Detroit's culinary scene rarely gets the attention it deserves, and I swear I'd think so even if I wasn't a native Michigander. So when my friend Sara Bonisteel, an editor for Epicurious, this week forwarded me a Gambit story about a New Orleans burger joint owner, I instantly agreed with Sara's assessment: "Someone needs to school this guy in Detroit cuisine," she groused.
Phil de Gruy, owner of Phil's Grill, weekly concocts burgers meant to represent the hometown of whichever team is playing the Saints. As The Gambit reported:
Last year, when the Saints played the Detroit Lions, de Gruy made a burger inspired by roadkill. "There is no cuisine of Detroit, and in researching, we found they eat a lot of roadkill," de Gruy says.
To be fair, there is a Michigan tradition of eating muskrat, which dates back to a nineteenth-century ruling issued by Father Gabriel Richard. The missionary realized Catholic trappers were going hungry during Lent because there weren't enough fish to feed them, so he declared muskrats fit for Fridays. But muskrat is now served only at community dinners, and there's a real difference between eating a freshly-killed water rodent and a raccoon found alongside the highway.
In the 1970s, Detroit adopted "Say nice things about Detroit" as an unofficial city slogan. Since de Gruy was publicly doing otherwise, I decided to ring him up to ask why. I wondered just what kind of studying would produce the nonsensical conclusion that "there is no cuisine of Detroit." To his credit, de Gruy didn't take a scholarly stance.
"I pulled it out of my ass," he told me. When he couldn't find much about Detroit eats online, he consulted a table of customers from Michigan.
"I said, 'what do y'all eat?' They said, 'you know what Ford stands for, right? Found on the Road Dead'," de Gruy says. "It was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. They were probably Chevy drivers."
The visitors also revealed that Michigan is a top cherry producer, but de Gruy liked the first story better.
"Well, I probably tend to offend at least one person a week," he says. "I'm just obnoxious by nature."
De Gruy declined to reveal what kind of burger he'd make for a Seahawks match-up.
"It's too bad we're not playing Seattle this year," he says. "Maybe in the playoffs."