If there’s one characteristic that sums up Detroiters, it’s persistence. Working with grace under fire has always been a prerequisite for surviving and thriving in this city, whether it be during a pandemic, the struggles with gentrification, a historic bankruptcy, or decades of disinvestment. Somehow, we know how to overcome whatever challenge we’re faced. That’s no different for the restaurants and bars and in 2022, a number of establishments have found ways to innovate in the kitchen, build community one cocktail at a time, and design spaces in neighborhoods that feel welcome to all Detroiters.
This year, we saw an underutilized ground-level storefront near downtown transformed into an intimate neighborhood destination that’s perfected the art of Coney-style steak and frites, a long-vacant historic firehouse reimagined as a casual-yet-elegant wine bar, a trio of Black bartenders whose pop-up beverage program encapsulates Black excellence, and a pair of neighborhood restaurants that are redefining Detroiters’ notions of fine dining in their own communities.
And with that, Eater Detroit is proud to celebrate the winners of the 2022 Eater Awards.
Best New Restaurant
Years ago, sommelier Joseph Allerton and bartender Travis Fourmont got to know each other at the new-at-the-time Michael Symon’s Roast in the swanky Westin Book Cadillac. Allerton stayed at Roast, while Fourmont parted ways with the spot. The two crossed paths over the years after that and somehow always knew that they would get the chance to work again someday. That someday came this June when the pair opened Bar Pigalle on the ground level of the historic Carlton Lofts.
To be sure, the duo never abandoned their ties to the beverage world. Bar Pigalle’s cocktail, beer, and wine lists are impressive but now with their own space, they get to pair libations with a food menu. Chef Nyle Flynn plays with Detroit’s French history with dishes like bison tartare, guanciale-wrapped frog legs, and a Coney-style steak and frites. In keeping with its Parisian theme, the establishment is named after the Quartier Pigalle — home of the famous Moulin Rouge.
Best New Bar
Part of the charm of Detroit living is its abundance of historic architecture — including its old-school firehouses. Sadly, many of the city’s structures are in need of significant TLC, waiting for someone to recognize the beauty that lies within them. On an otherwise quiet corner at Vinewood and West Grand Boulevard sat one such firehouse, known as Ladder 4. Built in 1910 and designed by the same architects behind the Belle Isle Boat House, the hidden gem lay dormant since the station closed in 2000. Enter James Cadariu, who along with his brother, purchased the building in 2015 and got down to business restoring the space so that it could realize a new future. Earlier this year, Cadariu’s elbow grease finally paid off when he reintroduced Ladder Four as a bar and retail wine shop featuring more than 200 varieties of wines that span the globe.
On a balmy summer afternoon, guests can grab a seat at of three patio spaces and sip on vino by the glass or bottle. The first floor boasts comfy U-shaped upholstered booths, several stone high tops, and period-appropriate subway tiling. From the start, Cadariu insisted that Ladder 4 is a wine bar, not a restaurant, although more recently, that’s begun to change, thanks to the innovative menu designed by John Yelinek who also helms the popular Park Ranger pop-up. Sure, you could settle for a bowl of olives or a tin of mussels. But the move is certainly to go big with a 32-ounce dry-aged rib-eye for two. Suddenly, you’re transported from what was once an abandoned building into an elegant neighborhood destination.
Best New Collaborative Hospitality Experience
In February 2022, a trio of Black bartenders decided to band together with the mission to enhance the hospitality experiences of people of color. Andre Sykes, who was just coming off the high of leading the Shelby speakeasy to the James Beard Awards’ long list for Best Bar in America, along with co-conspirators John Neely of Highlands and Lisa Posey who helped open Evening Bar downtown in 2019 followed by a stint at The Spare Room in Los Angeles, launched Black on Both Sides. That investment in themselves has paid off so far. Among the trio’s highlights came mid-summer when they collaborated on an ambitious effort to invite Detroiters of all walks to immerse themselves in the city’s burgeoning, though sometimes not-so-welcoming dining scene with the Hospitality Included Fest outside of the Chroma building in the Milwaukee Junction neighborhood. Among the dozens of food and beverage vendors in attendance — ranging from emerging pop-ups to some of the most lauded restaurants in the region — was Black on Both Sides, proving that if you build it, they will come.
When it comes to creating a space that feels upscale-yet-casual in a neighborhood in Detroit, it’s all about inclusive design. Every detail, from the light fixtures, the color scheme, the concept of the menu, and the signage on the exterior has to effectively communicate with the rest of the world, “Hey, this place is for you. Yeah, YOU.” And that’s just you get with Petty Cash. The New American restaurant that opened in July, draws inspiration from the contributions of Black Southern culinary traditions set inside a luxe atmosphere on the Avenue of Fashion. Just the place where you’d like to spend your walking around money — or petty cash — after a hard day’s work.
Helmed by three veterans in the local food scene, including Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles founder and former NFL player Ron Bartell, the Green Acres restaurant and bar’s moody black, green, and gold-accented interior is the work of Black-owned design firm Urban Alterscape and was developed by R&J Development. On the black brick wall on the exterior’s north side is a mural painted in white and gold that resembles a Detroit version of a $1 million bill, with the message: Black Dollars Matter, designed by Detroit artist Desiree Kelly. It’s less a motto and more a call to action to residents to keep their dollars — and their appetites — in the neighborhood.
By the time that Nancy Diaz-Lopez and her husband Ramon Luis “Wicho” Diaz unveiled La Palapa del Parian, a sit-down taqueria and bar in the city’s Springwells neighborhood, they had already spent well over a decade in the local food world. They launched their first taco truck, El Parian, on the parking lot of a car wash where Vernor, Dix, and Waterman meet and quickly became a hit for their tacos al pastor. The couple went on to launch several other food trucks throughout Southwest Detroit and at the beginning of 2020, they were ready to open their full-service restaurant. Talk about bad timing.
A few rounds of pandemic-related closures and a fire in March 2021 could have deterred the duo from continuing on, but the setback only challenged them to think bigger. Over the summer, the couple unveiled a dramatic redesign of the space, which is an homage to the many small-town plazas found in their Mexican home state of Jalisco. The space features rustic-looking wood paneling, soulful murals painted by “Southwest” Freddy Diaz, an expansive bar area made of brick and granite, and equipale barrel chairs imported from Mexico. As for food, well, the tacos that put El Parian on the map are prepared on a large grill located on the outdoor patio, while the full-size kitchen allows the team to prepare lesser-known Mexican specialties like pork costillas in chile verde, family-style carnitas platters, and towering seafood cocktails. General manager Eddie Vargas also gets a nod for his ability to transform some of that extra space into a venue for ticketed tasting-menu events that prove one does not have to leave the barrio to enjoy a fine dining experience.