Hidden Detroit – Food and Drink


Part of our 2017 City Guide, Hidden Detroit

White Night Out

Diner en Blanc is the secret, elegant flash mob dinner party bringing Detroiters together

On a Sunday afternoon in August, the lawn surrounding Palmer Park’s historic fountain was awash in white.

Hundreds of people decked out in white gowns, tuxes, suits, cocktail dresses, and hats fit for the Kentucky Derby converged to dine at white-clothed tables in Detroit’s annual flash mob dinner party, Diner en Blanc.

Each July or August, invitees receive a mysterious, unsigned postcard instructing them to “save the date” for the Dinner in White. Just the date, and instructions to invite 10 more people, dress in white, and bring everything needed for a formal dinner party to … well that’s a secret.

The location, a public place, is revealed in a second postcard sent the week before the event. The instructions are very specific: Bring tables, chairs, food, wine, white linens, candles, flowers, and trash bags for cleanup.

On the designated date the flash mob extravaganza materializes at 5 p.m. and evaporates at dark as if it had never happened.

The original Diner en Blanc in Paris is the gold standard in pop-up dinner parties. While Detroit’s organizers remain unknown, it’s no secret the first Dinner in White was hatched by Francois Pasquier, who hosted a picnic dinner in a Parisian park.

The party grew organically, as year after year, the original participants invited friends, who invited friends … you get the idea.

After 29 consecutive years it attracts over 10,000 diners and has spread to 70 cities worldwide. The Detroit version has grown in six years from 100 or so diners on Belle Isle to nearly 1,000 last August in Palmer Park. In between, it’s touched down in Cadillac Square, on the old Tiger Stadium site, Eastern Market, and the Heidelberg Project.

It’s one event you’ll never see on Facebook or Eventbrite – social media prior to the event is forbidden. So unless you know someone who knows someone … — Donna Terek

Brunch menu takeover at Public House in Ferndale

4 Menu Takeovers

Sometimes, even chefs don’t feel like cooking. That may not be the main reason behind menu takeovers, but keep your eyes on frequent collaborators as they hand over the reins to guest chefs, bartenders, and potential restaurateurs.

Mabel Gray
Chef James Rigato and Co. are always bringing in new faces and foods to the Hazel Park hot spot. In January, Top Chef winner and Dearborn native Mei Lin posted up in the kitchen for an Asian-inspired “Mei-bel Gray” takeover. On April 18, there’s a cider dinner in collaboration with Ryan Burk of Angry Orchard Ciders. 23825 John R Rd.; Hazel Park

Public House 
Every other month, Public House’s executive chef Brandon Zarb tosses aside the Ferndale joint’s standard selection of sliders and sandwiches for a special “one day only” menu takeover. Past events have highlighted German and Vietnamese cuisine, while others have paid homage to brunch with decadent items like lamb bacon hash and avocado toast with butter-poached crab. 241 W. Nine Mile Rd.; Ferndale

Detroit City Distillery
Every Tuesday, the Eastern Market bar and brand brings in a local bartender for a cocktail takeover using DCD’s small-batch, artisanal whiskey, rye, gin, bourbon, or vodka, plus whatever the guest chooses to bring. It could be teas, imaginative fruit syrups, or simply an idea for Beatles-inspired cocktails. 2462 Riopelle St.; Detroit

PJ’s Lager House
PJ’s Lager House normally offers up a bevy of bolillo rolls for their po’boys, plus a heap of vegetarian offerings. But  on the last Tuesday of every month, Dr. Sushi and Satoshi Ramen take over the Corktown spot to dish out snacks and comfort food rarely seen in American pubs. Past dishes have included kimchi stew and a vegan red miso soup, accompanied by a pingpong tournament. 1254 Michigan Ave; Detroit

Alley Taco

7 Places Within Places

Food inside other food isn’t always a good idea (looking at you, turducken). But in the case of this list, it is. Find these unassuming, “meta” gems tucked away inside other shops, businesses, and on one occasion, a gas station.

Alley Taco
Until recently, the only way to the Cass Corridor’s favorite low-key spot for burritos, tacos, and other cheap eats meant winding through the aisles of Marcus Market. But now there’s another option. Alley Taco is opening its own Midtown storefront on Willis Street next to Avalon International Bread. But don’t worry, hombre, the original location isn’t going anywhere. 4614 Second Ave.; Detroit and 418 W. Willis St.; Detroit

Taystee’s Burgers 
Gas station grub gets a bad rap. But Taystee’s Burgers, located inside a Dearborn BP station, totally bucks the trend. After fueling up, treat yourself to a gourmet burger lightly topped with jalapeno poppers, Doritos, or mac and cheese bites. 10419 Ford Rd.; Dearborn  

Pepe Z Pizza
Housed inside southwest Detroit music venue El Club, Pepe Z’s dishes out some of the best Neapolitan/New York-style pies in the city. And with creative combinations like pepperoni and honey, the place doesn’t hide its flair for flavor. 4114 Vernor Hwy.; Detroit

International Mini-Café
A well-kept secret among CCS and Wayne State students, this quiet Midtown lunch spot is in the basement of the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, which provides immigration services to families. The menu includes top-notch Indian dishes like chicken curry.  111 E. Kirby St.; Detroit

Laika Dog
A hot dog with Thai peanut sauce and ancho-mint jelly? No, you weren’t spacing out. That’s just one flavor-blasted menu item at the hot dog joint inside the U.F.O. Factory, a Corktown hangout for arts and entertainment. On Saturdays and Sundays, brunches include waffle dogs with tasty dipping sauces. 2110 Trumbull Ave.; Detroit

One World Market
Any Japanese grocery store worth its roe should have a secret sushi bar in back. And offer bento boxes. One World Market in Novi understands this. For a treat, try the Red Wing Roll: shrimp tempura with spicy tuna and avocado. 42705-B Grand River Ave.; Novi


Annual Holy Mole Contest
Date: Mid-late November
Southwest Detroit community members compete with their homemade mole — a complex sauce that typically includes chili pepper, nuts, fruit, and occasionally, chocolate. The winner takes home $500.

Cocktail Classes
Date: First Saturday, monthly
It’s time to up your cocktail-making game. Every month, Sugar House in Corktown hosts “Mixology Fundamentals.” It’s a condensed version of the class their bartenders have to take. sugarhousedetroit.com

Michigan Jewish Food Festival
Date: Aug. 27
Thousands stopped in Eastern Market for last year’s  first Michigan Jewish Food Festival. They’re planning another round of spirituality, food justice, and more, plus tastings and cooking demonstrations. hazon.org