A shortlist of places serving thicker autumn stews, bisques, chowders, chilis, and gumbos
Published: October 5, 2011
Plaka Cafe 535 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-962-4687: After the clubbin, Plaka packs 'em in. Not only because melted cheese and gyros absorb the booze and fortify the digestion, but because Monroe may be the last street in downtown that teems with life at night, with chatty crowds, and waiters flicking their Bics and crying "Opa!" As you'd expect, the chili at a coney joint is quality, coming with oyster crackers, filled with red beans, and beef ground into the very tiniest bits for fuller flavor. It's a great accompaniment for a lunch special, and as a choice to go, it comes in a heat-saving polystyrene container for a quick meal back in your cubicle.
PJ's Lager House 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668; pjslagerhouse.com: The Lager House, long a destination for shows and suds, not only has added food, but the new kitchen is aiming high and being creative. On a recent night, we were treated to a tasty potato-leek soup, with skin-on potato chunks and just enough thickness to coat a spoon. We'll be back for more.
Red Coat Tavern 31542 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-0300: Red Coat is just so well-known as a burger joint that it's easy to forget that the tavern keeps a full menu, and serves excellent renditions of classics. So why should the chili be anything less than top-notch?
R.P. McMurphy's 2922 Biddle Ave., Wyandotte; 734-285-4885: One of our co-workers was raving about this place's Northeast Clam Chowder, biscuits and lobster gravy, and other treats, calling it "Maine meets Downriver!" We haven't been there, but, with rants like that, it sounds like it could be worth a try.
Sweet Lorraine's 29101 Greenfield Rd., Southfield; 248-559-5985; sweetlorraines.com: For more than a decade, metro Detroiters have been grateful to count on the moderately priced pleasure of Lorraine Platman's casual but sophisticated cuisine. Though they only serve two soups at a time, call ahead to find out if they're serving their spicy Thai corn chowder. It's thicker than your usual soups, sort of like a cream of corn soup, but rich with corn, onions, lemon grass, coconut milk, red curry paste, lime juice, Hungarian paprika and tomato paste, all on a base of mushroom and vegetable stock. At 2.75 a cup, $3.95 a bowl, this sounds like one of the more innovative treats of the season.
Tap Room 201 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-482-5320; taproomypsi.com: Established in 1941, the Tap Room enjoys a quaint existence on the corner of one of downtown Ypsilanti's main drags. The narrow bar remains clear of intense crowds, providing a perfect venue for student types to 40-plus folks to talk and hear music. But it's not all just beer and song, there's a full menu of bar fare, including warm soups and homemade hearty chilis that get a bit of extra attention from the chef in the kitchen, as a former Tap Room chef told us that the chili comes from "an old recipe, handed down to me from the owner. It's very basic — your normal chili — but you put a little bit of love into it. It could be the way I sautée the vegetables, meat and spices together before I start adding stuff. But mostly it just takes a little bit of extra care and love. You have to pay attention and make sure it doesn't burn. Nobody likes burned chili!"
Tom's Oyster Bar 519 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit; 313-964-4010; find other locations at tomsoysterbar.com: With its tin ceiling, dark paneling and blue-and-white checkered tablecloths, the restaurant creates the feel of an authentic New England chowder house. The large, U-shaped bar is accented with brass railings and is surrounded by tables; there's plenty of room for socializing with friends and colleagues. The well-stocked bar offers an extensive wine list and a fine assortment of microbrews. Check the blackboard for a list of the daily specials; they include six ever-changing varieties of raw oysters. The oyster bar also serves several other hot and cold appetizers, from Maryland crab cakes to smoked whitefish to Tom's famous clam chowder; the main menu features a large selection of entrées with an emphasis on seafood — up to 20 fresh items daily. And then there are those satisfying and warm soups, including seafood chowder, crawfish bisque or seafood chili.
Union Street 4145 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-3965; unionstreetdetroit.com: Hearty bowls abound at this stylish Midtown fixture. There's a seafood chowder, New England-style, with bay scallops, shrimp, clams and even fresh hickory-smoked salmon ($4 a cup, $5 a bowl). Then there's the chili, with genuine Black Angus steak tips "simmered in red Mexican chili beans, assorted herbs and spices, delicious and full-bodied." Hotter than most, it can be topped with sour cream, scallions and cheddar cheese.
Wasabi 15 E. Kirby St., enter on Woodward side, Detroit; 313-638-1272; wasabidetroit.com: Japanese cuisine isn't known for rich, thick soups, but the comfort factor of some soups really soars. The nabeyaki udon comes in a hot pot, a potent broth in which swirls mushrooms, shrimp tempura, and even egg. But best of all are the thick udon noodles, which can be piled into a Japanese soup spoon and consumed by the mouthful. Spice-loving diners may shake a bit of shichimi powder over everything for a bit of extra heat.
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