The New York chef spent four years developing his new Detroit concepts, and in the process, he fell in love with the city. 

By Kate Heddings
Updated May 17, 2019

New York City-based chef Andrew Carmellini and his team recently opened several food concepts in Detroit’s brand-spanking-new Shinola hotel, including the flagship restaurant, San Morello, where Southern Italy and Sicily meets urban Detroit. Think pizzas, housemade pastas, and lusty wood-fired dishes using the best of Detroit’s local ingredients.

The process of opening took almost four years, during which Carmellini spent many days and nights scouring the city for breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks, as well as visiting local museums and parks. His takeaway? Detroit is pretty dang great, and he even cops to envying the tight-knit and incredibly vibrant community of chefs in the city.

Credit: Nicole Franzen

If you have a few days in Detroit, don’t miss out on Carmellini’s must-go spots.

1. Rose's Fine Food

Rose's is the dream low-key hipster diner. I probably ate breakfast here about 20 times during the opening of San Morello, before we had a kitchen built. I would happily wake up and make the drive to Rose’s cause it’s that good. I grew up on buckwheat pancakes and they do some really excellent ones here, made with organic flour and Michigan maple syrup. And while I’m not usually a patty-melt kind of guy, Rose’s makes the best. Head on over to Belle Isle (a giant park located in the Detroit River, often called the “Jewel of Detroit”) to walk them off afterward.

10551 E Jefferson Ave., Detroit

2. Qahwah House

This really piqued my interest because my family had a coffee roasting plant in Livorno, Italy for over 200 years, until just after World War One. My grandfather sourced his beans from Ethiopia and Yemen, so it was fascinating to see this Yemenite coffee place in Detroit. At Qahwah (which is apparently the Arabic word for coffee that originated in Yemen), the standouts for me were Jubani and Rada’ey, which are both strong and intense. There are different roasts, and they prepare the coffee to order, so you can get all kinds of coffee drinks, from sweet to not. Don’t miss the honeycomb bread—a tin of pull-apart rolls filled with cheese, and the freshly baked Sabaya pastry (a flakey layered bread-cake made with Yemeni butter, sesame and honey). And definitely don't skip on the raw sidr honey!

6655 Schaefer Rd, Dearborn

3. Sister Pie

One of the reasons I opened The Dutch in NYC eight years ago was because, at the time, there weren't a lot of places to get good pie in NYC. I love pie and grew up on pie. Lisa Ludwinski opened her Detroit pie shop four years ago to much acclaim, and I always stop by when I’m in town. I'm a big fan of the Salted Maple pie, but she is a genius at taking chances with off-the-wall flavors like sweet beet that totally work. We also serve her pie at our fried chicken spot, Penny Red’s, in the Shinola Hotel.

8066 Kercheval Ave, Detroit, MI 48214

Credit: Noah Fecks

4. Cliff Bell's

Cliff Bell's is a restored 1935 jazz club just off of Grand Circus Park. It has some serious swag, and it’s a great place to see live jazz. If you’re eating there, I can 100% recommend the beef cheek Stoganoff, but most times I just chill at the bar. Pro tip: don't dress like a bum. Detroit likes to dress for success here.

2030 Park Ave, Detroit

5. Mabel Gray Kitchen

There is a truly great chef-driven restaurant scene happening in Detroit, including Mabel Gray (named after a Great Lakes folklore legend). Chef James Rigato takes it to another level here with his revolving menu, which changes monthly, so you never know what you’re going to get (as a side note, I’m super jealous that he can do this). Sometimes Rigato just highlights the seasons, and sometimes he does a complete 180° to an all-vegan menu. Any which way, I’ve had nothing but great meals here.

23825 John R Rd, Hazel Park

Credit: Noah Fecks

6. Peoples Records

Detroit has some of the best record stores, including Hello Records and Found Sound. But Peoples Records stands out for its insane collection of 45s. If you're into obscure soul or you want to get some red-hot funk action for some samples, this is the place. Pro tip: if you’re at Peoples, you’re near Eastern Market, so walk on over to Supino's for the Bismark Pie—a thin crust pizza topped with mozzarella, prosciutto, and an over-easy egg.

1464 Gratiot Ave, Detroit

7. Detroit Institute of the Arts

I send every new visitor to Detroit to the DIA. It’s a world-class museum with an outstanding collection that’s known for its diversity, from American, European, Modern and Contemporary arts to African, Asian, Native-American works, and more. The Diego Rivera murals are amazing. If you’re there over the weekend, pop into Selden Standard for brunch, or grab a drink at one of my favorite Detroit bars, Northern Lights.

5200 Woodward Ave, Detroit

8. Takoi

This is some banging Thai food in Corktown from our friends Phil Kafka and Brad Greenhill. After a big fire in 2017 shut the restaurant down, Takoi reopened even better than before. It’s a crazy cool spot where you’re encouraged to eat a lot of the family-style dishes with your hands. The fiery food goes best with sour beer, especially Prairie Artisan Ales Funky Gold Mosaic. The menu changes a lot, and it’s so popular that you might have to wait, but they have a cool “green room” where you can wait it out with snacks and cocktails.

2520 Michigan Ave, Detroit

9. Detroit Metro Airport

As an end note, I can’t say that there’s any groundbreaking food to be had at the airport, but if you find yourself delayed (or just hungry) on the way out of Detroit, my pick is to grab a pizza at Bigalora Cucina.