A shortlist of places serving thicker autumn stews, bisques, chowders, chilis, and gumbos
Published: October 5, 2011
Honest John's Bar & Grill 488 Selden St., Detroit; 313-832-5646; honestjohnsdetroit.com: Serving up breakfast till noon on weekdays and till 5 on weekends, Honest John's is sure to keep you going, with Bloody Marys and Ghetto Blaster Ale and a full bar at any (legal) time of day. The badass jukebox plays funk and Motown, and can be heard out on the patio (if it's warm enough to hang out there). And there's a surprisingly strong group of soups, going well beyond simple New England-style clam chowder. Gumbo is on the regular menu, loaded with Andouille sausage, chicken, red and green peppers, onions, garlic, sassafras, gumbo filé powder, their very own Cajun roux and, of course, the rice. They also serve a popular vegetarian chili. This four-bean (kidney, pinto, black and white) creation skips the cilantro, but piles on the tomato strips, corn, tomato sauce, chunky tomatoes and garlic. Chef Mike Dakoske says, "The beans hold it up very well, and we use chunky tomato so it's very thick and chunky. It's real thick."
Hunter House 35075 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-646-7121; hunterhousehamburgers.com: What makes this place so noteworthy, even more so than the food, is likely its link to the old Birmingham before it got so chi-chi. Instead of the upscale shops and eateries along pedestrian-oriented Old Woodward, this place was meant for car traffic, with unmetered parking in the lot. True enough, it seems to draw lots of families bringing their kids in for a taste of the past. The white enamel steel, stainless steel counters, the black-and-white tile floor, old details like Pepsi-Cola signage and parking meters ("No Pennies") and old fuel dispensers give the joint a sense of history. And if that nostalgia doesn't get you warm and fuzzy, try their chili. Though the burgers carry the day here, you may be surprised to notice that secondary items show attention to detail. The chili doesn't have ground beef, but actual chunks of meat in it and a nice mix of beans. Chances are it's the best chili you'll ever eat with a plastic spoon!
Leo's Coney Island 110 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-336-8093; many more locations at leosconeyisland.com: Maybe some all-night spots treat chili as a mere condiment for the coney dog, but not Leo's. They lavish attention on the meaty meal, serving it in a cup, beans or not, onions optional. They also have a chili "special cup," made with chili, loose hamburger and onions. And that's nothing compared to Leo's "Super Chili," made with spaghetti and cheddar cheese, a chili fit for a manly meal. It's affordable and filling, and you know it's good because they sell it by the quart to go!
Lily's Seafood 410 S. Washington Ave., Royal Oak; 248-591-5459; lilysseafood.com: Lily's Seafood is a hot spot that offers not only a stunning interior and friendly service, but most importantly a kitchen that believes homemade is best. In keeping with this idea, even the beverage menu includes house-made root beer, and a variety of house-made beer. Both the entrées and desserts are special. Full of mixtures of both flavor and texture. They serve a traditional yet exceptionally thick New England clam chowder (Friday through Sunday only) that goes great with their "Strange Stout." Available daily, their signature Creole soup contains Andouille sausage, crawfish tails, and chicken breast "all set adrift in a hearty broth of chunky tomatoes and fresh garden vegetables." It goes down well with one of Lily's IPA brews.
Lunchtime Global 660 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-963-4871; getmelunchtime.com: This appealing get-and-go spot in downtown Detroit has a bevy of warming soups for fall, including a New England-style clam chowder and a chicken chili. But there are also vegetarian options, such as vegan spinach lentil soup, vegan black bean soup, even a vegan fall squash. Ask about their reasonably priced soup-and-sandwich combo, large-enough lunch.
Mitchell's Fish Market 117 Willits St., Birmingham; 248-646-3663; 17600 Haggerty Rd., Livonia; 734-464-3663; 370 N. Adams St., Rochester Hills; 248-340-5900; mitchellsfishmarket.com: With a large selection of fish (12 varieties at any given time) and menus reprinted over the course of the day to reflect changes in availability, you can be sure of freshness. And the hearty soups are less than $5 a cup, though you'll probably pay the extra dollar for a bowl. Among the choices are a Little Neck clam chowder, a New Orleans seafood gumbo and a Maine lobster bisque.
Motor City Brewing Works 470 W. Canfield St., Detroit; motorcitybeer.com; 313-832-2700: This brewpub has a quirky tiled interior, affordable Wednesday-night art shows, and a sturdy menu of pizzas and small plates. For less than $10, you can get a pizza made with ingredients sourced as locally as possible, or a cheese, baguette and salametti plate. The beers are excellent, Octoberfest on tap, which they sometimes serve in Thor-sized 2-pint glasses. Their vegetarian chili is smoky, thick, and comes in a small ceramic bowl still bubbling hot, with a good bean variety, chunks of tomato, and little bits of garlic still intact that burst with flavor. The garnish of cilantro or dollop of sour cream are optional, a scattering of crunchy tortilla chips will help you get a taste while it's still boiling, and when it cools you'll be scouring the inside with your spoon to eat every bit.
Mudgie's 1300 Porter St., Detroit; 313-961-2000; mudgiesdeli.com: The artisanal Corktown sandwich shop, uses only the freshest, highest-quality ingredients, local when possible. Soups are always fresh and change daily. Check their website or Twitter feed for what's on offer day-to-day. One recent offering was a French onion tweaked with apple juice and topped with cheddar and croutons.
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