Tag Archives: Brunch

DETROIT: Bank On It

30 Mar

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By the 1890’s Detroit was becoming an important industrial and manufacturing city producing consumer goods such as shoes, bicycles, beer, packaged seeds and pharmaceuticals. The city manufactured railroad cars, ships and stoves; in 1890 Detroit was the nations 14th largest city with a population of 205,876, all of those people needed to put their money somewhere…The Financial District was born. In 1899 22 of 23 banks in Detroit’s financial district were on Griswold, the economic boom of the auto industry brought new banks that swallowed up the old, mergers and closures. Of the 36 buildings within the historically designated Financial District, 33 are historic buildings, 18 of these originally housed banks or financial institutions. Today we are visiting Chrysler House f.k.a the Dime Savings Bank Building.

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The Neoclassical building designed by Daniel Burnham opened in 1912, the steel-framed structure is covered in white glazed brick with white terra-cotta trim. Built and paid for by the Dime Savings Bank of Detroit, you could open an account there for as little as 10 cents. The banks vaults and tellers were on the first floor, offices were above that. In 2002 $40 million was spent on upgrades and renovations making it into Class A office space. Bedrock Detroit purchased the building in 2011, in 2012 Chrysler Group LLC leased 33,000 sq ft; after nearly 100 years the name was changed to Chrysler House. The light-filled lobby is striking; stylish seating areas, large potted plants, polished marble floors and elegant columns surround the central light court. 

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The ground floor houses restaurants and retail shops, passing through the lobby, lanyard-laden employees come and go during the lunch hour, we walk towards the bank of elevators, make a left and find ourselves in a short corridor. Drought, founded by four James sisters from Plymouth MI, produces organic cold-pressed raw juice. They operate 6 locations in Metro Detroit including the small retail space in Chrysler House, selling glass bottles of juice, cold-brew coffee and candles. The stark white space overlooks Fort St, foot traffic is heavy today, now and again pedestrians pause to look in the windows. A single 3-door cooler holds bottles of colorful juices, customers come in, grab a bottle or two, pay at the counter and they’re off.

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Across the hall Bon Bon Bon has opened a second location. It’s Good Friday, with Easter only a couple of days away, the demand for chocolate is high, there is no shortage of variety or quantity today. I count at least 25 flavors from Bunny Butt and Hazel-What? to Cherry Lux and Boston Cooler, wait, does that one say Bacon & Eggs…..yup. The shop is cheery with bright orange walls, sunlight spills in from large windows, a steady stream of chocoholics make their way to the front of the line. When our turn comes I choose Bunny Butt, chocolate cake cream in a dark chocolate shell with a squirt of buttercream. Kris goes with the Swimming Turtle, toasted pecan and sea salt in a pool of caramel, it’s as good as your thinking it is right now.

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Now that we’ve had dessert I guess we should have some lunch! Dime Store opened on the ground floor facing Griswold in 2014. Funky vintage lights hang above the counters, an over-sized mercury head from dimes minted between 1916-1945 is painted on the far wall, old kitchen items rest on shelves. They call themselves an American Brunch Bar specializing in breakfast, lunch and booze; they do all of it well. It’s nearly 3 pm and the only available space is two counter seats, we make ourselves comfy as we read over the menu. Once we place our order we’re mesmerized by all of the activity in the open kitchen, staff members hustle among a sea of stainless steel preparing french toast, omelettes, benny’s, hash, salads and sandwiches.  

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Our server delivers a bowl of classic Mac & Cheese, topped with bread crumbs and chives the sauce is thick and smooth, the noodles are the perfect texture. Todays special is the Hercules Omelette, 2 eggs packed with house-made chorizo, roasted eggplant, spinach and smoked Gouda topped with tzatziki sauce and pickled onions. Filling out the plate is a side of breakfast potatoes and toast, every bite is delicious. 

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Now that we’ve eaten we take a little time to explore the building further. White walls are accented with embossed plaster panels painted in red, teal and gold, elevator doors wear decorative trim and elegant wreaths. The second floor is the mezzanine level, here we get an up-close look at the Corinthian capitols, plaster rosettes and designs. The old fireplace from the bank presidents office has been moved to create a cozy seating area, workers sit at small tables overlooking the lobby while on their break. Looking up through the skylight I notice the building becomes a U-shape on the upper floors, what a cool view of the building and sky. At 104 years old the Dime building, errrr…I mean Chrysler House is still looking good!

