Friday was the perfect Summer day; Bright sunshine, blue sky, and a light breeze; the kind of day that compels you to be outdoors. Southwest Detroit is a wonderful area to explore, it has a character all its own; lively and vibrant, bright colors and appealing artwork abound, even in the most unsuspecting places. We started our adventure at the recently opened Bagley Pedestrian Bridge, part of the $230 million dollar Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project, the project itself provides bridge travelers a stunning introduction to Detroit. The pedestrian bridge is an asymmetrical 155 foot high pylon cable-stayed design, it is actually the first cable-stayed bridge in Michigan. From it you have panoramic views of downtown, St. Anne Church (the second oldest Catholic parish in the U.S.), and of course the Ambassador Bridge. The east side of the bridge features a towering metal and concrete sculpture; a dynamic tile mural highlights the crossing showcasing the Detroit River, Detroit landmarks and the local flavor of the neighborhood. The bridge unites the area after many years of separation with the building of I-75, now locals and visitors alike can enjoy the district on foot.
From there we wandered around Mexican town east of the bridge in search of the murals that decorate Southwest Detroit; a drive down Bagley and Vernor reveal fantastic ironwork and art. Cross over I-75 further into Southwest; the area is dense with restaurants, shops, and local businesses. Large murals occupy the entire side of buildings; a bright purple wall is the background for a portrait of a woman and her guitar, children’s imagination’s are illustrated on one wall, a giant rendering of a farmer in his cornfield reaches out to passerby’s on another, public benches are decked out with mosaic tile decor and embellish the area.
After a combination of walking and driving to take pictures, we were ready for lunch. We strayed from the beaten path a little bit to Junction and Michigan where El Barzon is located. When you walk through the door you will notice this is not your typical Mexican restaurant; a bit more upscale with white tablecloths, glass stemware and a rose on each table. When you are seated you are offered a wine list and menu, open the menu to the unexpected; one side is traditional Mexican dishes, the other side Italian. Servers are very attentive, our water glasses were filled quickly and the chips and homemade salsa arrived shortly thereafter. Immediately we dug into the chips eager to try both the red and the green salsa; red being spicy, this is a smooth sauce bursting with flavor and just the right amount of kick to it. The green on the other hand was very light and fresh tasting, it had a creaminess to it that I would bet came from avocado, both are delicious! We didn’t stray from the Mexican page and ordered a Tamale; over-sized, moist and flavorful. The enchiladas; filled with cheese and topped off nicely with a green sauce, this is not your usual melted white cheese that oozes out when you cut into the enchilada, but more of a mild crumble type, oh it was so good. We also tried the Pozole, served in a large bowl, it is a spicy broth base with pozole (hominy), vegetables, tostadas, and chicharrones, and we chose the chicken; break up the tostadas and use them like crackers in soup, then top with the vegetables, a little radish, some avocado, so tasty. We have to come back and try the Italian one day soon.
Refreshed and refueled we were ready for more exploration, this time through the neighborhoods.We had previously noticed a number of residential fences painted with delightful murals designed to beautify the area. This time we came across a building with an impressive graffiti-type mural; the owner explained to us that students from Wayne state were going around to local businesses and offering their services for free, how cool is that? That’s when we stumbled onto The Alley Project (TAP). This walking gallery is awesome; spanning one full city block the project takes you through the alley behind Avis past a multitude of garages serving as canvasses for high quality multi-color murals, Wow! On July 4th of this year The Alley Project opened a common art space comprised of two empty neighborhood lots for neighbors and artists; providing places to sit and gaze at the billboard style displays, there are also raised flower beds and a gravel pathway that takes you from the street to the alley. This is definitely worth checking out!
We parked on Vernor in front of Cafe Con Leche and walked the short distance to the MexicanTown Bakery. We love this place; the scent of fresh baked goods perfumes the air, tall metal racks with a dozen shelves hold the most recent items to come from the ovens, the wall to the right is cabinet after cabinet filled with sweet delights. Further back are rows of Mexican groceries and canned goods, everything you need to cook and authentic meal. Each time we come I like to try something new, I haven’t found anything yet I didn’t like; cookies, pastries, rolls and cakes they are all delectable. Kris really likes their chocolate cookie covered with tons of mini chocolate chips. Me,I don’t know what it’s called, but I’ll tell you my new favorite; when you look at it you will see that it is covered in granulated sugar, I mean it looks like it was rolled in sugar and then rolled again, really. There are two halves and they are held together with a raspberry filling that has squeezed out the sides. Take a bite to reveal the yellow colored dough, it is more crisp and crumbly than soft and chewy, the cookie part reminds me in the slightest way of a chinese almond cookie in color and flavor. The combination of flavors and textures is just right and went perfectly with my iced americano from the coffee shop.