A short guide to stews, chowders, gumbos, chilis and more
Published: October 6, 2010
Hunter House 35075 Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-646-7121: 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: 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's $3.99 a cup, $4.99 a bowl, and goes down well with one of Lily's IPA brews.
Lunchtime Global 660 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-963-4871: 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: 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; 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.
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, clean ashtrays, 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.
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: 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.
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