Radio station WDET's host Travis Wright recently organized a panel of restaurant critics including Molly Abraham of The Detroit News and Hour and Michael Jackman, managing editor for Metro Times, to discuss Detroit's evolving restaurant scene. Both Abraham and Jackman have long memories of the city and offer some salient insights into what has changed, the trends they're seeing, and other anecdotes about dining out. Here are the best lines from the 23-minute interview:
1) Michael Jackman on the increasing frequency of restaurant openings: "I think at some point there's going to be a shake out and we're going to sort of see which ones we really think highly of."
2) Abraham on Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails: "It's a small plates menu. It's a vibrant decor, done up in Chartreuse of course. But you don't have to drink the stuff, although there are people who like it."
3) On printing harsh reviews Jackman says: "It's somewhat difficult to justify writing a harsh review and printing 60,000 copies of it and distributing it all over the city."
4) Abraham agrees that printing bad reviews isn't worth it: "You're going to give it a full review, but the idea of knocking some little guy's life savings that he's put into a restaurant — I just don't do that. If I go some place that I think is really bad, I just don't write about it."
5) Abraham admits that her budget is smaller due to changes in the journalism industry: "I recall back in the Free Press days when I was there my editor once said 'You're not ordering enough food.' My expense account was too low. Now contrast that with today... You have to be very careful."
6) The secret to good service and food, Jackman jokes: "If you want excellent service and quality food there's nothing better you can do than break out a notebook at the table."
7) When Abraham spots diners taking photos of their food: "That drives me crazy."
8) On why Abraham prefers to sit at the bar: "I think you learn so much more sitting at the bar. You listen to the bartender talking to the servers and the bartender talking to the other guests."
9) On that time Abraham ate off a stranger's plate at Angelina Italian Bistro: "A man next to me at the bar, a total stranger, had a piece of cheesecake and I said 'Oh, that looks very nice.' And he said, 'Would you care for a bite?' and I said 'Oh, that would be lovely.'"
10) Jackman on the chef community in Detroit: "I think the chefs of maybe 10 or 15 years were maybe locked in conflict with each other, fighting for that declining fine dining scene in an era where corporate accounts were being pulled... And I don't think that there was a lot of community certainly not like the community I see today among younger chefs. I think certainly the chefs at The Root, at Chartreuse, at Selden Standard, at Rock City Eatery, they're all drinking buddies. They all hang out and share ideas together."
11) Abraham on the decline of fine dining: "I think most people want something much less formal. They want something that you can go to on a Tuesday night."
12) Jackman offers these observations on the higher-end restaurant openings: "I think one of the things that they're really good at is stripping away the trappings of formality. They might be quite elegant spaces and attractive as far as their decor but there's not that stuffiness when you go into Chartreuse. They're serving classic cocktails and small plates, and it's a pretty penny too, but it certainly doesn't feel as expensive as a trip out to The Lark."
13) Jackman shares what he looks for in terms of service: "You want to be fussed over but you don't want to be aware of it."
Listen to the full interview: