A year in dining in Metro Detroit: the best spots and biggest stories of 2018

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Breakfast, noodles, pizza and insensitively named fries ... it's been another busy year in food and dining in Metro Detroit. 

Here are some of the choice nuggets: 

Most-hyped new restaurant: SheWolf. Chef and owner Anthony Lombardo's Roman pasta restaurant SheWolf Pastificio & Bar has been a hit with diners and critics since opening on Selden near Cass in June. The orecchiette, rigatoni, tonnarelli and other pastas are not only made fresh in-house, but the flour used to make the pasta is milled here, too. Lombardo, who spent about two years living and studying in Italy, and his team have gotten the attention of diners with the elevated Italian menu and attentive service. They got my attention by creating what I consider to be the drink of the summer, Aperol These Years, a spritz drink made with infused Aperol, sparkling rosé, a balsamic shrub, basil and soda water, all served in a big wine glass filled with ice. Getting a reservation can prove tricky if you want a prime time slot any time soon; bar seating is first come, first served, however. 

The menu offers dishes from "The Composition of Roman Pasta" which includes this "Amatriciana" of tonnarelli, white wine, organic San Marzano tomatoes and guanciale. 

Executive Chef / Owner Anthony Lombardo sends artful plates of pasta, entrees of grilled pork shoulder and dishes like fig toast and grappa cured Arctic Char to diners in his new restaurant called "Shewolf" in Detroit, Michigan on September 29, 2018. The popular eatery on Selden Street in the Cass Corridor boasts a glass enclosed pasta-making room and an outdoor patio.  (Brandy Baker / Special to the Detroit News)

Best addition to downtown Detroit: Breakfast. New spots AK Takeaway and Brome Modern Eater are open early for the most important meal of the day, and more recently Lover's Only burger joint in Capitol Park unveiled its sister concept Iggy's Eggies. Here they serve locally sourced eggs and breakfast meat sandwiches (plus some vegetarian choices) from a walk-up window at 34 E. Grand River. 

Most-Instagrammable new restaurant: Folk Detroit. Rohani Foulkes and Kiki Louya opened Folk this spring as an extension of their Farmer's Hand mini grocery store in Corktown. Maybe it's the rush of natural lighting into the 24-seat cafe or the quality, seasonal ingredients, but the plates coming out of the kitchen here are as beautiful as they are flavorful. From the infused milks (tumeric, rose, matcha, blue chai and peppermint mocha) to the avocado toast, Folk is a winner inside and out. Foulkes and Louya are committed to serving food that's organic, local and sustainable as much as possible, and offers their staff a living wage; a built-in 18 percent hospitality charge helps support this. By the way, Folk is hosting a New Year's Day event on Jan. 1. The family-style meal includes three courses and some brunch-y drinks for $40. Search Eventbrite.com for tickets. 

It's hard to resist snapping a photo of the colorful and nutritious avocado toast at Folk Detroit, which opened in Corktown in the spring.

Best local restaurant trend of 2018: The Triple Bottom Line. FOLK is one of the champions of this movement, which sees restaurants striving not only to make a profit, but to also consider people and the environment when making business choices. This year I noticed more and more local restaurants proudly operating as a TBL business, including some of the city's most popular bakeries: Sister Pie, Good Cakes and Bakes and Avalon International Breads. Many future restaurants, including creole pop-up Gabriel Hall, are also adhering to this standard, as we saw when the Dream Cafe took over Cass Cafe in June as part of the Allied Media Conference. 

Hot dish of the year: Noodles. Pho, ramen and udon dominated local dining this year. Besides a second location of Ima opening in Madison Heights late this year (the original is in Corktown), that neighborhood also saw the debut of NoodleTopia and Kung Fu Noodle House. Urban Ramen in Midtown also had people literally lining up down Woodward for a steamy bowl of hot, savory ramen, even in the dead of summer. Greektown also opened Noodle Art in their new Monroe Market food hall, and Edo Ramen House debuted in Royal Oak. That brings us to another trend worth noting: food halls. Besides the Monroe Market, the Detroit Shipping Company (Cass Corridor) and Fort Street Galley (downtown) opened in 2018.

Noodle restaurants were popular in town this year. Ima in Corktown opened a second restaurant in Madison Heights recently. Both serve this lobster udon dish.

Biggest talkers: pizza and fries. The stories that got the most reaction from you, the reader, had to include Peas & Carrots Hospitality's choice to take over shuttered Como's in Ferndale and keep the name, in spite of the longstanding restaurant's recent history of health code violations. A bold move, for sure, and we'll see how it pans out when Como's returns this spring. Another conversation starter was HopCat's recent announcement to change the name of their "crack fries" to something else because "the crack epidemic ... is not funny and never was," they said. Good move. 

Memorable bites: In addition to all the dishes and drinks I just mentioned, other stand-out experiences in town this year include the tacos arabe from La Noria, the Bubble Rum cocktail from the tiny and sweet Candy Bar inside the Siren Hotel and the temporary vegan tasting dinner at Mabel Gray. Flowers for Vietnam in Southwest Detroit also knocked it out of the park this year with their Com Tấm and chicken wings

Saddest news: Anthony Bourdain. The biggest story of the global food world in 2018, however, is the unexpected death of Anthony Bourdain. The television show host, author and chef was admired by cooks and fans across the globe, but there was a special connection in Detroit. Bourdain visited frequently, was a huge fan of Detroit rock 'n' roll and was also working with CNN on a historical documentary series about the city. 


Twitter: @melodybaetens