An Outsider’s Day in the D

An Outsider’s Day in the D

In the almost-two years I’ve lived in southeast Michigan, I’ve been to Detroit several times. Baseball games, plays at the opera

Photo by Jennifer Bowman
Photo by Jennifer Bowman

house, the Detroit River Days festival, and of course—the Auto Show. I’ve seen my fair share of downtown, but the truth is, I’ve never really experienced what it’s like to just hang out in the Motor City. No ticketed events or packing up to head west as soon as the crowds let out—just wandering around, making the most of the sites that are there on a daily basis. So, last weekend, I dragged my husband out of the house and scheduled a day around Detroit.

We started off with lunch at Polonia, a Hamtramck Polish restaurant that isn’t technically in Detroit, but still within spitting distance (Wikipedia told me that Detroit basically surrounds Hamtramck, so I consider that to be close enough). The restaurant was recommended to me by a friend, so I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity while we were in the neighborhood. As it turns out, I’m really glad we stopped by.

Polonia is sort of a hole-in-the-wall type of place that blends into a landscape of neighboring Polish restaurants and merchants. When you walk inside, however, a warmly-lit dining area—decorated with classic European knick-knacks—surrounds patrons who socialize and converse like the regular diners that they undoubtedly are. Getting a table took a while because of how busy the waitresses were, but the quick service my husband and I received once we were seated made up for the wait.

Photo by Jennifer Bowman
Photo by Jennifer Bowman

Wanting to sample a few of Polonia’s most popular dishes, I ordered the Polish Trio Plate: potato pancakes, Polish sausage, one potato and bacon pierogi, and one sweet cheese pierogi with vanilla and sugar.  The meal also came with a soup or salad, so I went with duck soup (figs and noodles and lots of sweet-tasting pieces of magic) because it stood out among a list of otherwise familiar choices (chicken noodle, anyone?). My husband opted for the hot roast beef sandwich, which was covered in gravy and served with a side of mashed potatoes. Seriously, everyone—if you want to make your mouth water, go to Polonia and order a hot roast beef sandwich. I loved my own meal, but I already want to go back just so I can have a sandwich of my own. I guess I know where I’m headed the next time I have a day off.

After lunch, we headed to the Eastern Market, an obvious Detroit staple that I’ve been crazy enough to overlook the entire time I’ve lived in the area. What surprised me the most about the Eastern Market was its sheer presence and size. I was expecting a few large sheds occupied by local food vendors, but this place was its own village! Restaurants, gift shops, street performers, and vendors bustled around every corner, and that was all on a cloudy, cold, 38-degree day. I can’t wait to see what it’s like in the summer.

Photo by Jennifer Bowman
Photo by Jennifer Bowman

Although I had dreamed of jaunting through my first Eastern Market visit with reusable bags full of produce, I realized while I was shopping that my refrigerator was already stocked with vegetables from a grocery trip made earlier in the week. Consequently, it drove me crazy to see such good deals on zucchini knowing I had no room in my fridge and a physical inability between my husband and myself to eat large baskets of vegetables before their untimely expiration. I considered remedying the problem with some potted plants, but I live in a townhouse with no yard. I’ll give you two guesses as to how well daffodils thrive in my living room.

What I did love, however, was that in the midst of tulips and cucumbers, there was a food truck that sold hot, raspberry-filled beignets. Being the French/New Orleans-y food that they are, beignets had never before crossed my path. I am truly sorry about this, because these amazing treats are now

Photo by Jennifer Bowman
Photo by Jennifer Bowman

on my list of most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Hot, jelly-filled, covered in sugar, and reminiscent of a funnel cake-jelly donut hybrid: they justified every moment I spent standing outside in the cold that day. Naturally, when I go back this summer (in my sundress and cowboy boots), I’ll make sure to bring a tote bag big enough to stow a few more (in between my rows of zucchini and daffodils, of course).

When the weather took its toll and the vendors started loading their trucks, that was our cue to head down the road to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Now, I enjoy art museums and have visited quite a few decent displays in the past, so I wondered what was so special about the DIA that made my co-workers, friends, and random people on the sidewalk repeatedly suggest that I go. Once I stepped foot inside this exceptional place, however, I quickly understood.

Photo by Jennifer Bowman
Photo by Jennifer Bowman

The DIA is not just a gallery filled with random pieces by obscure artists no one has ever heard of. On the contrary—I spent two

hours wandering the halls to view works by van Gogh, Matisse, and Picasso, to name a few. In that time I also saw creative works that ranged from medieval art and suits of armor to modern-day sculptures that resembled IKEA furniture. Something for everyone, really, and I barely had a chance to skim the surface. In all honesty, I probably could have stayed another hour or so if the museum had been open a little longer. Fortunately, DIA admission is free to residents in select counties around Detroit, so I can easily go back at any time to hang out and catch up on the latest with Andy Warhol (I do admit that I find him a bit odd, but were it not for Warhol, we might never have discovered a style of pop art that is essential to 99% of today’s smartphone photo-editing apps. So . . . thanks, Andy. Apple, Android, and humanity all owe you one).

We took our time leaving the city that evening, driving past familiar Motor City sites—Comerica Park and the Fox Theatre, the Spirit of Detroit and the Joe Louis fist, and the Detroit River as it borders the Canadian skyline.  I know I’m a long way off from even pretending I know Detroit, but each time I see something new while in this city, it’s a day well-spent. Next stop? Maybe a Red Wings game, since I’m a complete stranger to hockey. That, and I’m also dying to find out how on earth those guys ended up playing in an arena that’s named after a professional boxer.

Jennifer Bowman, Contributing Writer