Chicago Tribune: Don't Doubt Detroit's Dining Chops

Steve Dorsey/Photo for the Tribune
Chicago Tribune
By Steve Cavendish

Stand in Roosevelt Park in front of the empty Michigan Central Station, a hulking train depot that once was one of the biggest in the world, and you could find in its broken windows and decaying facade a metaphor for a dying city.

Feel pity if you want, but Detroit and its residents aren't asking for it. They're across the street, literally, eating some of the best barbecue in the country at a place called Slows.

And that, in a nutshell, is the dichotomy of downtown Detroit. While the rest of the country has written it off, the city has quietly been building a great food scene replete with star chefs, old favorites and an open-air market that would be the envy of any city.

That ethos is exactly why chef Michael Symon opened Roast here three years ago. With a budding empire of restaurants in Cleveland, Symon could have easily ridden a great reputation and an "Iron Chef" title into New York. But he went west instead.

"My father was a Ford guy. We were in Detroit quite a bit," Symon said. "We were very familiar with the city and the plusses and minuses. You know, there's something very endearing about the people. They're kind of fierce and bold and very proud of their city, and they want to see it come back."

So he opened a place that would feel very at home in New York with its sleek design, a menu of high-end comfort food with Midwestern prices (only a couple of items more than $30) and a lack of pretense. This place toggles easily between a brilliantly finished pork shank and a $4 happy hour burger (which receives near-universal acclaim among locals).

If Symon's venture represents the top end of Detroit dining, the bottom, but no less delicious, is a half block south.

American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island have been engaged in a more than half-century war for hot dog supremacy. Run by the offspring of Greek siblings, the two share ancestors, styles and a wall — they're side by side on Lafayette Avenue. But that's all they share, and diners must choose sides.

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