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A short walk away we stop in at Cornerstone Barrel House on Woodward for Happy Hour. Open for about a year now in the old Oslo space, the decor features reclaimed wood and exposed brick walls lending a rustic feel to the space. We pull up a seat at the bar, scan the menu along with the collection of bottles behind the counter and make our decision. I sip on a Left Hand Brewing Co. Nitro Milk Stout, Kris enjoys a Crown on the rocks. The vibe is mellow, patrons represent city and suburbs, visitors and locals in all age ranges. The restaurant serves lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, the lower level, called The Whiskey Disco, hosts international and local electronic music artists Wednesday through Saturday.

 

 

DETROIT: I Got Rhythm….

13 May

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It’s 2:00 on a Sunday, with no reason to rush out the door we’ve slept in late and are now in search of food. Why is it anything with eggs or maple syrup tastes even better after noon?  Craft Work in West Village is said to have a great brunch, we’re here to check it out. Located on the ground floor of the Parkstone Apartments, the restaurant is integrated into the neighborhood perfectly. That’s one of the things Kris and I really like about this area; restaurants, cafes and shops are intermixed with single family homes and apartments making it very walkable. Mature trees, gorgeous architecture and well-kept homes create a charming district.

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Housed in a space that was originally a pharmacy, then occupied by the Harlequin Cafe, Craft Work has kept the old-world charm alive and well. Dining room tables are full when we arrive, there’s plenty of room at the community tables in the bar area. Everything on the menu sounds appealing; we choose one sweet and one savory dish to split. Before long, large plates piled high with breakfast foods arrive at the table. Lets start with the savory; tender bacon fat biscuits are literally smothered with house made sausage gravy nicely seasoned with tender chunks of sausage. Next to the biscuits are two perfectly fried eggs; I put mine on top of the biscuit, eggs Benedict style. Cutting into it, golden liquid yolk drips down the biscuit and combines with the gravy, delicious! Golden french toast made from eggy, tender, slightly sweet challah is stacked high, pats of butter melt slowly and eventually slip down the stack, a cup of syrup shares the plate, Kris is in his glory, it’s exceptional.

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Now for the entertainment portion of the day. Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church (JAPC) is hosting “A Gershwin Rendezvous” as part of their free concert series. The building itself is stunning, designed by architect Wirt C Roland (Guardian Building) in the English Gothic style, it was completed in 1926. The interior is a medley of wood carvings, plaster castings, stained glass windows and stone carvings. The Sanctuary itself is elegant, understated, with colorful stained glass windows, simple chandeliers and stepped buttresses. The Skinner pipe organ is one of only three, large, four-manual instruments that remain in their original form.

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We park in the lot behind the church and follow the other attendees inside. Wooden chairs have been set up in rows facing the black piano, volunteers are busy setting up refreshments to be served at the conclusion of the performance. After placing our jackets on the back of our chairs, we have a look around. There are several lovely rooms in the Parish House; stone fireplaces, leaded glass windows and decorative plaster adorns each of them. The church has a very welcoming feel to it, members are friendly and chat eagerly. Though this is not my neighborhood or my church, I feel a part of the community gathered here today.

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Back in Dodge Hall we take our seats as the concert is about to begin. Penny Masouris will be performing many Gershwin favorites today; pianist and vocalist, she will also weave in a bit of Gershwin history and stories between songs. A number of reproduction paintings rest on easels, our hostess introduces each of George’s paintings and tells us a little about them. She’s a wonderful lecturer and fascinating to listen to. It’s evident she has studied the composer and pianists life and career extensively. Taking her seat at the piano she kicks off the afternoon with Gershwin’s first big hit (1919) Swanee. Penny shares stories of George and Ira’s early days in New York, how George became the composer and Ira the lyricist, then she plays and sings some more.

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We are sitting in the back row with the vantage point of being able to see the physical reactions audience members have to songs like “Someone to Watch Over Me”, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”. Some close their eyes and sway, others mouth the lyrics. Once in a while there is a joyful gasp, a body sitting  a little straighter in the chair, a tapping foot. Music has that effect on people. “Rhapsody in Blue” is probably the piece of music most associated with Gershwin, it’s hard to believe it came out in 1924, it’s magnificent. George wrote pieces for stage and screen, American in Paris (1928), Porgy and Bess (1935) along with Jazz, opera and popular music. George Gershwin died when he was only 38 years old during surgery to remove a brain tumor. His career was short but brilliant, filling the pages of the American songbook.

Time has passed quickly, the concert comes to an end. Enthusiastic applause shows our appreciation for the performer.   The concert series continues through June with performances on Sunday afternoons at 4:30 pm. Be sure to check out the website for all the musical programs at JAPC. It has been a wonderful afternoon, Detroit-style, I can hardly wait for next weekend!

DETROIT: Tiki Time

6 May

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In the 1930’s a young man from Louisiana traveled by sailboat through the South Pacific. Intrigued and excited by what he saw he changed his name to Donn Beach, moved to Hollywood CA and in 1934 opened the first Tiki/Polynesian themed restaurant in the US called Don The Beachcomber. The restaurant was decked out in rattan, bamboo and thatch, it served Cantonese cuisine and tropical drinks dispensed in coconut shells, tiki mugs or huge bowls meant to share, oh, don’t forget the little umbrella. Donn is credited with creating the tropical drink genre of mixing flavored syrups and fresh fruit juices with rum. Three years later Trader Vic’s opened in Oakland CAPost WWII, interest in the South Pacific swelled, Tiki infiltrated music; artists such as Les Baxter, Martin Denny (Quiet Village) and Arthur Lyman (Yellow Bird) created a whole new genre called Exotica. Songs conjure up images of tropical rainforests, Hawaiian luaus, Tahitian villages, beaches and palm trees. Tiki bars sprang up from the California coast to the Atlantic coast; the Tiki culture of mid-century America was born.

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Detroit  joined the Tiki bandwagon with a Trader Vic’s downtown, Chin Tiki on Cass (featured in the movie 8 Mile) and the ultimate in Polynesian grandeur, The Mauna Loa. As a young boy Kris actually had dinner at the Mauna Loa, the place was so spectacular it remains a vivid memory of Palm trees, waterfalls, gurgling streams, foot bridges, giant Blowfish lanterns and tall torches. It is said to be the most expensive restaurant built east of the Mississippi at the time, $1.6 Million dollars in 1967. Though none of the buildings remain today, stories, photos and memorabilia of Detroit’s lost Tiki palaces keep the memories alive and well. Today Zenith at the Fisher Building is hosting a Tiki Brunch, I’m so excited!

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When we arrive the Tiki party is in full swing; tables are filled with diners noshing on the likes of cornbread french toast, huevos montulenos, chicken and waffles, candied mango bacon and grilled biscuits. Roland Remington and Johnny Ukulele are serenading patrons with the relaxing sounds of mid-century Exotica tunes such as Blue Hawaii, Hypnotique, Henry Mancini’s Moon River and Tequila. Roland is classically dressed in jacket, tie and Shriner’s hat as he plays the xylophone. Johnny is a little less formal in his print shirt, he switches between the electric organ and the ukulele. The Tiki mood has been set, tropical flowers are arranged near the performance area, smoke filters out the mouth of a tiki, leis are draped over the ukulele case, very swanky.

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We are seated at the bar in the lounge area, this section is steeped in Tiki style from the bamboo furniture and hula girls to the tropical flowers painted on the walls; the lamps are pretty awesome too! We love the brunch here, at Zenith Poutine is a MUST, today’s version goes like this: crispy french fries topped with scrambled eggs, shredded cheddar, jalapeno hollandaise, scallions and 4-pepper gravy, it’s worth every single minute you spend on the treadmill. Then there’s the Red Velvet Waffle, served with a slightly tart pomegranate sauce, tamed by the cream cheese icing, it’s delicious!  We finish our brunch right as the musicians take their break.

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At 2:00 pm members of the Detroit Area Art Deco Society arrive for a tour of the space in celebration of Detroit Modernism Week; being members ourselves, we join the group. Owners Melissa and Robert Jasper have been collectors of all of the fabulous stuff we see here for the last 30 or so years. Gathering in the Tiki lounge, Melissa points out specific pieces, she explains the significance of the item, where she got it or what she likes about it; the fountain is new since our last visit. Kris and I have been to a least a hundred flea markets, antique stores and vintage shops all over the south and mid-west, this is some of the coolest stuff we’ve seen.  In the very front of the restaurant facing W Grand Boulevard is the “paint by numbers” room, you guessed it, individual paint by numbers from western scenes to animals and sailboats to the Eiffel Tower decorate the walls.

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The space the restaurant occupies was originally a bank, our hostess leads us downstairs, through the gates to the old safe-deposit-box-room-turned-lounge area, super cool! Next to that is the performance space now known as the Wrectory, a heavy metal karaoke nightclub. The decor is a mix of religious items and adult themed posters creating a humorous contrast. Back upstairs the music has resumed, we reclaim our seats at the bar and sip on tasty tropical drinks made for a lazy Sunday. If you’re looking for a bit of the good life, the next Tiki Brunch is May 17—we’ll see ya there! UPDATE: Zenith is now closed for business.

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