Detroit’s dining scene is on the vanguard of the city’s revitalization. The abundance of affordable—and quality—real estate, combined with the city’s proximity to farms and lakes, has drawn chefs from Chicago and farther afield. There are plenty of opportunities for talented locals to open their own places. Corktown has become a particular draw, with its abundance of exceptional restaurants (keep an eye out for the forthcoming Lady of the House), while downtown is rapidly changing, drawing high-caliber chefs including Thomas Lents, who left Chicago’s two-Michelin-star Sixteen for the soon-to-open Apparatus Room in The Foundation Hotel. The cross pollination of viewpoints in the kitchen has elevated wine lists as well, encouraging deep dives into classic wines as well as esoteric bottlings. What sets Detroit apart, however, are the hard-working folk you’re likely to encounter, like the owner cooking on the line, and the wine manager pouring your wine, all of them ready to share their latest discoveries. Here are seven of the best places to experience Detroit’s drinking and dining scene right now.
When chef Mark Djozlija and cocktail whiz Dave Kwiatkowski talked about opening a restaurant, they wanted a place for people like themselves, who consider cheese-smothered chips and beer just as viable for dinner as a coursed-out meal with cocktails and wine. They’ve created that place in Wright & Company, an elegant space that once housed Wright-Kay jewelers. Located downtown, its clientele includes opera-goers dressed to the nines and jersey-clad Tigers fans refueling after an afternoon ballgame. Kat Hawkins approaches the wine list accordingly, mingling Old World classics with New World discoveries. Domaine Overnoy-Crinquand Ploussard and Ktima Gerovassiliou Malagousia share the list with Elizabeth Spencer Special Cuvée and Orin Swift Mannequin. To get an idea of the value offered, consider that the “Baller” list of more expensive wines starts at $70.
Chartreuse is the color and focus of this space in Midtown, a stone’s throw from the Detroit Institute of Arts. Owner Sandy Levine has amassed an enviable collection of the French digestif, with bottles dating back to the 1940s, plus Elixir Végétal, Liqueur du 9e Centenaire and several vintages of the special edition Santa Tecla bottlings. If you’re not already a convert, start with Detroit’s beloved Last Word, involving gin, green Chartreuse, lime juice and maraschino liqueur; the cocktail is said to have been invented at the Detroit Athletic Club in 1915. Chef Doug Hewitt’s menu does the theme justice with dishes that are as heady, complex and herbaceous as the restaurant’s namesake spirit.
Evan Hansen credits a glass of Schäfer-Fröhlich 2002 Nahe Riesling for turning him on to wine. He’s found an outlet for his obsession at Selden Standard, opened in late 2014 with chef Andy Hollyday, a three-time James Beard Awards semi-finalist. Hansen’s wine list is among the most ambitious in Detroit, filled with sommelier catnip of various shades and styles, like Lo Petit Fantet d’Hippolyte from Château Ollieux Romanis in Corbières, or Podere Scopetone’s steel-barrel-fermented sangiovese from Tuscany. The pricing is fair, too; it’s tough to beat Clos Cibonne Rosé for $12 a glass. To match, chef Hollyday turns to local farms for his rustic dishes, teasing out maximum flavor from his wood-burning oven.
Angela Rutherford and Ping Ho opened The Royce last fall, a wine bar and retail store in Grand Circus Park. It’s an elegant space, housed in the historic Kales Building, designed by Albert Kahn, with art deco lighting and library ladders to access the walnut shelves. Those shelves hold a wealth of choices, from Willamette chardonnay to Sherry, Carpano Antica Vermouth and Michiganmade mead. Take one of the 12 seats at the wine bar to taste before you buy, or settle into a couch on the mezzanine and crack open any bottle for a $10 corkage fee. The food is simple but solid, with tinned fish, cheese, charcuterie, and breads from nearby Avalon Bakery. Service is included, but if you insist on leaving something, Rutherford and Ho will donate it to their charity of the month.
As the name suggests, the focus is on wine—1,000 wines by the bottle and 70 by the glass, including many verticals. While they’ve stocked the cellars with heavy hitters like Lafite, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Opus One, owner Remy Lutfy and sommeliers Joey Lopaka and Devin Muylle have filled out the collection with savvy choices from all over the world. Check out the northern Rhône selection—Lopaka’s obsession—as well as bottles from Sicily (Occhipinti) and Portugal (Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Alvarinho). In the kitchen, Detroit native Alex Knezevic turns out an eclectic array of wine friendly food, from scallop crudo to lamb heart tartare, as well as his signature burger with tomato jam, crispy beets and taleggio.
Although it’s a 20-minute drive from downtown, Mabel Gray is worth the trip. In a tiny space in Hazel Park, a suburb just north of Detroit, chef James Rigato has carved out a reputation for smart, inventive takes on the foods and flavors of his native Michigan. Fish sauce, spice and fermented flavors play major roles, creating wine-pairing challenges that sommelier Rachel Van Til (a W&S Best New Sommelier 2016) handily takes on. Her weapons: full-bodied, high-acid whites and umami-rich reds, like Slovenian sauvignon blanc, Michigan bubbles and Arnot-Roberts North Coast Trousseau.
It’s not much to look at, but if you’re into wine and music, Motor City Wine is a must-stop. Owners David and Melissa Armin-Parcells book live jazz and deep vinyl DJ sets every night in their wine bar/retail store, the selections as eclectic as the music. The wines by the glass are priced to sell and go down easily; for more esoteric finds, pull a bottle from the retail shelves; corkage is only $8. Recent finds include Damien Coquelet Chiroubles and Foradori Teroldego. In lieu of a full-service kitchen, they host regular pop-ups, including a vegan pop-up every Monday. Pro tip: The patio is one of the best in town, and with Ameztoi Rubentis Txakolina Rosé by the glass, you can’t go wrong.