A look at some new, and new-to-me spots around Metro Detroit
Most New Year's resolutions involve eating less and improving one's self in general. In an effort to be a more well-rounded restaurant reporter, however, my 2018 New Year's resolution was to actually eat more.
More specifically, to visit at least once a week a bar, restaurant or cafe that I had never been to before. This included not just newly opened joints, but also longstanding places that I — somewhat embarrassingly in some cases — had never been to before.
We're halfway through the year. Here are some of the things I've learned while trying to stick to this task.
Most recently I scoped out Gogi Seoul Kitchen (109 E. Fifth, Royal Oak), which opened earlier this month, taking the place of one of my go-to restaurants, Bastone. (Bastone moved into a smaller space where Monk was when Jolly Pumpkin moved in last August.) It's a fast-casual spot, meaning you walk in, order and pay at the counter, collect your utensils and have a seat while a server brings your food.
If you don't like kimchi, tread carefully, as it's a large part of the menu, which offers dishes you don't see a lot in Metro Detroit. The Thai spiced nuts with Kaffir lime leaf is an addicting appetizer, and both the Korean fried wings and bulgogi short rib tacos are good portions and delightfully messy.
While it's more of a casual, cafe setting, there is a full bar thanks to attached sister restaurant Jolly Pumpkin, and Gogi also has Korean booze staples such assoju liquor, which is sold at the counter as a $3 shot.
Pizza is usually a staple of my diet, and this year I actually kicked off 2018 soaking up New Year's Eve fun with Primo's Pizza. A local favorite for 50 years, it's a total shame that it's taken me this long to try these handcrafted pies. Primo's has locations around Metro Detroit including Birmingham, Royal Oak, Novi and Oak Park.
A new southwest Detroit pizza joint, PizzaPlex (4458 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit) felt not just like a place to share a Neapolitan-style pie, but a community hangout spot with global appeal and a dedication being an environmentally-sustainable business.
On a recent visit - during which a quattro formaggi pizza was devoured — I noticed PizzaPlex offers "sospeso," which is the practice of paying for food or drink for someone who may need it in the future. The Ruth Ellis Center of Detroit was a recent recipient of sospeso donations, for example.
(Note, PizzaPlex is closed through Saturday because the owners are taking a trip to Italy.)
I found more pizza at the new Empire Kitchen and Cocktails, 3148 Woodward in Detroit, on the ground floor of the Scott at Brush Park apartment building. This breezy restaurant puts an emphasis on the bar with beers, wine, craft cocktails and lots of locally distilled products. Pizza is a big deal, but the spicy chicken sandwich with golden house fries is also a good choice, as is the charred chopped Caesar. It has that backyard grill taste to it, but it's still light and crunchy; a great dish for summer.
Besides pizza, the only thing I may have eaten more of the past few months in regard to this resolution is noodles. I already told you about two new noodle shops in Madison Heights, and Greektown casino also opened Noodle Art inside their Monroe Market food hall (555 E. Lafayette, Detroit).
Accessible from outside the casino (so kids are OK here), Noodle Art is a Japanese sit-down bar and restaurant with contemporary art and a nightlife vibe. The menu has five ramen options, including their signature bowl with pork chasu and marinated egg, which I recommend for its complex broth and slurp-tastic noodles.
Another new spot that I'm embarrassed to say I've never been to before is Woodward Coney Island (616 Woodward, Detroit). Located just steps from Campus Martius in the heart of downtown Detroit, I have sadly overlooked this diner even after years and years of working downtown.
Downtown has gotten busier and busier during lunchtime, and not everything is super affordable. Woodward Coney always seems to have a counter seat available, and quick and affordable lunch. Get breakfast anytime, crunch a classic Detroit-style Greek salad or get the standard coney dog ($1.95). They also have things you don't always see in diners, like a Philadelphia cheesesteak-style sandwich made with gyro meat instead of steak.