Detroit is a city defined by resourcefulness, entrepreneurship, and a fascinating tension between honoring the old and embracing the new. The same could be said of Detroit’s Jewish food scene, where iconic delis and bakeries operate beside upstart food businesses (yet everyone still sources Sy Ginsberg corned beef and Ma Cohen’s smoked fish), and where urban gardens that feed the local community are sprouting up on previously vacant lots.
Detroit was home to a robust Jewish presence from the turn of the 20th century until the community largely migrated to the outer suburbs in the 1950s and ’60s. Today, many young folks from across the country are relocating to Detroit, informed by social entrepreneurship and using food and farming to build bridges and re-invest in the local community.
While in Detroit, you can take a bike tour of urban farms around the city. You experience the revitalization of Eastern Market, one of the longest-running outdoor food markets in the United States. You’ll feel the influence of European Jewish immigrants in the prevalence of corned beef, rye bread, smoked whitefish and pickles. You might even munch on a corned beef egg roll and get a taste of the city’s evolving immigrant history. And, of course, if time allows, you can take a trip to Zingerman’s Deli and Bakehouse in Detroit’s sister city, Ann Arbor, to experience the sine qua non of Jewish deli innovation.
Detroit is home to bagel-makers old and new, and you must check out both while you’re in town. New York Bagel is a classic. It’s been in operation since 1921 and is onto its fourth generation of ownership. New York Bagel is the kind of spot where you can grab a coffee, a fresh sesame bagel, and run into someone you know. Detroit Institute of Bagel (DIB) opened in the hip Corktown neighborhood in 2013 after brothers Ben and Dan Newman discovered their passion for boiling and baking while churning out bagels in their apartment. Try a flavorful everything bagel, a loaded bagel dog, or a even a challah dog (yes, that’s a hot dog wrapped in challah dough). DIB has a big open kitchen, which means that guests get a front row seat to the bagel magic.
The classic deli options are seemingly limitless in Detroit, and every Detroiter has loyalty to one in particular. Stage Deli is where kids grew up staring into the deli case in amazement. Star Deli is great for a corned beef sandwich with chopped liver and a slice of onion, if you’re into that kind of thing. Star is also fondly known for their smoked fish platters appearing at every lifecycle event (try the tuna salad or sable). Hygrade Deli, located within city limits, is a local favorite and a must visit. Owner Stewart Litt comes from a bona fide deli family, and has been working there since his father took over in 1971. A bit off the beaten path, Hygrade’s reuben and warm hospitality make the trip worth it, plus you can pick up a jar of locally fermented Topor’s Pickles to go. Bread Basket Deli is known for its many locations within city limits. Hungry? Get their 1.5-pound corned beef sandwich on a roll.
Located right in the heart of Eastern Market, Russell Street Deli is a local favorite for lunch. While not an explicitly Jewish deli, Russell Street owes its inspiration to the legacy of Jewish delis in Detroit and serves up an array of hot pastrami and corned beef sandwiches on seriously fresh rye bread. Known for its locally sourced produce, its huge soup selection, and its commitment to giving back to the community, Russell Street is the kind of place that makes you feel comfortable. Try a spicy hot pastrami on rye with a side of homemade coleslaw or dig into a meatless reuben (yup, that’s a reuben sans meat, and it’s good). Russell Street’s famous soups are also sold throughout the city at many grocery stores.
Pro tip: If there’s a line to get in, go next door to Zeff’s and grab an all-beef coney dog to enjoy while you wait.
Detroit is known for a robust urban farming movement, thanks in no small part to an excess of empty lots. There are various ways for locals and visitors alike to plug into this exciting scene. Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, located in the North End, a historically Jewish and African American neighborhood, is a non-profit community farm that runs a farm store, a farmers market, and plenty of cultural events. The farm — referred to as an “agri-cultural” urban landscape — often partners with Hazon, a Jewish organization with a focus on food and environment. Hazon runs farm-to-fork bike rides that explore Detroit urban farms, as well as a bevy of other seasonal outdoor programs which are often, but not always, tied to the Jewish holidays. Join Hazon for maple sugaring or herb foraging, for example, or ice climbing and kayaking. And you can celebrate the harvest at Hazon’s annual food festival at Eastern Market.
Pro-tip: If you’re interested in volunteering with Oakland Avenue Farm or learning more about Hazon’s work in the Detroit community, reach out to Hazon Detroit.
