroit for all the suspect reasons: the narrative of decline and the visuals of ruin pr0n. I'm also keen on comparing the dining scenes [and gentrification more generally] in these cities to New York: there's a small part of me that wonders if it would be realistic to return to the Middle West [i spent most of my pre-teen years there].


If any of you have recommendations for Detroit and Indianapolis restaurants, blogs, or other resources, they will be much appreciated. For Indy I've been relying principally on Erin's 'Indianapois Restaurant Scene' and for Motor City 'Eat It Detroit' and 'The Detroit Foodie'. Some places I'm considering visiting:




The Libertine: a cocktail bar, lauded by Esquire, located downtown not too far from our hotel. May also merit investigation as a front for the Cthulhu cult.


Workingman's Friend Tavern: as the name suggests, a working-class bar near the railway tracks west of the city; smashed burgers.


St Elmo's Steak House: old school; there seem to be mixed opinions about their wet-aged steaks, especially given the price.


Cerulean: an example of contemporary, relatively upscale dining downtown.


Napolese: Pizzology in the affluent suburb of Carmel is supposedly better, but Napolese is downtown.




Vinsetta Garage: is this Detroit's future [even if beyond the 8 Mile Road]?


Slow's Bar-B-Q: along with Eastern Market, this seems to be a nationally recognised symbol of gentrification in central Detroit.


Grand Trunk Pub: located in a former jewelry shop and railway ticket office.


Roast: whilst 'Michael Symon' + '8,000 square feet' sound somewhat worrying, I'm not having much luck finding new, serious restaurants.


Should I bother with a 'Coney' hot dog? Or an 'Italian beef' sandwich? Is Fountain Square truly the the Williamsburg of Indiana? Will I instantly gain/lose d4 Charisma points vis-à-vis the natives when I cross the Appalachians? Must I hire an American car?

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I adored Coney Islands when I lived in Detroit (1974 to 1977). To me they are the ultimate junk food--salt, fat, squishy roll, weird sauce that looks like hot dog chili but tastes of cinnamon and other nonchili spices--with no redeeming social value. In fact, when my parents came to visit, I took them to Gus's Coney Island so I could have two for breakfast.


If they haven't already sold it to a developer, definitely check out Belle Isle Park (where they imprisoned the rioters in the late 1960s and where Paul ran when we lived in Indian Village). And if the Detroit Institute of Arts is still open and they haven't deaccessioned it, say hi to the Matisse paper cutout (I contributed to its purchase). Orchestra Hall? Eastern Market and Gratiot Central Markets would be worth a visit even if they're just shadows of their 1970s (post-riot) selves. Eastern Market gentrified? Oh noes!

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Thanks for the recommendations. I wasn't aware of the Coney's heterodox spicing. Cinnamon, eh... I shall have to give it a go.


Why did this young woman move to Detroit? 'Because Eastern Market, that's why.'


There's an abandoned zoo on Belle Isle?

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NY Times had a nice write up on 36 hours in Detroit a year or so back. I thought I linked it here, but I don't see it. There's a strong bbq culture in Detroit, and one of the largest Syrian populations outside the middle east in the suburbs. (It used to be "outside of Syria" but many Syrians are now in exile in neighboring countries)

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Well, the hot dog chili is the product of Greek immigrants, who turned it into something quite unlike anything else. The meat (whatever it is; I never wanted to know ;) ) is pretty finely ground, and the spicing is . . . different.


In addition to large Arab population, Greek (we used to go to restaurants in Greektown, near downtown, to watch the tourists shrink in horror as waiters would bring out flaming saganaki--and one time, drop it on some patrons, oops. Also a large Polish population in Hamtramck. All that might have changed by now, along with the lovely mansions in the Grosse Pointes.

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Whilst searching for the New York Times article, I found this counterfactual 36 hours in Detroit which imagines the flagship University of Michigan had settled on Belle Isle. 'Weekend nights can be awkward on the island's bar districts if you are over 25...'


And The Guardian sent me to the websites of GAP and Victoria's Secret to confirm they have no shops inside the city.


Torino offers modernist cuisine in a Ferndale espresso bar. It might do if there's no physical Guns+Butter restaurant by summer.


I'd like to visit Dearborn, but I'm not sure if it's something I'd feel comfortable doing alone. I used to lunch at Arabic establishments in Paterson [Jersey's own Dearborn] regularly until my Israeli friend moved to Philly, and now I never go. Perhaps it's residual guilt over my tendency to smash up Muslim c̶h̶i̶n̶a̶ ̶s̶h̶o̶p̶s̶ Pottery Barns.

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Just a quick note that I've never felt unwelcome in Syrian, Lebanese, etc neighborhoods of Paterson NJ. People have been quite friendly, and parking is usually available, except on some weekend afternoons. In which


I'll have to get back there now that the weather is warming up.

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  • 4 months later...

Only a week till my departure, and look who just swung though Detroit...


Addison tried the coneys at American and next-door rival Lafayette. Apparently Patti Smith held her wedding reception at Lafayette. Almost everyone seems to prefer Lafayette's coney.


It does seem I won't be driving in Detroit, so that means I'll miss out on Dearborn. Though I'd still like to get out to Torino or Vinsetta Garage. Addison also reviewed Torino, where they are now offering a 9-course tasting menu for $89.

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  • 2 years later...

Having recently returned from this year's Gen Con, I can report that the hype regarding Bluebeard and Milktooth [i continually referred to the restaurants as 'Bluetooth' during my visit] is mostly justified. At least from a culinary perspective, I'm glad provincial cities are getting their own Brooklyns.


However, after close observation of the local middle classes [and a brief but amusing flight back to LGA with some young, floppy-haired meritocrats], I've come to the conclusion I can't move to the Midwest.

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Yep. I used to dream of attending Gen Con when I was a lad and the convention was still in Wisconsin. And my dream job at the time was writing adventure modules at TSR [for some reason I would volunteer this information when talking to girls]. Basically my youth was Stranger Things. I often feel if I had stayed in the Midwest, accepted my geek identity, and never got mixed up with the Meritocracy, I might be enjoying something akin to happiness right now.


The idea of returning to the Midwest in part motivated my visits to Detroit and Indianapolis in 2014. This time, I took the idea very seriously and made some effort to observe the local bourgeoisie. There are quite a few hipsters now, but even in Fountain Square ['Indianapolis's Williamsburg], a large proportion of the customers at restaurants like Milktooth [redefining daytime dining for America!] hail from the corporate middle classes. And these are the sort who wear blue shirts tucked into khakis, not bespoke suits, or well pressed European t shirts.


On the plane back to New York, there was a Gen Con 'geek' who had rowed crew, went up to Harvard, and now works for a VC fund. For some reason I felt much more comfortable with him and the other meritocrats on my flight than any of the Indy locals. I'm no good for normality any more.


To sum up: the best food in Indianapolis is now very good, easily comparable to the better New Brooklyn joints and sharing much of their ethos. But it's difficult to imagine me hanging out with most of their customers.

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