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Detroit’s Biggest Dining Surprises (and Disappointments) of 2019

The saddest and most memorable news and trends of the past year

Customers gather outside of Russell Street Deli underneath bright green awnings on a sunny day at Eastern Market in Detroit.
Russell Street Deli closed its doors in 2019. It was one of the saddest and least expected events of the year.
Michelle and Chris Gerard
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

As is tradition at Eater, we closed out the year by surveying local food writers and our own staff on various restaurant-related topics, and publishing their responses throughout the week. Next up: Food writers recall the Detroit restaurant moments and experiences that stood out in 2019. Readers, feel free to share your thoughts below.

Mark Kurlyandchik, Restaurant Critic, Detroit Free Press:

Losing Russell Street Deli after so many years in Eastern Market and losing Axle Brewing’s Livernois Tap after just two years in Ferndale were both big surprises. Both supported their respective communities in various ways and their losses came as a shock.

Dorothy Hernandez, Managing Editor, Model D:

More of a disappointing shock than surprise would be accurate to describe Russell Street Deli closing down.

Serena Maria Daniels, Founder and Editor, Tostada Magazine:

Women are leading the path to shaping the future of the city’s foodways. I can’t say that this is so much of a surprise, women have always been a force in cooking and nourishing our bodies and minds, but what I am pleasantly surprised by is how apparent this leadership has been in 2019 in Detroit. Everywhere I looked in Detroit, I saw women, black, Latinx, queer, non-binary, Muslim, immigrant, refugee, elder, newcomer — all working toward shaping the future of the city’s foodways: collaborating on popup projects; gathering to collect data on how they are are addressing sustainability, justice, and equity in their restaurants; taking the helm in food journalism; restaurant developers fixing up old buildings, I could go on and on.

Brenna Houck, Editor, Eater Detroit:

The speed at which certain places closed this year was a bit surprising. Three quarters of Fort Street Galley turned over in less than a year, Katsu Detroit only lasted six months, and maybe slightly less surprisingly Friend & Associate closed in less than two months. Meanwhile, the turnover of some of Eastern Market’s long standing businesses, particularly the shutter of Russell Street Deli, was (and continues to be) alarming.

In pleasant surprises, it felt like some of the most low-key openings turned out to be the sleeper hits of the year: Saffron De Twah, Yum Village, and Balkan House didn’t necessarily make a huge splash when they opened, but they left lasting impressions and became some of the most memorable spots of the year.

John Reyes, Ann Arbor Contributor, Eater Detroit:

Blue Llama’s smoked frozen grapes were just a small part of its cheese plates, but were a revelation.

All Year in Eater Coverage [ED]