Detroit’s Food Scene: Flavored with Impact [MAP]

Freep’s new restaurant critic dishes about the job, city’s restaurant industry, trends to watch.

Jake Neher

In his new role as the Detroit Free Press’ restaurant critic, Mark Kurlyandchik is back where he started.

“I’m a journalist first,” Kurlyandchik told WDET’s Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today. “I did get into journalism to do food journalism.”

His first piece in the Freep was about the professional and culinary “journey” he has taken from Soviet-controlled Lithuania as a youth to Freep food critic. His career included a few years in San Francisco, time on staff at HOUR Detroit magazine and work as an independent journalist in Detroit. In fact, he appeared on a previous WDET program to talk about garbage and landfills. Here’s that interview.

In February, Kurlyandchik joined the Freep after the retirement of Sylvia Rector, who had written about food and restaurants for the Freep for 17 years. Here’s her final column, in which she explores not only the changes in the food industry but also in the job, which now requires juggling coverage of the flurry of new restaurant openings in the city with readers’ growing expectations – and knowledge – about food and related issues.

That’s where Kurlyandchik plans to belly up, following trends and issues presented by the flurry of new restaurants. Here’s an index to his work so far.

“Part of the trend that’s really exciting is they’re opening in the city of Detroit,” he says. “The tricky thing with restaurants is they’re often on the front lines of gentrification in a neighborhoods. So definitely I’m going to be focusing on the food in this role, but also what is the social impact of these restaurants.”

Such launches have positives, as Kurlyandchik sees it: the impetus for development, attracting new businesses, adding to the city’s tax rolls, bringing people into the city. “But what responsibility beyond that does a restaurant have to its neighborhood?” he asks. “That’s a question that I’m just sort of starting to investigate.”

With trends in local sourcing of ingredients and using products from urban farms, Kurlyanchik also sees – and will write more about – the social impact restaurants are having.

“I’m painting with broad strokes here but I think most are concerned about their neighborhoods and want to have a positive impact on those neighborhoods,” he said.

To hear the full conversation, click on the audio above.

Here’s the Detroit Experience Factory-WDET map of restaurants and bars in the city: