Tuesday, August 2, 2011

[HOT LIST] Detroit Grocery Stores + Markets

(All photos by Nicole Rupersburg)

How do you start a hipster riot? In Detroit, it seems, all you have to do is click your heels together and say repeat the words "Whole Foods" three times. (Actually, you don't have to click your heels together and you only have to say those two little words just the once. Once is plenty.)

And, right, so, of course we get it. Some of you are happy with the existing options. And why not. Eastern Market is amazing. (We should know. We basically live there.) The Honey Bee on Bagley has Mexican Coke and guacamole and that is also awesome. Some of you, the sort content to go through life quietly punishing yourselves for various hidden sins, even think that University Foods is a real grocery store. (Let's not start another mini-riot; instead we'll just bob our heads up and down in agreement and move on.) You like to think that Detroit is just fine the way it is, give or take a light rail line or two. 'Grats. Loving your optimism.

Us, though? Well, if you're asking, we say Whole Foods can't come soon enough. Sure, it's not going to fix all of Detroit's problems, but you know what else won't fix all of Detroit's problems? Not opening a Whole Foods. That's what. (And neither will light rail, and neither will Dan Gilbert and neither will a Somerset pop-up store, but again, in the interest of keeping the peace, let's move on.)

Yes, come early 2013, we won't be pried out of our Eastern Market lair all that easily, but having a massive selection of organic produce, artisanal food products, assorted imported and organic food stuffs, boutique wine and craft beer, all within walking distance, available seven days a week and late into the evening hours? This is not something we will be unhappy about. Not at all.

Then again, a year and a half is a long way off. In the meantime, let's take a look at some of of Detroit's best existing markets and shops. Some you've heard of, some you haven't; they're all fanbloodytastic.
#1 E and L Supermercado Southwest
You love Honey Bee for the Mexican Coca-Cola in the bottle. Well, it's half the price here. E and L has a huge selection of fresh tortillas and other Hispanic food products and produce (this is Southwest, after all). They also have a fantastic prepared foods counter where you can get proper tacos (chicken, steak or pork with onions and lime) and quesadillas for a buck-thirty each or 3-for-$3 (and you can call-ahead order while on your lunch break for a quick grab-and-go). Their homemade guacamole is also cheaper than Honey Bee (and is better too, IOO), and their homemade tortilla chips and salsa will make you swear off all other pre-packaged store brands forever and ever, amen. But the real beauty is their butcher counter: they have the widest selection of butchered meats at the cheapest prices and highest quality anywhere in the city ... and, really, even beyond. Porterhouse steaks, ribs, filets, beef tenderloin, chorizo, al pastor, even goat (barbacoa); and let's not forget their 16-ft marinade counter loaded with marinated chicken wings, drums, fajitas, and carne asada; or their top-quality luncheon meat counter sliced to order. And it's all criminally cheap.

#2 R. Hirt Jr. Co. Eastern Market
It's Detroit's own genuine, bonafide, olde-timey general store selling lots of odds-and-ends and kitchen trinkets, but the reason we love R. Hirt so very much - despite its severely limited hours - is that cheese counter. THAT cheese counter. The cheese and deli counters are the showpiece of R. Hirt, located right front-and-center (and usually causing some massive bottle-necking in the narrow aisle). The selection is enormous. Blah blah blah meats, BUT, cheeeeeeese. Over 300 different varieties of cheese are on-hand here, some sitting out and letting their luscious aromas waft throughout the building, the rest stored in their massive backroom freezer. The emphasis isn't huge on locally-made cheeses (though there are some), but the import selection is outstanding and, no joke, up to $10 per pound cheaper than Zingerman's. Feel free to ask for samples; we certainly do.

#3 (Tie) Cost Plus Wine Shoppe Eastern Market + Motor City Wine Downtown
Detroit's abundance of liquor stores is well-documented (usually tagged with key words like "food desert"), but despite all the widely-available booze there are two - two - stores in all of Detroit where you can find a quality selection of small-production boutique wines from all over the world. Cost Plus has a larger store and thus a larger selection, and we've found some mind-blowing Chilean wines for a whopping $7. Cost Plus also has a nice collection of Michigan craft beers from some of our favorite labels (Bell's, Founders, New Holland, Short's). Motor City Wine has a smaller but exquisitely-curated wine selection, and is also a hotspot for live music with their "Hot Pot" Detroit techno Thursdays and world-renowned jazz on weekends. They have a leg up on Cost Plus with later hours, weekly events and regular wine tastings, and what they lack in craft beer they make up for by being located above another of our faves: the Grand Trunk Pub, which sells mix-and-match sixers of beer to go.

#4 Azteca Supermercado Southwest
Food desert. Pfffffff. The sheer abundance and per-capita density of grocers, supermarkets, butchers and bakers in Southwest Detroit more than makes up for what might be lacking elsewhere in the city. It's really quite astounding how many places there are to buy fresh food in SW, and how busy they all always seem to be. We don't really love Azteca for any one thing - we love them for all things. Fresh CHEAP produce (and a ginormous selection), fantastic butcher shop, fantastic bakery, a complete line of both American and Hispanic food items (like two full grocery stores in one), a huge and sparkling clean store, and awesome weekly specials that are cheap cheap CHEAP. If you want to settle for smaller selections at higher prices with lower quality and claim that it's "good enough," that's your prerogative.

#5 Goodwell's Natural Foods Midtown 
Goodwell's is essentially the local mom-and-pop version of Whole Foods. The focus is all on natural and organic foods with lots of vegan and raw this-and-thats. Their homemade pocket sandwiches are cheap and delicious, making it a nice little alternative to the often-overrun and rather 'spensive Avalon International Breads next door, while still maintaining the same ethos. The grocery selection is small but has all the staples you need; because it is all organic it is also more expensive, but such is the price you pay for eco-consciousness and sustainability. Which, if you're shopping here, you probably already know.

Bubbling under Honey Bee La Colmena (Mexicantown), Al-Madeena Grocery (Hamtramck), Lafayette Foods (Lafayette Park), Kim's Produce (Midtown), Polish Market (Hamtramck)

E & L Supermercado on Urbanspoon