Discover Urban Renewal in Detroit

1. Where to Stay

Honor & Folly's living area offers a fully stocked kitchen for guests to use.Photo: Courtesy of Honor & Folly

Get a taste of the roaring twenties at the venerable Book Cadillac Hotel (from $169), a Westin property that debuted in 1924 and reopened in 2008 after nearly twenty years of abandonment. With 453 rooms and suites, you’ll find more space here than at other chains, and its Michael Symon-helmed restaurant Roast hosts one of the city’s better happy hours, where seasonal dishes like veal sweetbreads with apples and celery are deeply discounted.

Feel at home in one of Honor & Folly’s two bedrooms (from $165) on the second floor of a carefully rehabilitated two-story building with exposed brick walls and salvaged colored-glass windows. Run by travel blogger Meghan McEwen of DesignTripper, the B&B is decorated with creative accents from vintage suitcases to needlepoint pillows (all made in Detroit or by nearby Midwestern artisans) and nearly everything can be purchased. Be sure to borrow the house vintage bikes to cruise around the up-and-coming neighborhood of Corktown.

Sleep in Victorian style at The Inn on Ferry Street (from $139), comprised of 40 rooms spread across six grand homes and carriage houses from the late nineteenth century. You’ll find vintage details like four-poster beds and carved wooden staircases throughout; request room 2203 in the Roehm House to enjoy the building’s original cast-iron tub.

2. Where to Eat

Supino Pizzeria is a small restaurant with a loyal following of locals.Photo: Courtesy of Forward Arts

Line up early for Saturday brunch at Russell Street Deli, where most of the ingredients come from the many urban gardens and farms in the area. (The restaurant is located on the periphery of the sprawling Eastern Market). Choose from an array of hearty dishes ($4.50–$7.95) like an egg scramble studded with Sy Ginsberg’s locally famous corned beef, as well as thick cuts of artisanal toast topped with orange marmalade made in-house.

Eat hyperlocal at Le Petit Zinc, a French bistro that uses produce grown strictly within the city limits. French Caribbean-born owner Charles Sorel and his wife Karima ran Chez Oskar in Fort Greene before setting up shop in Detroit 2008; their classic menu focuses on sweet and savory crêpes—try the one filled with marinated goat cheese and spinach ($9.50). The restaurant is BYOB, so pick up a bottle or two from Motor City Wine, featuring selections from sustainable vineyards, and request a table on the outdoor patio.

Join the devoted following of locals at Supino Pizzeria, recently rated among the best slices in the city by the Detroit Free Press. The closet-sized spot serves up thin-crust pies ($7–$17) topped with everything from quail eggs to smoked gouda, as well as locally-grown eggplant, spinach, and artichoke. There’s only one salad on the menu, but order it to try the smoked turkey ($7.50) from local meat haven City Wings.

3. What to Do

Up to 40,000 people head to Eastern Market on Saturdays for fresh meats and produce.Photo: Courtesy of Detroit Eastern Market

Explore the city’s expanding set of urban gardens on a two-and-a-half-hour bike tour ($35 including rental) with Wheelhouse Detroit. The small group stops at private farm plots in Corktown and Hamtramck as well as the cafes and restaurants that serve their goods. Stops vary by season, but potential destinations include Rising Pheasant Farms, a family-run garden of blooming flowers, rows of berries, and dozens of other crops near an abandoned car factory, and Brother Nature, where you’ll find batches of microgreens, garlic, and zucchini flowers.

Get your hands dirty by volunteering in a community garden through Urban Farming, an organization that makes it easy for visitors to lend a hand. Sign up for a two-hour shift via email and be assigned to one of more than a dozen urban farms where, depending on the season, you’ll spend an afternoon seeding, weeding, or harvesting crops that are given on the spot to needy locals who reside in the gardens’ communities.

Join the crowds at the enormous Eastern Market every Saturday, when 250 vendors fill the open-air stalls to hawk everything from flowers to grass-fed meats to maple syrup. In addition to vendors selling specialty food products, many of the city’s farms and gardens have booths where you can sample their produce and learn more about their urban operations. The market opens at 5 a.m. and stays open until 5 p.m., so show up as early as possible for the best selection.

4. Insider’s Tip

ClandesDine serves five-course meals that benefit charities in abandoned Detroit spaces.Photo: Meghan McEwen

ClandesDine is an exclusive, semi-quarterly underground supper club run by a rotating cast of young, prominent chefs who find abandoned spaces like auto-body repair shops and warehouses and convert them into one-night-only dining events. Meals usually cost $125 and proceeds go to local charity and arts groups, but since it’s invite-only, you’ll have to do some work to get in. Your best bet is to contact the nonprofit being hosted and request tickets through them. Nosing around at Corktown spots like Slows, Astro Coffee, or Honor & Folly is a good place to start.

5. Oddball Day

The Heidelberg Project is an art installation that encompasses two full blocks in Detroit's East Side.Photo: Courtesy of The Heidelberg Project

Take a break from food tourism and spend a day checking out the city’s renegade public-art scene. Wake up with a cup of coffee made from beans roasted by Detroit’s Anthology Coffee ($3) and a house-baked breakfast pastry ($4) at Astro Coffee. Then, pop around the corner to the site of the Imagination Station, a nonprofit in the process of turning two blighted houses and three empty lots into a creative campus that will serve as an art and technology center for the city. Afterward, drive west on Route 75 to the Heidelberg Project, a 25-year-old neighborhood-sized art installation made largely of found objects like plush toys and car parts. Nearly everything in the two-block area, from trees to houses to fences, is adorned with eclectic objects; don’t miss the installation of hundreds of shoes scattered in the street. Make a stop at Avalon International Breads for stuffed sandwiches like a tuna melt with garlic-herb mayo served on freshly baked bread ($6.50–$8.50). Next, drive up Route 75, also known as the Chrysler Freeway, to the corner of Moran Street and Lawley Avenue to get a glimpse of the Power House, a pastel-adorned home that was salvaged from foreclosure for under $2,000 and beautified by the architect and artist duo behind Design 99. The home produces its own solar energy and is being used as a model for revitalizing decaying neighborhoods. Then, peek into the alley behind 12087 Klinger Street to see what’s known as Hamtramck Disneyland for reasons that will become clear when you lay eyes on the wild assemblage of toys, old framed artworks, and other knick-knacks. For dinner, drive south to Cass Café for a menu of mostly vegetarian favorites like lentil burgers ($6.50) and vegetarian burritos ($7.50), served in a lofted space that doubles as an art gallery displaying works from local artists. Afterward, head across town to catch the scene at D’Mongo’s (open Friday and Saturday only), an eccentric speakeasy featuring cheap drinks (from $4) and live jazz or country music, depending on the week. Finish off the night with the post-club crowd at Lafayette Coney Island, which has been open for more than a century and serves late-night chili-dogs ($2.50) until 4:30 a.m.

6. Links

The Greening of Detroit is a non-profit helping local farms take root, and their Website is stocked with information about the urban gardening scene.

Curbed Detroit covers revitalization efforts around the city in painstaking detail.

The Website Model D hosts a monthly look at the city’s urban farming scene called Green City Diaries.

MOTORCITYBLOG covers music events happening around town.

Gourmet Underground Detroit is a food blog with a focus on local ingredients.

Discover Urban Renewal in Detroit