Dining and drinking in Detroit — 2014 in review 

New restaurants all over: There were some definite areas with more activity than others, roughly grouped in locations, most of them, this year, in the city proper. Take a look, for instance, at Corktown. It may be the neighborhood with the most changes. Our February crawl down Michigan Avenue uncovered many of the places that had opened within the previous two years, such as Detroit Institute of Bagels, Brooklyn Street Local, Astro Coffee, Ottava Via, Mercury Burger Bar, Motor City Wine, and Two James Distillery. We remarked then, "Ten years ago, most doors on Michigan Avenue were closed and opened on a buzzer, and most open-air drinking came out of a bottle in a bag. What a difference a decade makes." And even then a few more were scheduled to open before the year was out, including a Corktown outpost of Bucharest Grill (in March), a whimsical bar called UFO Factory (in August), and a deli named Rubbed (in September). With Corktown's Gold Cash Gold opening this month, it seems that all the restaurants that were still rumors and plans back in February have come to fruition.

Of course, Corktown was only the most dramatic example. We saw scads of restaurant openings across Detroit, all in line with the latest trends. West Village started the year with the spiffy joint Craft Work in the old space of Harlequin Café, which had been the neighborhood's old gathering spot. Then the area got Parker Street Market, a neighborhood grocery, in April, and then was graced with Detroit Vegan Soul in September. Midtown saw action too, with the addition of Topsoil Café at MOCAD, Tony V's up by the freeway in Alvin's old space, Selden Standard, and, finally this month, HopCat. Eastern Market saw its fair share of activity, with Detroit City Distillery opening in April, Antietam in July (and again, after closing, in November), and the cafe at performance space Trinosophes. (In line with that change, the market's venerable Roma Café even got a new chef, Guy Pelino.) Hamtramck started the year with Revolver and Rock City Eatery, and now has Delite Café, a hip and reopened Campau Tower, and a pop-up space called Yemans Street. The other Detroit neighborhood that saw the most openings was Detroit's anti-neighborhood: downtown. The beautifully restored wonder that is Wright & Co. opened in July, Dime Store in August, Punch Bowl Social this month, and with the GAR Building's Parks & Rec and Republic not far behind.

It's enough to make you ask if the outliers were outside the hot spots or staking claims of their own: places such as Johnny Noodle King in southwest Detroit, the Zenith in New Center, and Rose's Fine Food out on Jefferson.

The suburbs had some hits of their own this year: Bistro 82 and KouZina in Royal Oak, the Jagged Fork in Grosse Pointe Farms, and Michael Symons' B Spot in Rochester Hills, Atwater in the Park and Mimi's Bistro in Grosse Pointe Park, Ale Mary in Royal Oak, Aqua in Plymouth, 220 Merrill and the Bird & the Bread in Birmingham, Slurping Turtle in Ann Arbor, and even, way out in the exurbs, Fenton Fire Hall.

Food brings people together: Except when it doesn't. A case in point would be the market sheds erected at the intersection of Kercheval Avenue and Alter Road on the Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park border. Many critics saw it as an effort to greenwash an obstacle to traffic entering Grosse Pointe. In an agreement signed in August, officials agreed to remove by now. What happened this month? The sheds recently received new holiday decorations, and there's no sign of them going anywhere soon.

An anniversary: Extra special wishes to Roderick Parks Sr. and his Parks Old-Style Bar-B-Q in the North End, which turned 50 in May.

New leases on life: Three old-line joints got a special makeover this year. One was Campau Tower, one of the last of the White Tower chain that once dotted Detroit. It was given a shine and a modified menu, and is now quite a hit. Another was Checkers, whose old owners had seemed more interested in complaining about food trucks outside than sprucing up their place to appeal to downtown's youngish professionals. Enter the talented team that runs Foran's Grand Trunk Pub, who've turned the joint into someplace inviting. Finally, there was Jason VanBiervliet, who knocked out walls and revamped menus at Bogartz Food & Spirits on the east side, giving the old bar and grill a gastropub sheen. Good work, y'all.

Poutine, poutine: Was 2014 the year poutine broke? We'd had it before at Tap sports bar and a few other places, but it seemed to reach a fever pitch this year, culminating in the "poutine dog," served at Comerica Park.

Football feasting: Speaking of sports venues, three cheers for the crew at Ford Field, where great chefs have put together some of the coolest, hippest food service together in one place. Lions executive chef Joe Nader really scored this year.

In the chips: Another personal high for us this year was getting a tour of the Better Made Potato Chip factory on Gratiot Avenue. Many thanks to Better Made Snack Foods President Mark Winkelman for an unforgettable experience.

Cottage industry: Thanks to the craft food explosion, we met a bunch of new craft food producers this year: Johnny Jenkins of Crème Détroipolis, Eli of Eli Tea (now with a location in Birmingham), and Michele Bezue of Sweet Artisan Marshmallows, who has also spearheaded a retail shop called Sweet: A Confections Boutique on Mack in Detroit. (Not quite food, but Jess McClary of McClary Bros. has met with such success she's going through an ambitious expansion this year.)

Distilled wisdom: Another great trend of 2014 is our homegrown batch of distillers. Valentine Vodka was there first, but they've been joined by Two James and Our Detroit Vodka, as well as Schramm's Mead if you count the honey-based beverage.

Outside the (white) box: It seems the food truck and pop-up thing might have cooled off a bit this year, but we still had a few entries, such as Sarap (Tagalog for "delicious"), a Filipino pop-up run by Dorothy Hernandez and chef Jake Williams, or Katoi, the Thai-based food truck parked inside a building adjoining Two James.

A bit of a snit: We got into it a bit with some other food bloggers about what the purpose of food writing should be. Should we be giving restaurants a chance to open up and perfect their game, then actually critically reviewing them? Or is food blogging a game where everybody's so geeked to be the first to say a place is opening that we get go off half-cocked or just post pictures of empty restaurants because we want to say we were first? We thought we were pretty civil about it, but not everybody reacted positively.

Tooting our horn: It goes without saying, we had a lot of rather successful food and drink events of our own this year, what with Pig and Whiskey, Vodka Vodka, Whiskey Business, Sip Savor Stomp, the Detroit Summer Beer Fest, and a few others. That's how we roll sometimes, putting ourselves right in the center of things. When the company's this good ...

Craft on top: In some ways, Michigan has been unusual for having lots of great craft breweries but not as many drinkers pointing out that artsy tap handle that pours Michigan beer. This may have been the year that changed direction. We've seen craft beer at chain restaurants, at the football stadium, and the local bar. But what really convinced us that Michiganders are embracing the craft beer revolution was the way touristy Frankenmuth opened its Michigan on Main Bar and Grill. When a place so clearly aimed at the SUV set does its first remodel since the 1980s and makes craft beer a centerpiece, maybe we've really arrived.

More by Michael Jackman

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