Seven layer cake, particularly beloved at the classic Diamond Bakery, is among the local specialties in Detroit. Zeman’s and Bake Station, two kosher-certified, nut-free, and dairy-free bakeries, are also known for their Ashkenazi desserts and, specifically, their seven layer cake. Dakota Bread Company is known for its classic challah and its apple challah. Avalon Bakery is a newer addition to the scene, with five locations all within the city limits (see website for full list). Avalon is committed to organic, local ingredients and to reinvesting in the community. Order an espresso and an everything spice croissant and take home a loaf of crusty, seeded Dexter Davison Rye, named after one of Detroit’s historic Jewish neighborhoods. And of course, there’s Zingerman’s Bakehouse and its famous double crusted Detroit rye in Ann Arbor, as well as other fantastic breads and pastries.
Detroit’s Eastern Market is a must-visit for any food lover. The revitalized market now overflows with things to do, see, and eat. Ma Cohen’s is one of those local brands that everyone will tell you about. Their herring, lox, and smoked fish (all kosher-certified) are some of the best, especially the whitefish which is sourced from Lake Michigan. Production happens right in Eastern Market and you can visit them at Shed 3 on Saturdays starting at 7 a.m. 3 takes place each year at Eastern Market in late August. If you’re lucky enough to be in town, you’ll spend a Sunday with several thousand foodies enjoying live music, food trucks, chef’s demos, and tastings, plus the chance to connect with hundreds of local organizations and food vendors. While at Eastern Market, don’t miss the chance to shop for local Michigan produce and cook up a seasonal meal. The farmers market is open on Saturdays year round and Tuesdays in the summer.
Asian Corned Beef is a Detroit cult classic you won’t want to miss. With six locations throughout the city, swing by at least one of these fast food spots to see what all the fuss is about. Asian Corned Beef was founded by Vietnamese immigrant Kim White and her son, Hasan White. Soon after arriving in the States, Mrs. White had a job working in a deli that specialized in corned beef. She began playing around with wonton wrappers, wrapping the corned beef and deep frying the bundles. Soon thereafter, in 1978, Asian Corned Beef was born, and with it, what would become a Detroit favorite: the original corned beef egg roll. If you’re looking to indulge, pair your egg rolls with a melt-in-your-mouth corned beef or pastrami sandwich and a pickle.
13240 Gratiot Avenue
Detroit, MI 48205
21639 W. 8 Mile Rd near Lahser
Detroit, MI 48219
The Zingerman’s Community of Businesses is headquartered in Ann Arbor, a 45-minute drive from Detroit, but their deli and bakehouse exert an influence over the entire region. At the Bakehouse, grab of loaf of award-winning Jewish bread — caraway rye, pumpernickel, and bialys, to name a few — and indulge in Hungarian pastries, many of which carry a Jewish story, such as Hungarian sweet layered flodni and savory cabbage strudel with goose fat. At the deli, you’ll find a huge menu of Jewish specialties come holiday time and year-round. Bite into a pastrami or corned beef sandwich with meat cured in-house or dive into a bowl of matzah ball soup (Hungarian style, with ginger) and a plate of latkes. Zingerman’s also offers a wide selection of cooking and baking classes. Can’t make it to Ann Arbor? No worries. Zingerman’s breads, pastries, coffee, and candy are sold at outlets throughout Detroit-proper (check out Plum Market in particular), at the airport, and can be shipped anywhere in the US through their wildly successful mail order business.
Deep in the suburbs, a kosher eatery around the corner from the JCC dishes up an American and Israeli menu with some North African flair (Chef Hunny’s family is from Morocco). Soul Cafe is part of a mission-driven organization, Friendship Circle, working with families with children who have special needs. Soul Cafe is part of Friendship Circle’s Soul Projects, which focuses on providing vocational opportunities to adults with special needs. The cafe teaches adults with special needs the skills of food prep, cooking, hosting, and serving. Come for the hippest kosher cafe in the Metro Detroit area and tour the facilities to learn a bit about this special local institution.
Food truck culture is alive and well in Detroit. Truckshuka cooks up Israeli street food like sabich (eggplant, salad, and hard boiled eggs in a pita) and shwarma, as well as, you guessed it, shakshuka (a North African dish of eggs poached in a tomato sauce). Find Truckshuka serving lunch around the metro Detroit area and popping up at events in the area as well. They update their daily locations on Twitter. Nosh Pit is a vegan restaurant and food truck featuring Jewish specialties like a vegan reuben (corned beets, sauerkraut, vegan 1000 island) and potato latkes. Owner Karen Schultz designed the truck menu with her grandmother and a sign on the side of the truck reads, “Bubbe approved.” Indeed. Their chocolate beet cupcakes are a highlight. Find the Nosh Pit truck by checking their website for updates.
With input and insight from local experts: Kate Bush (Detroit native), Noam Kimmelman (Fresh Corner Cafe), Blair Nosanwisch (Shtetl Kettle), Avery Robinson (Jewish culinary historian), Sue Salinger (Hazon)and Erin Walker (local journalist).